Brainstorm And Down-select Options For Action To Simplify Tough Decisions
As an executive, you're asked to make many different types of decisions every day. Sometimes you’re asked to make decisions in situations you've previously been successful and your previous experience makes the path forward clear. Other times you're challenged by a situation that you haven’t encountered before and you’re required to lead others through uncharted territory. While previous success is great to leverage when available for reference, uncharted territory can be daunting and risky.
Flying blind and making snap decisions is a recipe for disaster. Instead of making an uninformed decision, it’s better to pause and explore different options available to action. By thinking through different options for action you’re able to assess the challenges and outcomes of each so the right decision becomes clear.
Pausing to explore different options is simple to do and can be completed in minutes when you use a concise framework to aid your decision making process.
Come At The Issue From Different Directions
While it can sometimes be difficult to make decisions with little information, brainstorming several different options for action enables you to anticipate and visual what you’ll likely encounter. The best way to come up with several different options is to complete iterative passes of brainstorming. Taking iterative passes enables you to capture your thinking, clear your head, and come at the issue again recharged.
Keeping the target outcome in mind as you work through options is important, as it’s easy to get excited about great ideas that develop, but most important is that you take action that is best aligned to achieving your intended outcome. Thinking through several options with your target outcome in mind enables you to more easily spot the best approach forward.
Brainstorming two to three different options is a good target for your thinking. While you want to deeply consider a wide range of options, balancing time and complexity against your brainstorming effort helps that you don’t under or over think possibilities.
It’s also good to think about each approach broadly, but be conscious about rightsizing options to the situation. Blank slate and big idea thinking often generates a wealth of ideas to consider, but if the situation only requires a small-scale solution, you’ll be over engineering a solution by over thinking and over shaping your decision. Rightsizing your decision to the situation means identifying the simplest and most effective path forward and moving on.
Capture Your Thinking To Organize Your Options
It’s important that you document the different options as you think through them. To make capturing the details simple, create a table and organize the options across the grid. Use the first column to list the important points you need to asses across the full set of options. Then enter each option into its own column so you can easily see the options side-by-side.
As you fill in the details for each option, pay attention to concisely documenting your notes. Short bullets of text enable you to rapidly digest all considerations when you work through your assessment. Thoughtfully thinking through what the key areas of consideration are combined with short concise but comprehensive bullets provides a simple framework to organize and use your decision making criteria.
Similar to the brainstorming process, you want to weigh time and complexity of your information capture against your total effort. Remember, the goal is to make a better decision and not to under or over invest in the decision making process. Spending large amount of time capturing large amounts of information is going to lead to difficulty during your assessment and slow down your ability to make timely decisions.
Asses Pros And Cons To Down-select The Right Answer
Once you have concisely captured everything in a meaningful way, you can shift to use your table as a tool to assess the pros and cons of each approach. Using the important areas for assessment that you entered into the first column of your table, you’ll want to work through each row option-by-option and decide which points best aligns to your target outcome.
Sometimes the answer will be immediately clear across a single point of consideration. Other times, you’ll find that you could comfortably go with any option on a single point. Using the assessment to learn what points standout as best aligned to your goal and what points you’re flexible with across options is the goal. As you consider the pros and cons, be sure to highlight your preference per point, per row, so you can clearly see where you have a leader versus flexibility.
When you’ve completed working row-by-row through each point of consideration, its then time to take a final pass and assess each option holistically versus the others, with all points of consideration in mind. Again, in many situations, you’ll have a clear leader stand out, which makes it easy to select the right decision and best path forward. Occasionally, you’ll need to further weigh the flexible points against each other to further clarify and reveal the right decision.
While this last step can seem repetitive, be sure not to short change this important last review when the path forward is not easy to see. You’re leg work to reach this important step was incredibly valuable to making a better informed decision and it’s fair to expect that from time to time you’ll encounter a decision that’s significantly tougher than others. The little extra effort you invest to sort through competing options will be the difference to you making a great decision.
Decision making can be difficult, especially when you’re dealing with little information, uncharted territory, and complex situations. While it’s natural to feel uncomfortable and perhaps even a little intimidated by the situation, being disciplined to work through a simple assessment of the situation aligned to your target outcome provides you the tools and clarity needed to make a good decision.
Coming at decisions from different directions enables you to consider a wide range of approaches and options to choose from. Capturing details related to each option in a simple chart that is easy to scan and digest helps you organize your thoughts in a meaningful and useful way. Using your table as a tool to weigh your options and clarify which option is best aligned to achieving your target outcome simplifies the decision making process and makes you a better informed decision maker.
When faced with an especially tough decision, your table becomes an even more powerful tool to help you make the right decision. Use this simple system for your decision making needs and you’ll quickly establish yourself as a good decision maker that’s confident making tough calls.
Ask Yourself These Questions
- What is the timeframe available to make my decision?
- What should my schedule be to take iterative passes?
- What are the important points of consideration to explore?
- How simple to scan is my table and do I need to shorten any bullets?
- Which option has the most points aligned to my target outcome?
About John Fildes
I grow the bottom line by connecting marketing to business strategy. By leveraging powerful positioning, content marketing, and client insights, I help CEOs drive qualitative and quantitative results at scale.
I've built an amazing network of incredibly talented people over the years. What I've appreciated most is those who have invested in me, mentored me, and helped me become the talented professional I am today. I pay it forward by doing the same for other high performing professionals and entrepreneurs.
All views are my own and not those of my current or prior employers.