Tag Archives: Assumptions

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

Critical Thinking Starts with an Open Mind

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

I’ve spent a significant part of my career teaching and coaching executives in the area of critical thinking. A large portion of my work involves introducing formal processes – tools – such as SWOT Analysis, Deviation Analysis, Force Field Analysis, Fish Bone Diagrams and Affinity Diagrams to name a few. But just like the tools in a mechanic’s tool box, if you don’t use them properly you won’t get the job done correctly.

What I’ve discovered is that when it comes to solving problems, making decisions or creating strategic plans the processes you use require one important ingredient – an open mind. Without maintaining an open mind any formal process you use will amplify the old adage “garbage in, garbage out.”

What do I mean by that? Every critical thinking process is only as good as the facts that you put into it. And those facts, must include information and data that not only supports the perceived decision your gut tells you to make – or the cause of a problem you assume to be the root of your troubles –  it must also include data which contradicts your assumptions.

Most people, however, suffer from a common critical thinking malady called “information bias.” Information bias is seeking and selecting information or data that only supports your assumptions. Simply put, we avoid facts that go against our beliefs and experiences. To be good critical thinkers we must maintain an open mind. Being open minded means that we must not just hear, but listen, to facts that are opposite from our established beliefs.

At work, this would include listening to people in other departments who may not look at a decision or a problem through the same glasses as you do. For example, if you work in accounting you might only see a solution from a dollars and cents, or profit and loss perspective because that it what you have been educated and trained to do. It’s your job! Therefore, you could easily dismiss information and data from sales, marketing, operations or IT because those opinions may be more cavalier toward budgets and spending money to accomplish their goals. That’s their job!

At home, this might mean listening to your spouse, or your children more carefully to understand their frame of reference even though your gut may be screaming at you that what they are saying is wrong. Or, in this election year it may mean mean not relying on that cable news station that only reinforces your political views and watch another cable news show that you believe presents information and points-of-views that only represents “the other side.”

The root cause of “information bias” tends to come from our egos. Face it, nobody likes to think our beliefs and opinions are wrong. In these instances, human nature dictates that we take the “fight” response when what we believe to be true – or right – is challenged.

When I coach people on critical thinking I use the analogy that our minds are like attics, garages or basements – places we tend to store stuff of which we can’t or don’t want to let go. But just like our attic, garage or basement every now and then we need to purge our mind of information, experiences and beliefs that no longer fit; don’t work; is obsolete or outdated in order to make room for new information, new experiences and new beliefs.

So how do we become more open minded and begin the process of purging our brains of outdated or obsolete information and beliefs to make room for this new information? Here are some suggestions on ways to begin the process:

  1. Read more books or watch documentaries on subjects that you know nothing about. When we are introduced to subjects of which we know nothing about our brain tends to draw correlations to that new information with that which we already know. It helps us grasp a better understanding. It’s like standing in front of a mirror, holding up a piece of clothing, and asking yourself; “Does this fit or how do I look in it today?”
  2. Expand the nucleus of people with whom you associate. We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Introduce yourself to new people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Our natural temptation to “be part of the group” will cause us take in new information and listen to different perspectives in a “safe environment.”
  3. Enroll in class that challenges your natural talents and curiosity. For example, take a pottery or painting class – something you have never done. Performing the techniques to accomplish the art form will force you to think and act differently. In addition, there is a strong possibility you will interact with people that don’t share your knowledge and beliefs. This again will provide you with a “safe environment” to challenge your way of thinking. It may also spark an idea which might help you solve a pressing problem at work or at home.
  4. Focus on how you accept feedback, especially that which is intended to be constructive. Do you adapt the natural “fight” response? This means that you always want to justify why you did what you did regardless of other people’s suggestions on doing something a different way. If you do, then this might indicate a low level of mental willingness to accept new information or different points-of-view.

Information, technology and circumstances are constantly changing. Your ability – and willingness – to regularly consider new data and changing perspectives will help you become a better critical thinker.

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

Foster Creativity by Neutralizing its Enemies

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Everyone can agree that creativity is a crucial ingredient in the success of any organization. CEO’s demand it because they know creativity is a strategic weapon in the war against the competition.

However, within most organizations there are people – let’s call them enemies – who perpetually squash creative thought and ideas – some do it unconsciously, while others see it as their duty to protect the organization from failure, excess spending, and misuse of resources or poor allocation of time.

In my experience there are usually four distinct enemies of creativity for which I am always on the lookout during a creativity session (a.k.a. brainstorming session.) They are:

The Intimidator – This may be your boss’ boss, a subject matter expert, or someone who just sucks all the air out of any room in which they are. Whenever they are around other people will embrace and support the “norm” for fear of retribution or ridicule. Thus, the intimidator causes “in the box thinking,” sometimes without opening their mouth. Just their presence is enough to cause people to suppress their creativity.

The Standards Protector – This person is easy to spot because they are always reminding you, “That’s not the way we do things in this organization.” They are the self-appointed protectors of tradition and standard business practices.

The Risk Avoider – Some might refer to this person as the “Devil’s Advocate.” This person is always looking for “alleged” risks and will smother every new idea with “assumed” negative consequences before a new idea has a chance to breathe.

The Creature of Habit – If it requires change, this person will do whatever it takes to protect the status quo. He – or she – hates change. Change upsets their mental psyche and causes them to spend hours thinking about the pain a new way of doing something will cause them to endure. They will be the ones kicking and screaming the most.

You can protect your next creativity session by following these simple rules:
1. Defer judgment on all ideas until you have completed your brainstorming. This means no comments on any idea until the end.

2. Set a goal of the number of new ideas you want and set a time limit. Aim high in number of ideas. Quantity does encourage quality. Set a short time limit, such as 10 minutes. People work well under pressure. Appoint a timekeeper or have a digital stopwatch visible to all.

3. Don’t ask of each idea, “Will this work?” In most instances you do not have the facts in the room to make that determination. You need to leave your creativity session and begin to gather facts which will then allow you to decide if an idea will work. If not, you are encouraging decision making with assumptions and guesses. This is when all four enemies will devour and discredit any idea that has slightest smell of being creative.

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 Creativity, Critical Thinking Tools

You Know What Happens When We Assume

If you’re looking for signs of a pending Zombie Apocalypse, look no further than your nearest emergency room. Go to an ER at 2:00 a.m. and you will see what looks like a callout for zombie extras. Everywhere you turn you see bleary-eyed souls stumbling around a sea of people, mentally exhausted humans searching for help, or others half-asleep carrying dangerous blades.

And those are just the doctors!

At any hour of any day in any hospital in the United States, there is a chance you will be treated by a resident who has been working thirty hours without any sleep. It’s a chilling thought, but this practice is a common rite of initiation for physicians. In an effort to improve patient care and reduce harmful errors, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education changed the maximum shift length for interns from 30 hours to 16 in 2011. It seems like common sense. No one wants a sleep-deprived resident making life or death decisions. You don’t need to be smarter than a fifth grader to come to that conclusion.

Two recent studies at Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan Medical School tracked the results of this implemented shift change. The findings were shocking. The shorter shifts actually did more harm than good. The reduced hours did not improve doctors’ rates of depression or increase the number of hours they slept. What’s more, harmful medical errors increased by 15-20%. Some say this is likely due to the fact that the interns’ workloads didn’t decrease, and the number of patient hand-offs, where many errors occur, increased significantly.

While the original assumptions were false, we can consider the research a success. Imagine the lives that could have been lost had hospitals not tested the assumptions behind such a “common sense” solution.

Which begs the question: How often do we make changes or implement new processes in our organizations based on faulty assumptions? How often do we let majority opinion make the decision for us? How often do we make decisions based on our experience, even when that experience may not be applicable to the given situation? It happens far more frequently than we want to admit. Sure, you will have your fair share of successes by doing these things. But you also leave your organization open to a lot of costly risk and rework.

The key to success is in asking the right questions. As you approach your next big organizational initiative, ask the following questions to minimize your risk and improve your chance of success.

1. What assumptions are we making?
2. How can we test these assumptions?
3. Where can we find evidence to contradict our majority opinion?
4. Who else will be responsible for the success of this initiative, and how can we obtain their insights?
5. What alternative conclusions exist?

Organizations benefit greatly from asking contrary questions in advance to a big implementation. Of course, it takes time, but the knowledge gained from the experience prevents costly rework and results in more comprehensive solutions.
__________________________

Action Management and Associates

Leave a comment

Filed under Critical Thinking Tools

Drowning in a Sea of Data

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

One of the advantages of the information age we live in is that data is relatively easy to obtain. (Thank you Google, Bing and the corps of other popular search engines!) This is good, right? Of course it is… Unless you’re trying to solve problems, make decisions or create business strategies. The problem is there is so much data that it clouds our abilities to efficiently resolve these tasks and we find ourselves drowning in a sea of data. Then we have a dilemma; Which data is the best data to use?

I come across this problem a lot when I’m working with clients and facilitating them through the tasks of solving problems, making decisions and developing strategy. As soon as a problem is identified we begin a scavenger hunt of sorts by collecting data. Now, if you’re the type of person that I fondly refer to as a “data bather,” you can spend an extraordinary amount of time gathering data — both relevant and irrelevant. But how do you know which is the best data to help you in your pursuit of a solution to the problem? Simple, apply a “data sieve” called the “Hierarchy of Information.”

Like a prospector mining for gold on the bank of a river, you can apply the Hierarchy of Information to retain the “gold nuggets” of information to help you achieve the maximum level of accuracy in your solution, decision or strategy.

There are four levels in the Hierarchy of Information. They are:

Facts
Facts are truths. This is information that can be proven. If you use 100% facts in your problem solving, decision making or strategizing you will be as accurate as possible. Seldom do we use 100% facts.

Inferences
Inferences are conclusions that you arrive at using a mixture of some facts that interfaces with your personal experience and knowledge – business acumen. Inferences, unfortunately, can be misleading as we sometimes draw a wrong conclusion. For instance, if a man shows up in your office and he is wearing a raincoat, carrying an umbrella and is wet, what might you infer? It’s raining! From just three facts (raincoat, umbrella and wet) and your past experiences, your inference might be spot on. On the other hand, you might also be dead wrong. Think about it. What else could have happened to that man which caused him to be wet? Perhaps a sprinkler system kicked on as he was walking from his car to the building… Or a landscaper was watering some new plantings and accidently soaked him. The opportunity for error by using inferences increases because we may seize upon the most likely inference and run with it, thus, jeopardizing our accuracy.

Assumptions
We all know the old adage about when we assume… Let me just say, it makes you and me… look bad. There is a reason why this saying rings true. When we don’t have facts available we have a tendency to just use our past experiences and knowledge about similar problems, decision or strategies. This is the basis for most assumptions and we feel comfortable using them because somewhere in our life we saw success in this type of situation. However, what worked last month might not work this month because the circumstances surrounding this situation have changed and we have not considered the new data. When using assumptions we are quickly approaching the bottom level of our accuracy potential.

Guesses
By using guesses we have now hit the basement level in our quest to be accurate in our problem solving, decision making and strategizing. So why do we use guesses? Easy…. No, that’s the answer, it’s easy! It saves time by not having to go look up facts. And, in almost every business environment today time is precious. Because of this, I have seen guesses used by smart people more times than not. For example, how many times have you pared down a list of ideas from a brainstorming session by asking the question of each idea, “Will this work?” Immediately someone shouts out; “No, it will cost too much,” or, “It will take too much time!” Without any facts at all, the facilitator then crosses the idea off the list and moves on to the next idea, “Will this work?” In short, someone guessed the idea would not work and without anyone asking, “Do we know exactly how much will it cost?” the idea is DOA (dead on arrival.) We use guesses more than we might want to admit because it’s easy or we believe someone else knows the facts. Actually they don’t, however their corner office or long title leads us to believe they do know.

So next time you are involved in solving a problem, making a decision or creating a strategy, review your data and verify; “Is this a fact, inference, assumption or guess?” You will be surprised at how many assumptions and guesses you use, and how few facts and inferences you actually employ.

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