Two systematic ways to make important decisions*

Recently, one of my favorite clients asked if I knew of any frameworks to help them with their decision making. 
They do a great job at making thoughtful decisions but one of the reasons they are one of my favorite clients is that they are always looking to do things better. 
The first answer that came to mind is how President Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC) very differently from the Bay of Pigs invasion. Of the many that I have read, here is the best article that provides specific steps to show the difference between the decision processes of each.  In short, this is what I believe Kennedy learned and how he created a better decision process framework:
  • Kennedy mostly stayed out of the process until the end so he could remain objective for the final decision.
  • He set up two teams to defend the two best options.
  • Once each team provided the reasoning for its preferred option, he had the teams flip options and argue the other one. The hope was to get the best thinking and to remove the endowment effect so they were less emotionally tied to one option over the other.
  • He then had 2 trusted advisors, who had not yet been involved in the process, poke holes in/challenge each option.
  • Only then, did he hear and challenge the final arguments for both options.
  • He made the final decision with the full support of everyone involved.
In addition to this process, one of my fellow coaches, Bruce Eckfeldt, turned me on to a great book called Smart Choices by John Hammond.  It is an excellent formulaic manual for how to go about making the best possible decisions with the information available.
Most important, the basic starting premise is, first. to make sure you truly understand the problem you are trying to solve.  For example, the late HBS Professor Theodore Levitt is oft-quoted as saying that people do not want a 1/4″ inch drill they want a 1/4″ hole.  One could take this further and ask what do they want the 1/4″ hole for?  They might find out that the person is looking to feed a light cord through it to light up a dim part of a room.
In this scenario, the problem to solve is how do I illuminate a darkened area of a room.  Now that we truly understand the problem.  This problem could be solved without the need of a drill at all.
I find this to be universal in making decisions.  We too often rush to the answer without first truly exploring and thoroughly understanding the problem.
Here is an excerpt from the book on how to get started:
Ten Diagnostic Questions
1.   What’s my decision problem? What, broadly, do I have to decide? What specific decisions do I have to make as a part of the broad decision?
2.   What are my fundamental objectives? Have I asked ‘‘Why’’ enough times to get to my bedrock wants and needs?
3.   What are my alternatives? Can I think of other good ones?
4.   What are the consequences of each alternative in terms of the achievement of each of my objectives? Can any alternatives be safely eliminated?
5.   What are the tradeoffs among my more important objectives? Where do conflicting objectives concern me the most?
6.   Do any uncertainties pose serious problems? If so, which ones? How do they impact consequences?
7.   How much risk am I willing to take? How good and how bad are the various possible consequences? What are ways of reducing my risk?
8.   Have I thought ahead, planning out into the future? Can I reduce my uncertainties by gathering information? What are the potential gains and the costs in time, money, and effort?
9.   Is the decision obvious or pretty clear at this point? What reservations do I have about deciding now? In what ways could the decision be improved by a modest amount of added time and effort?
10. What should I be working on? If the decision isn’t obvious, what do the critical issues appear to be? What facts and opinions would make my job easier?
I hope these hints lead you to better decision making.
For a further look at decision-making, please see a previous post – When is a decision really made? 4 parts, Drucker, 1 part Flynn.
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Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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