By Lizette M. Tucker
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When faced with a major decision, it can often seem there are only two choices: the right one and the wrong one, or worse…the lesser of two evils. How do we know which one to select?

THE PROBLEM WITH EITHER/OR

Many organizations and leaders start by making a list of pros and cons for each option. This seems like a straightforward way to find the best solution, right? Well, not really. You see, emotional bias can influence the creation of one list so that it emerges as longer than the other. And in preparing the list, we tend to write down pros or cons that are more easily put into words instead of option characteristics that are equally important but more difficult to verbalize. And, of course, with this exercise, there is always an inherent danger of falling into a state of “analysis paralysis.”

THE INTEGRATED SOLUTION

What can you do to break out of this “either/or” dilemma? Well, let’s step back to the pros and cons exercise. The one thing that actually works about this exercise is that it weaves ambiguity and flexibility into the previously fixed perspectives about each option. This, then, is the starting point for a third way to get to a solution: something that merges the positives of the two choices.

To uncover a possible integrated solution, try asking these few key questions about each of the two positions. Beginning with the option that seems easiest to provide or the one that might have even slightest favor over another, answer the following:

  • What are the advantages and positive aspects of this position?
  • What are the disadvantages and costs of this position?
  • What are the future or hidden negative impacts that could occur from choosing this position?

Now choose the alternative position and answer the following:

  • What are the disadvantages of this position?
  • What are the “hidden gains” with choosing this option?
  • What positive result could come out of choosing this option?

Then, ask the following:

  • What could be a compromise for these two previous options? How might we combine the best of both options and what would consequences would that generate?
  • Is there a time when one position is more advantageous than another? Could they be iterated?

Often, the integrated solution is completely workable, but, on occasion, such a compromise can meet with gridlock, especially when groups hold strong opposing preferences for either solution. The ability to accept an integrated solution depends upon the nature of the decision. Half a loaf of bread may be better than none, as the saying goes, but half a car won’t help you get where you need to go.

WHEN IT’S NOT A, B, OR C

What if there was a completely different path to a solution? What if the answer is “none of the above?” To find that solution, you must distance yourself from the dilemma itself and focus on the context in which the dilemma became relevant.

For instance, consider a selection process between three technology vendors where each vendor provides something different. The existing vendor, Vendor A, provided a great user interface, but lousy reporting. Vendor B offers fantastic reporting but the platform is clunky to use.

Working with Vendor B, the team tried without success to recreate the same workflows and user interface from the existing vendor and shoehorn in the flexible reporting scheme. When that attempt at compromise didn’t work, for a time they became afraid that they would have to revert back to a choice between lousy reporting or usability.

But then, they had an “aha” moment! By stepping back from the problem, they realized that the easy-to-use user interface was generated around a rigid organization of the work queues. All that was needed was to reframe the way they organized the work queues behind the user interface and that created the opportunity to generate the reporting they were looking for. They created a completely new solution by understanding the context in which the dilemma was created.

When faced with situations that are less than optimal, challenge and inspire your team to consider their choices in light of these key questions:

  • At what time and in which circumstance did the contradiction between Option A and Option B become relevant?
  • In which context does the distinction between Option A and Option B make sense?
  • What tasks/problem-solving or development is necessary after the dilemma has been solved?
  • What could be done to keep the two positions from occurring?

In the end, you might just be surprised and delighted to discover where the answers to these questions take you.

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