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Realistic Decision Making and Problem Solving Processes

Yes or No: The Clarification Process - Questions to ask yourself
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Decisions are difficult to make at times. Particularly when all of the factors which impinge on the subject are unclear or are not readily accessible.

The listing below may be of help in that process. However, it cannot provide the definitive yes or no to any problem or decision making process. This is principally due to the fact that there are always other factors involved which can not be fully covered in a single listing.

That said, there is some value in evaluating several aspects of any process which might not come readily to mind.

Questions you should ask yourself in the decision making process

Will the decision limit the way in which you or others will proceed in the future?

What are the consequences of letting the decision ride for a while until there is greater clarity?

Are there other things which could be done to change or delay the decision making process for right now?

What is the process that you have to go through to let things go on the way they are?

Have all of the relevant aspects of the decision making process been fully assessed?

Is a modified yes or no answer available which would not be so drastic?

How many individuals will this decision effect?

What are the opinions of others who are involved?

What are the opinions of others who are not involved but have some familiarity with the problem?

Who else have you asked for advice and input?

You may take no one's advice in the end but at least get their input. A new angle on the problem may be surprisingly helpful in solidifying the decision or at least the way to go about making the decision work for you.

What is the possibility that you will change your mind in the future?

What do you really want to do?

How sure are you that you want to do it?

What are the positive consequences of a yes answer?
What are the negative consequences of a yes answer?

What are the positive consequences of a no answer?
What are the negative consequences of a no answer?

Or put another way, what will be the good that comes out of making a yes decision?

What will be the negatives that come out of making a yes decision?

If you make no decision, what will be the consequences?

What is the right thing to do?

What is the legal thing to do?

What is the correct thing to do?

If things were different regarding the situation, what decision would you make - or would there even be a question of making a decision?

What would have to be different for that to happen?

What could you do to change the conditions right now?

What could be done in general to change the conditions?

Does this reason for making the decision justify the making of a crucial decision?

Is there another way of handling the problem that has not been tried?

Why are you making a decision? List all of the reasons.

Why are you making a decision right now?

What are you trying to show or prove by making the decision?

How much time do you have to make the decision? Have you gathered all of the necessary information for making an informed decision?

What information are you lacking to enable a free and well informed choice?

What could you do which would have significant bearing on the choice made?

By the way - what is your goal? Is it realistic? Is it right for you? Will it enhance you and others involved?

What are the steps to take to make it a reality?

Is there anything which is holding up the process?

Is there anything which makes it difficult to formulate the best decision?

Are there other ways to fulfill your goal(s)? Are they more relevant, more possible than the path you have chosen or will choose? Is the decision tied to one of these paths?

What are all of the different ways in which the means for fulfilling the demands which are causing the problem, be accomplished? Have you tried any one of them?

Deciding questions:
Given all of the above, should you change what is at the present time?
        yes        maybe yes        maybe no        no

If you said anything but yes, don't do it. Or, as my grandmother used to say, "If in doubt, don't".

And then of course there is the old standby: What would your mother, father, uncle, aunt, mentor, anybody, etc. have you do (unless of course they were always wrong)?

Enough beating around the bush. You know by now what you have to do. So do it.

Sometimes, the problems leading to the current decision are no longer problems once the goals, demands, and alternatives open are clarified.

Decision Between Alternatives
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Many of the tools developed as guides to the decision making process are tools for deciding between alternative options. A yes or no answer often does not fit the needs of the situation.

Further, case studies are often used to illustrate the successes and failures of specific problems. However, case studies are valuable as examples of possible alternatives but can not be generalized to provide an answer to another situation with its particular variables.

Aside from many of the questions above in the yes-no paradigm, the following questions relate specifically to multi-option situations.

Some of the questions to ask in evaluating different options:

Which option gives the closest approximation to the professed and operational goals of the group?

Which will cause the least amount of restructuring?

Which will create the greatest return on the effort or resources to be expended?

Which will make the fullest use of the talents and abilities of the permanent members of the group?

Which has the highest probability of creating the desired effect?

Which will cause more problems in the end, or will mean extra unnecessary effort to finally attain your goal?

What are the steps to completing each of the possible decisions?
What are the pluses and minuses of each possibility?
Which one best fulfills the purpose you hope to attain in the end?

What are all of the problems faced and how does each of the alternatives deal with these problems?

Build different scenarios for each of the options or possible decisions and answer the yes/no questions regarding each.

Realistic Assessment Method - What forces are really operating
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Many of the methods used to determine decision points and to assess the best way to proceed (see sources below) are generally cognizant of the economic aspects, utility, speed, efficiency and efficacy of a process. What is often overlooked are the factors which in the end cause changes in directions in small ways, of adjustments, and the addition of resources, funding, etc. and finally, in many cases, totally change the way in which any decision is implemented and in some cases the decision itself. These are the forces of individual predilection, juxtaposition of competing allegiances, habitual actions, belief structures, line of least resistance, entrenched positions, power alignments, individual and group biases, informal group dynamics, the good for particular individuals, and in the best circumstances: justice, balance, fairness, sense of duty, equality, and the good for the greatest number.

In order to make any decision which has any hope of being realized, these factors must be taken into consideration, or rather, will be taken into consideration by the process itself and will dominate any changes on the ground.

To the degree to which these are identified and added to the mix, the more successful the realization of the larger goals of the individual or group.

The following parameters or listings usually involve an intimate knowledge of the group or the individuals involved although an approximation may be achieved from an overall assessment of the interactions within a group, reactions toward the external environment, and some knowledge of its history. Other tools which can be helpful are smart questionnaires, astute observation of the group in action, interaction analysis by individuals at different levels of an organization, and outside assessments by knowledgeable observers.

Parameters or Listings:

  • predilections and habits of key players
  • motivating goals of individual or group - short and long term
  • underlying goals which may not coincide with the above goals
  • perceived self image of the individuals and of the group
  • overall altruistic goals as juxtaposed to growth and survival goals
  • forces currently acting: economic, environmental, inter-group, supply, demand
  • inertial forces at play in the situation
  • interplay of dynamic interactions - fairness, support, allegiances and other balancing factors both positive and negative at work between individuals and groups involved
  • pay back forces at work - negative and positive
  • paradigms of power in operation
  • justification scenarios for faults, inadequacies, failure to attain goals which have been used in the past and possibly of use in the future
  • limitations - both perceived and actual
  • assessment of resources - both ideal and actual and the interactive allocation of those resources to accomplish the minimum allowable goals even if not the desired goals
  • impeding or blocking forces at work - individual, group and environmental/situational
  • personal debt structures (both monitory and non monitory) in operation

    Negative Thinking
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    The old adage to "think positively" is a standard regardless of the situation. This is particularly true when things are not going so well. Thinking negatively is what often got us into the problem in the first place. But solving a problem by 1) backtracking, or by 2) error assessment, or 3) assessing possible negative consequences all give new perspectives on what in fact should be done to solve a problem, and is sometimes the most positive way forward.

  • What must be undone or stopped in order to go forward?
  • What are 10 things that have to be changed to realize the goal?
  • What are the possible mistakes which can be made?
  • Who will be effected negatively?
  • How can errors best be avoided?
  • What is the best way not to make the same errors or mistakes made in the past?
  • What are all the reasons for mistakes made in the past?
  • Assuming that the goal is realized. Work backwards from the goal detailing each step you might have to make to realize it.
  • What are the negative aspects of this decision?
  • What are the negative consequences of each possibility?
  • How can I prepare for and reduce the effects of negative consequences which will occur due to the decision?
  • Thinking negatively, what happens if the goal is not achieved?
  • How can you best protect yourself against the fallout of not achieving the goal?
  • What options will be closed to you if that happens?
  • What is the next best alternative?
  • What will happen if the changes are not made?
  • Which decision will cause the least amount of damage or problems?

    Selected Web Sources for Decision Making, Help & Clarification
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    Selected sites giving methods and help in the decision making process. Some commercial sites are listed when they provide thought provoking material or actual methods for problem solving online as part of their presentation.

  • The Institute for Strategic Clarity The institute "...is a non-profit scientific research and educational organization that seeks to increase the clarity with which decision makers, in any organization, understand, determine, and communicate the organization's strategic direction."
  • Mind Tools As part of the site, there is an excellent treatment of decision making techniques.Techniques for effective decision making giving 8 different techniques plus additional resources for decision making.
  • How Good is Your Problem Solving? "Good problem solving skills are fundamentally important if you're going to be successful in your career."
    Take the test as an introduction to an extremely valuable tool for enhancing your problem solving abilities.
  • Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams published by Harvard Business Review Nov 2007 "... we were able to isolate eight practices that correlated with success—that is, that appeared to help teams overcome substantially the difficulties that were posed by size, long-distance communication, diversity, and specialization."
    The authors, in summary "Through careful attention to the factors we’ve described in this article, companies can assemble the breadth of expertise needed to solve complex business problems—without inducing the destructive behaviors that can accompany it."
  • Problem-based learning (PBL) "...a curriculum development and instructional approach [which] simultaneously develops problem solving strategies, disciplinary knowledge bases, and skills." Problem-based learning does this "by placing students in the active role of problem-solvers confronted with an ill-structured problem which mirrors real-world problems." Presented by the Center for Problem-based Learning of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, it provides full support and resources for using the method in the learning environment.
  • Decision Making and Problem Solving by Herbert A. Simon and Associates. A synthesis of general decision making and problem solving theory and studies.

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