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.









One response to “Life is not a multiple choice test

  1. Pingback: Avoid conflict? Not if you want to be creative. | Take Charge

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