What on earth does imagination have to do with decision-making? Yes, it helps you come up with more alternatives, goals and constraints. But then, it’s just a matter of evaluating each of your alternatives against your goals and making a reasoned choice, right?
Actually, this is the one step in the decision process in which imagination is most needed. Evaluation of alternatives is tricky, since it’s all about what happens in the future. What will the new job be like? How will I like the new house? How will the customer respond to the ad? What will the competition do? Have you ever made a choice and later thought, “Well, this isn’t at all what I expected”? I know I have. Some of this is unavoidable, of course, but visualizing the future and playing it against your goals and constraints helps to guide you to a happy choice.
Let’s say you’re planning a vacation, deciding where to go. You’re considering Maui and Paris. You’re interested in adventure and scenery, but want to minimize cost and hassle. To help you think about it all, lay out a grid with your options across the top, including staying home. (Remember that doing nothing is always an option). Run your goals and constraints down the side.
Now take each alternative in turn. Imagine that the alternative has been selected and carried out. What are you doing? How well is it working? What have you given up? What have you gained? What have your stakeholders gained or lost? Describe vividly and as precisely as possible. Are there further (unintended) consequences? Note anything you’re unsure about.
Start with Maui. How do you get there? How long does it take? How much does it cost? How much vacation do you take and how is your job covered while you’re gone? What do you eat and where? What do you do for entertainment? Imagine snorkeling in clear waters. See the scenery in your mind. Imagine the luau with the hula show. Feel it. How do you enjoy it? How does your traveling companion enjoy it? What’s fun? What’s a hassle? Now make notes in the Maui column for each of your goals and constraints. Was there anything significant that you imagined that should have been a goal or constraint? Consider adding it to your list.
Now do the same with Paris. Finally, imagine staying home. What do you do with the money you save? What do you do with your time at home? Is it a vacation or do you finish some projects?
See the sample table above. The question marks highlight where you need to learn more. You need to find out more about costs for both trips (hotels, airfare, local transportation). Fill in those holes, then compare across the rows. Maui seems to win in the last two rows. If we’d listed art and cuisine as goals, Paris would have won, but we didn’t. It’s all about matching the solution to the key goals. Staying home wins for the two constraints. Now balance. Is the adventure and scenery worth the cost and hassle? Yes? Maui it is.
You may get an answer using these simple text assessments, or you may want or need to dig deeper. In future posts, I’ll give some techniques for making a choice when you have multiple, conflicting goals.
Do you have any techniques for making choices when you have multiple goals?