Category Archives: Decision Making

Stop and Think

By, Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

When you have a problem to solve or decision to make do you take the time to Stop and Think?

As simple as it sounds, most people don’t take the time to Stop and Think about the problem they are trying to tackle or the decision they are trying to make and end up wasting a lot of time. The excuses people make include:

“I already know what the cause of the problem is, or I have a good Idea which choice I should make.”

• “I don’t have time! If I stopped to think about every problem or decision I have I would never solve any of them.”

• “I never consciously thought about it!”

Stop and Think will help make you more efficient in your problem-solving and decision-making and you will realize many benefits. Among them are:

• It will clear your head from the cacophony of daily business noise to focus on the specific situation needing to be addressed.

• It allows your brain to question what your “gut” may be telling you is the best course of action and prevent you from making a snap decision – getting you to use facts over your opinions.

• It is a wise investment of your time. People attribute Ben Franklin with the quote, “Haste, makes waste.” Four or five minutes taken on the front end will save you hours of rework repairing a snap decision that was bad or the incorrect solution to a problem.

• It minimizes your chances of falling into the time-wasting syndrome of “analysis paralysis” because you will take the time to define a list of that data you determine is necessary to arrive at the best outcome and identify the specific sources from which that data will be gathered.

• Finally, when working with others, consider the purpose of Stop and Think similar to a huddle in football before a play. When the huddle breaks the players go to the line knowing what their individual responsibilities are to successfully execute the play called by the coach.

Stop and Think is a critical thinking process. Characteristic of all critical thinking processes there is a list of logical tasks defined by a series of questions you should ask yourself. The answers to those questions help you to formulate your game-plan for tackling your situation. Here is a look at some of the questions you must answer and tasks you must accomplish before running out onto the problem solving and decision-making field.

1. Have you created a clear description of your problem, decision or goal? John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform, said, “A problem well-defined, is a problem half solved.” What he was referring to is that when you take the time up-front to develop a concise problem or decision statement it helps you to eliminate areas you should avoid because those areas have nothing to do with your current challenge. I.T. professionals consider this as avoiding “scope creep.” That’s where your workload expands into doing work not directly associated with your primary task or wasting time to gather information which – in the end – proves to be irrelevant.

2. How does this relate to my goal, objective or mission? Answering this question will allow you and your team to tie the successful resolve directly to your overall purpose. When you do this, you will recognize the level of importance that this decision of solution has to the overall progress of your project or job.

3. What is the urgency and risk associated with this dilemma? Prioritizing tasks is an important concept in managing one’s time and project plan. By identifying the issue’s urgency and risk you will be able to balance this problem or decision among the many other things you need to accomplish.

4. How much time do you believe will be needed to solve this problem or make this decision? Everyone works well when deadlines are established and known by all. Create that deadline. If not, you will find yourself viewing procrastination as an option. It shouldn’t be!

5. Define your criteria in advance? Establishing criteria in advance allows you to pinpoint the specific information you will need to gather which prevents you from drowning in a sea of information and wasting time in that dreadful time waste known as analysis paralysis. Your criteria will also help you frame up your problem or decision and identify the source where that information can be obtained.

So, with your next problem or decision resist the urge to jump in with both feet. Stand at the edge – Stop and Think – and carefully map-out the game plan you will follow with an accurate and concise assessment. You will save a lot of time and frustration.
________________________________

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

Leave a comment

Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making, Problem Solving, Strategic Thinking

Making Fast Decisions, Good Decisions

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

People have an aversion to making decisions. The primary reason for this is fear. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of what other people will think of their decision. Fear of losing money. Fear of change. Fear of the ramifications of a decision. Individuals and work teams look at making a decision as the time when they lay their credibility on the line. Therefore, their final decision may not be bold – or game changing – decisions. We hedge our bets and seek the comfort of minimum risk. Fear also causes us to procrastinate on making decisions.

To complicate matters, many times business decisions are done in tight time frames. In our fast paced, need-it-now-climate we are forced to make decisions quickly. Quick decisions keep the ball rolling. They keep a project on schedule. They help us meet customer demands and requirements. But, can fast decisions be good decisions?

Statistics show that the more time you spend on making a decision, the more accurate it will be. It makes sense. With longer deadlines you have more time to gather and consider facts. You have more time to consider alternatives. You have more time to get input from others with whom the decision may affect. The less time you spend on making the decision may cause you to overlook or ignore facts and alternatives. You will rely more on your intuition and assumptions – or worse yet, guesses. It will also not allow you time to seek input to judge the potential effects to others or to projects. So the time to accuracy ratio can’t be thwarted. More time, more accurate. Less time, less accurate. Of course exceptions to the rule exist, but for the most part – like the laws of gravity – time and accuracy is a force of nature in the realm of critical thinking by which we must abide.

So, how do we balance this ratio in decision-making so that we don’t spend too much time and suffer the wrath of “analysis paralysis?” Or, how can we prevent spending too little time and make more “gut decisions” where facts, feelings and other potential alternatives are ignored?

First, be clear on the decision you need to make. You can do this by “defining” your decision at the outset. A decision definition should have three characteristics.

  1. Start with an “action word” which describes the outcome you would like to achieve. Action words in decision-making include; buy, hire, implement, utilize, select or choose.
  2. Have a general “description” of the alternatives you are considering. Descriptions can be as simple as; a house, a car, a project manager, a computer system, a procedure, a process or a vacation spot.
  3. Include a “modifier” which will further define the type of alternative on which you want to decide. Modifiers include; the most productive, the most qualified, the most efficient, the easiest to manage or most economical.

Defining your decision will help you or a group save time by focusing on the “real” decision at hand. For example, let’s say you define your decision today as; “To buy a new car.” You have defined your decision by saying you are going to “buy.” This immediately saves time by eliminating all discussions of the pros and cons of leasing. (In fact, buying versus leasing is a separate decision you should have already made.) In stipulating that it will be “new,” this means you have eliminated consideration – and time – of looking at used cars. This starts to narrow your possible alternatives. Finally, you have said it is a “car.” This means that you will not be looking at SUVs, minivans or motorcycles. This is yet another way to save time by focusing your search on the specific type of personal transportation that you will consider.

Second, create a list of “eliminating” or “deal breaking” criteriamust haves! This is a set of criteria that each one of the alternatives you are considering “must have” or you will not consider it. It sounds simple, but often identifying eliminating criteria gets confused in the decision-making process. So let’s further define this set of criteria as something you cannot live without. Consider this analogy; In order for you to survive on planet earth, what must you have? Fans of the reality TV show Naked and Afraid will quickly mention; food, water, shelter and of course oxygen. Successful participants on this show have demonstrated that those are the four things they must have in order to survive 21 days in some remote and dangerous part of the world. Those four items are non-negotiable. In essence, that is the definition of eliminating or deal breaking criteria – if you don’t have it you will perish and die.

Once you have identified this set of criteria you can quickly look at your alternatives and “eliminate” from consideration those that don’t possess every single one of your deal-breaking criteria. Remember, if there are only four things that you must have for something as fragile as human life to survive, chances are you are not going to have an extensive list of eliminating criteria. In the car buying example above this might only include; must not to exceed your budgeted monthly car payment of $X and must be foreign (or domestic.) This step will narrow down your list of alternatives significantly.

Third, identify a set of criteria that you are going to use to make your final decision that are called “comparable” or “judgmental” criteria – like to haves! These criteria will help define the data you will need to gather and use to compare each of your alternatives to make your best choice. Again, using the car example from above this could include criteria such as; like to have maximum stereo features, best MPG performance, lowest annual maintenance costs, maximum warranty coverage, maximum comfort and maximum trunk space. From here you can begin to differentiate your alternatives by comparing the facts relating to your predefined judgmental criteria to select your “best choice.”

When you follow these three steps of decision-making you will begin making decisions faster than you do now and with more confidence. You will have greater focus on the best alternatives for you to consider. You will avoid analysis paralysis by defining – in advance – a finite amount of data you need to gather. In addition, you will be using an objective process that is based on facts that will help you gain support and buy-in quickly. Ultimately, it will help you find that optimum level in the time to accuracy ratio to make faster decisions with increased accuracy.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

Leave a comment

Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making

Is Conformity Keeping You from Success?

Social conformity is a powerful and hidden motivation that influences our decisions and strategic planning in ways we don’t even realize or understand. It’s called “that’s the way we have always done it.” This is a way of thinking that hinders innovation and success. Let me demonstrate the power of conformity with this personal experience…

Recently I joined a few friends at an NBA game. Tickets were free, parking was free and we sat in a private box. Even the food and drinks were free! Who could say, “No?”

Initially we were all acting very proper because of the luxury trappings that surrounded us. It was a close game and soon we were all behaving like the less fortunate people that were sitting in the cheap seats.  We were all cheering, standing, shouting, and high-fiving each other. Decorum quickly died. Assisted by prompts on the scoreboard, we were screaming and behaving like “true fans” by halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the huge video monitor above center court displayed the “Kiss Cam” – random shots of couples in the arena. The activity dictates that when the camera is pointed at a couple they would smile and smooch. It was an entertaining distraction while the teams strategized during a timeout, especially when one young guy refused to kiss his “date.” As the crowd began to boo, the guy mouthed the words, “She’s my sister!”

But he kissed her on the cheek anyway and the crowd erupted. Conformity is a powerful thing.

The behavior in the arena that night got me thinking about how the need for conformity impacts our organizational decision making and strategic planning. Our corporate cultures can be so strong, that we stop questioning our decisions and planning.

If your organization needs to innovate, but is stuck in “the way we’ve always done it” mentality consider these tips for re-framing your decisions and plans.

  1. Beware the “sunk cost” trap: Often times we support a decision or system simply because of the time and money already invested in the solution. Before sticking with the status quo, ask yourself, “If we were making this decision all over again, would our current path be the best decision for achieving the objectives we had set for ourselves?” If not, reconsider.
  2. Behave like the enemy: The military uses a process that is called “Red Teaming.” It’s where they gather a group of subject matter experts and review plans and decisions through the eyes of the enemy. They look for holes or weaknesses in your thinking. Businesses are beginning to adopt this process to expose questions such as; How might your competitor sell against you? How can they overcome your new product launch? How can they position their services to steal business with a mutual client? What can they do that might completely disrupt the way you do business?
  3. Develop a tiger team: Some of the most innovative organizations spin off a small team of people with varied backgrounds and allow them to solve complex problems in a new environment – physically removed from the prevailing culture. They might take on a new name, benchmark different industries, and run pilot projects to test the waters and avoid conformity.

Moving forward, avoid falling into the “that’s the way we have always done it” way of thinking. Challenge yourself, your teams and your associates on a regular basis to get out of this destructive way of thinking. Take action to overcome the comforts of what is accepted as “normal.”

Reprinted from Action Management Associates

Leave a comment

Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making, Group Effectiveness, Red Teaming, Strategic Thinking

Assure Your Next Decision is a Good Decision

This past weekend I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In one of the last scenes of the movie, the evil archeologist who is pursuing Indiana Jones finds himself confronted with a decision; Which chalice is the “Holy Grail?” Assuming that Jesus would only drink from a rich, spectacular looking chalice at the Last Supper the archeologist chooses an ornate, gold, Vatican-quality chalice from the many displayed in front of him. When he drinks from the chalice he has chosen he turns to dust before our eyes. At which point the centuries old Templar Knight who has been guarding the “Holy Grail says, “He chose… poorly!” (Thank you Mr. Obvious!)

While you won’t turn to dust if you make a poor decision, success in business – and in life – is predicated on the quality of decisions you make. Each day you are faced with many opportunities to make decisions, both large or small. In fact, making good decisions is part of being a great leader. While most of us will occasionally make bad decisions, there are things you can do to help improve your decision making skills so you can better analyze each situation and choose the best option to move you, and your company, forward.

Avoid Procrastination
It’s tempting to procrastinate on making a decision on account of fear. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of what other people might think. Or, fear of losing money. This is particularly true when the decision is a difficult one, or it involves significant risk to you or your company. Emotionally, it can seem easier to put off the decision. However, procrastinating increases the chance you will make the wrong decision. This is because putting it off for later reduces the time you have to review all the relevant information, identify different alternatives, and solicit advice from trusted advisors. Here’s a link to an excellent article from Psychology Today on understanding procrastination.

Seek Feedback and Input
Being in a leadership role does not mean you must make all decisions by yourself, and if you only rely on your own knowledge, you could miss critical information that would help you make a better decision. Identify a small group of trusted advisors, either within or outside of your company, who can help you objectively review the situation, identify alternatives and potential solutions, and choose the best one. Cyrus the Great said “Diversity in counsel, unity in command” and that certainly applies to decision making.

Use a Process
Processes are important to ensure that every step is covered. When you begin without a process outlined, you can easily miss steps along the way that could lead to a less-than-optimal decision or outcome. In addition, a good process gives you the ability to identify the most important criteria for your decision and weight those criteria according to their value, which will help you objectively evaluate the alternatives.

Implement the Decision Well
Even the best decisions, without a good plan for how to implement them, will fail. When you identify the direction you intend to take, stop and outline how the decision will be carried out. Who are the key individuals that must be involved? What is your timeline? Most importantly, identify things that could go wrong with the implementation and how you will prevent or minimize the impact. Most people do not distinguish between a good decision and good implementation. It’s important to have both.

Whether it is in business or life in general, success is often a result of making good decisions. Focusing on improving the process can help make each decision, regardless of how big or small, a bit easier.

____________________
Action Management and Associates

Leave a comment

Filed under Decision Making

When Decision Making Bogs Down

In the past week clients from two very large companies asked me how to address painfully slow decision making that is occurring in their organization. In fact, one was an oil & gas industry giant whose employee surveys from the last 5 years have listed slow decisions as the #1 employee complaint. There are two issues that drive the speed of a decision: The desire for accuracy and the allowance for risk.

Accuracy (making the best decision)
There is a correlation between speed and accuracy (correctness) of a decision. While there are exceptions to the rule, experience has taught us that decisions made quickly don’t work out as well as decisions made after taking our time to evaluate options thoroughly. If you have an inefficient or non-existent process to ensure the accuracy of a decision, the speed of the decision will suffer. This is the problem that the aforementioned oil & gas organization is experiencing.

Allowance for Risk
Likewise, there is a correlation between the allowance for risk and our desire for accuracy in a decision. The less risk that we perceive is allowed, the more time we will take to ensure our decision is as accurate as possible and the speed of the decision diminishes. The organizational issues that drive an individual’s perception of allowable risk will ultimately affect the speed of the decisions. Specifically, the risk-averse culture that one of our clients noted has likewise resulted in very slow decisions in critical areas.

To address the speed of decisions in your organization, you must first understand whether the allowance of risk or the efficiency of the process is driving the slow decisions because the treatment is very different.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
_____________
Action Management and Associates

Leave a comment

Filed under Decision Making