The elusive book title decision

question bookYou’d think coming up with a title for a book would be the easiest thing in the world, especially a book focused on a single key leadership skill like effective decision-making. I’m writing a book covering many of the topics from this blog. Now I need a title, something that clearly indicates what it’s all about. Clearly the title should include the word “decision,” shouldn’t it?

The problem is that often when I tell people that I teach decision-making, they say, “Yes, that’s just choosing x or y.” Well, that’s part of it, but there’s so much more: Identifying the question to which x or y is an answer; understanding what you want to accomplish; looking for alternatives besides x and y; visualizing outcomes. The choice itself is way down at the bottom of the seven steps of effective decision-making:
1. Discover the decision to be made
2. Set a deadline to decide and to act
3. Identify the full range of goals and constraints
4. Identify the full range of alternatives
5. Visualize the consequences of each alternative
6. Choose the best alternative
7. Act on your decision

These steps take you from vague goals to positive action, so maybe that’s a title: From Vague Goals to Positive Action. No mention of “decisions.” This covers the full range of the subject. Well, the word “goals” is even more misleading than “decisions.” It calls to mind defining measurable objectives, setting a schedule of tasks and tracking progress. All good stuff, certainly, but not covered in this book.

So here I am, with a book about a process that I’ve been using and developing for 30 years. Talking about it, writing about it, using it all come easily. So why can’t I come up with a few words to describe it in a title?

Do you have any title ideas? Any thoughts would be appreciated.


Why can’t I have it all?

Log cabin in a wooded setting during the autumn seasonRomantic couple having dinnerWhen I was young, I thought that when I finally got a job and made some money I could get what I wanted. Now I have a job and some money—not a lot of money, but enough to buy things I never expected to have, like a house and a new car. I should be able to buy my dream house. My needs are modest. Here’s what I want: A simple house in the woods, quiet, peaceful, and surrounded by nature…and within walking distance of fine restaurants and world-class live theater.

It doesn’t exist! Even if I were as rich as Midas or Bill Gates, I couldn’t have it. Conflicting goals. We run up against them all the time. The problem is that sometimes we don’t recognize the conflict until we’ve made the decision.

Drawn by the goal of peace and nature, I bought a cabin in the mountains. Ah, quiet and fresh air, the smell of pine trees. After a few days, I started to miss getting together with people with similar interests, speaking, training, technology, analysis, playing music, personal growth. I started to ask around, “What do people DO around here?” “Oh, fishing, hiking, boating.” “What about the symphony?” “The what?” “Where can you get a nice dinner around here? “Pizza or burgers?” It’s way too easy to focus on a goal that you don’t have and forget that what you have right now may be meeting some really important goals.

Fortunately, I still had my house in the city. Otherwise I would have had to give up on some of my key social and cultural goals. This just goes to show the importance of understanding all your goals (met and unmet) before making a decision. It also demonstrates that you usually have conflicting goals in any important decision.

Did you ever make a decision and later realize that you forgot about some important goals? How do you make sure you’ve considered all the important goals and constraints (without making yourself crazy)? How do you make a decision when you can’t meet all your goals because they’re in conflict?

Life is not a multiple choice test

Answer the following question:


Being an effective decision-maker requires:

a.)  asking the right question

b.)  considering a rich range of alternatives

c.)   visualizing the possible outcomes

d.)  making a rational choice

e.)   all of the above

f.)    none of the above

Aren’t you tired of multiple-choice tests? You get them all through school, on college entrance exams, personality tests, and surveys. You’re probably so used to them that you want to check that you got the right answer. OK, it’s e.) all of the above.

These tests have conditioned us to think that the one right answer lies among the alternatives we are given. Then, when we’re faced with a real-life choice, we may give up because every single option has some drawback or other. We’re used to eliminating the bad choices and then selecting from the ones remaining. What do we do when we’ve eliminated them all?

We’re also conditioned to accept the list of alternatives we’re given as complete. That list above isn’t complete. We could add setting a deadline, understanding all needs and constraints, and acting on the decision. You can probably think of some more. When you’re faced with a decision you’re often given two choices—take it or don’t, yes or no, go or no go. In fact, you always have more than two choices. Explore them for the best possible decision.

The type of thinking that you use on a multiple-choice test is called convergent thinking. You have a list of options and you want to filter them out to converge on the right answer. People tend to think that this is the way to make decisions. Yet, if you look at choices a) through d) above, all essential to being an effective decision-maker, you’ll notice that the first three of the four are not convergent thinking at all.

The thinking you need for asking the right questions, considering a rich range of alternatives, and visualizing the possible outcomes is called divergent thinking. The idea here is to broaden, rather than narrow your choices. This is “thinking outside the box” and brainstorming. It is absolutely critical for effective decision-making.

Since we’re all conditioned by all those multiple-choice tests, here are some exercises to build your divergent thinking skills:

Use Six Thinking Hats, something I’ve blogged about before.

Get pencil and paper. Have someone name a common object, such as a brick, paper clip, blanket, or duct tape, and time you for 15 seconds. See how many uses you can list for the object. Don’t reject any of them as being silly, impractical, or even illegal.

Get a book of lateral thinking or divergent thinking puzzles or find them on the web. One good type is rebuses. Even though each puzzle has a correct answer, to find it you need to look at the problem from various viewpoints. Here’s an example:


What can you do with these words and layout? Man line board? Board below man? Man over board? Man overboard!

Now try these. If you get them, leave a comment with the answer.