Heath Bros – Seeing Options

This is the 4th in a series of 10 posts on the Heath Bros. great book “Decisive”. The goal of the authors is to recognize and overcome limitations that we all have (as humans) in making choices. And the first focus point has been our natural tendency to narrow our options. We need to SEE more clearly when this happens. But can we generate options? That is the theme for today.

Let’s start with a question. Where does innovation come from? Where do great new ideas emerge from? Is it that some folks are just really, really smart and they come up with this stuff? Or is it that we all are smart, but some of us know how to use our smarts better? Which is it?

Research suggests that it is the second option. One of the reasons we get stuck with limited options (and can’t innovate) is in how we organize what we do over time. We make choices that start narrowing our options and we stick to them until we literally have to break free in order to do something new.

So can we re-think how we do this? The Heath Bros. introduce an idea called “multi-tracking”. This is not “multi-tasking” (which is a big no no!). Multi-tracking is a process where we break an overall problem into components and asks – how many options can we generate for each component?  In other words, stop tryinto to eat the entire elephant in one bite. The answers help see the “shape of the problem” before we commit to a single overall course of action.

In a company, that may mean assigning different teams to work on the same question simultaneously and assessing the options that they generate. For a project, it may mean breaking the request for proposals into pieces and asking for options to complete each piece. For a person, it may mean learning how to suspend the desire to find the “magic bullet” to life in favor or doing smaller, productive stuff. The key point for us is to remember that multi-tracking is an option GENERATION tool.

But what about when we get stuck? 

Let’s face it. We often find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering where to find ideas. We are stuck. Does that mean “game over”? No. It is normal. The first step to overcome this is to stop beating your head against the wall. This is not an ego contest to prove you are a genius. Go find options elsewhere. This means going out and looking for people who have experience that could help. And it includes looking outside your company (for example, checking out the competition). Sam Walton (founder of Walmart got a lot of his ideas from his competition).

It also means looking more closely at stuff that has worked for you (a bright moment) and asking “why did it work?”. You can generalize from success to formulate “best practices” — checklists that help build on doing stuff better.  Or you may ask for help in constructing a “playlist” – a set of questions that breaks the problem into component questions – asking what is important and why. That playlist can change your focus.

So — we now can see a few technologies to widen your options. We know to (1) sound the alarm over statements of resolve and when faced with limited options (2) see the framework of the choice either by looking at opportunity costs or vanishing options, (3) generate options by multi-tracking or finding other sources for ideas. It all sounds pretty straight forward. But the data shows that folks don’t do this as often as they should. Pretty amazing!

Next question: Let’s assume that we have options in front of us. But how do we know which one to pick?



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