Helping a member frame an existential decisions.

Jim, the CEO of a meat processing business found out the utilities to the building he was building were insufficient two hours after he’d closed on the land.  He stunned me with this:  “I’m glad we didn’t find out sooner.  If we had, I would have had a big decision to make, and I hate making decisions.  Now, we have a problem to solve—and we’re really good at solving problems.”

Workgroup members

  • Bob DeVita
  • Jen Guillette
  • Kevin Hickman
  • Bill Mitchell
  • Steve Johannsen
  • Bryon Johnson
  • Tim Lerdahl
  • Carolyn Tretina
  • Derrick Van Mell

One group member also had an existential problem, but his peers helped frame the decision and developed this sequence of questions to apply to any big decision.

Top Three Ideas

  1. Though intertwined, first you come up with solutions, then you make a decision.
  2. Think carefully about howyou and the organization are going to make a decision.
  3. All decisions are ultimately made intuitively.

The Six Working Men
This poem by Kipling is the journalist’s creed.  Use it to make sure you’re considering all the issues.

I keep six honest working men
They taught me all I knew.
Their names are What and Why and When
And Where and How and Who…

Step 1: Characterize the Problem 
Start with a preliminary problem statement of at most 50 words.  You can count on it’s being wrong.

  • Is it a problem or an opportunity?
  • How serious is it?
  • What are the relevant facts?  (Use the Six Working Men)
  • What don’t we know?  What are the “unknown unknowns”?
  • What are the root causes?  (Here’s when to ask Why five times.)
  • How could we have foreseen this?
  • What do we control and what don’t we control?
  • What assumptions have we already made?
  • How does the problem relate to our big goals?
  • What’s the emotional content?

Step 2: Decide How to Decide (internal decision-making process)

  • Who decides?  One person?  A group?  By consensus?
  • When do we need to decide?
  • What information do we need?
  • Who should develop the solution or solution options?
  • When will we analyze how well our solution worked?

Step 3: Characterize the Solution or Solutions

  • Do we need to respond?
  • Can we create an opportunity out of the problem?
  • Could we accidentally create a problem out of an opportunity?
  • What are the communication needs and barriers to affecting our solution?
  • Could the problem and its solution change our market position and brand?
  • Have we prevented the problem from recurring?
  • Can we make the opportunity repeat?

Inform Your Intuition
In the end, your intuition will tell when you’re ready to decide and what choice to make.  That’s tough for analytical people to accept; it’s also a risk if you’re impulsive.

The same CEO with the facility problem also said that he never decided something until he could sit square at his desk with the key documents (there are always documents) and feel physically comfortable.  If he felt tension or a twitch, he knew he wasn’t ready to decide.

One Last Thing:  “Never waste a good crisis.”  The conversations about the problem, its solution and the decision are fantastic opportunities to share knowledge and build team spirt.