The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Your 5 step plan to decision

Magic 8 Ball


How do you make your decisions? Are you the kind of person who takes out a blank sheet and lists the advantages on one side and the disadvantages on the other? If so, you are in great company, Plato and Benjamin Franklin belonged to those promoting and using this method. It is quite easy to use it and count the advantages as well as disadvantages, the bigger number wins.

I tried that method but failed miserably, it just doesn’t work for me.

Another way to make a decision is to ask someone else by delegating your decision to an “expert” or some form of divination. In both cases it is mainly trying to have someone else make the decision for you. Such an upwards delegation will not always work as it will happen that people (rightly) will refuse to take the decisions for you. The added difficulty with divination is to find afterwards someone you really can blame if the decision wasn’t appropriate. Just as with flipism you will eventually end up and call it bad luck and blame yourself.

There again, whenever I tried any of these methods it wasn’t a real success as it seemed like giving up on finding the right solution.

If the above don’t work, how to make decisions then?

In this case you’ll want to do as I like to do and analyse the situation and the choices available before making up your mind.

Let’s get started with this decision you are pondering

  1. The starting point in the decision making is the objectives you have; take some time to write them down. The importance of this first step is that it will help you see if the decision you have been thinking about is related to your objectives. You will be able to ask yourself if the decision is relevant or if you can simply dismiss it and continue working on your objectives.
  2. Now review you objectives and classify them. Which one is most important to you? Which one is least important?
  3. The third step consists in developing the alternatives you might have. Which decisions would be possible? Which are the choices available to you?
  4. Now that you have your objectives and your alternatives you can evaluate them against each other. How do the alternatives relate to your objectives? Do they allow you to achieve the objectives? Which one supports all your objectives?
    This step helps you to see which of the alternatives can simply be dismissed as they don’t support your objectives and which ones will help you to reach your objectives.
  5. Now that you know which alternative fits best your objectives, do step back and think about the possible consequences of this alternative. Are these consequences important? Can they threaten your success to achieve your objectives? This last step helps you to validate your selection of the best alternative and thus enables you to make your decision.

Whenever you have decided start acting, take the decisive actions as well as the actions needed to prevent adverse conversions from becoming a problem. If you miss the later point you’ll most probably come back into the problem analysis as well as into the decision making process.

This looks pretty simple and it is especially if you avoid the existing pitfalls. Most commonly these are the biases creeping into our decision making processes. It is for example easy to be too optimistic and base your decision on that, you might even search for evidence that it ok to be so optimistic and thus dismiss negative views. You might also be influenced by the group and some kind of peer pressure and will eventually find yourself in such a situation if it is your habit to adapt yourself to others a lot. Another bias can be inertia, meaning our inclination to rely on familiar assumptions combined with a reluctance to revise those assumptions and thus change.

This 5 step method does work fairly well for me, still it will not always provide me with the right decision. I thus often use the last resort, which is to simply trust my gut feeling and go ahead with that decision.

In some cases it might happen that all things mix up. Lately I had to take a decision which seemed to be quite easy as it was simply a yes or no decision. Along the way things pilled up, leading to a gut feeling decision, which seemed ok. But, looking into the matter and exchanging with a friend I suddenly had reasons why either choice wouldn’t be totally right. I started the decision taking process all over again and tried all the possibilities, even establishing a list – which again didn’t work at all. I thought about delegating the decision by assuming that if the deadline had passed the choice was made, this sure didn’t feel right either. In the end I checked with a few friends, used their advices to help me review my objectives and define the alternatives and then had my best choice. Verifying the consequences showed that there is no perfect choice. The choice thus simply needed to be the better one.

In the end going ahead and deciding isn’t only rational but makes good use of the following advice I received along the way: “Acting for the best, prepared for the worst, welcoming what is happening.”


[Original publication via, Jul 9, 2010]

Share this post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *