“Making a wrong decision is understandable. Refusing to search continually for learning is not.”
– Phil Crosby American Businessman

We all have made a decision in our life that we wish to take back. Maybe we don’t like to think about it, but inevitably we may decide one road, and wish we’d taken the other. Our challenge is to learn through the decisions we make, particularly when our vision and thinking is narrow.

Too often, we see the world in two dimensions. Yes or no. Black or white. True or false.

We enter our professional careers carrying this two-dimensional mindset. Soon we realize the workplace expects us to consider alternatives beyond the obvious, to dig deeper and question assumptions. Experience can show us that questions are sometimes more important than answers.

Our challenge is to overcome a workplace filled with false dilemmas, where options are few and the best solutions are hidden below assumptions and a rush to judgement.

By asking effective questions we can explore better solutions.
What else did you consider? A question that can save us from a compelling pitch with few options and invites the conversation to consider new possibilities.

Black or white becomes gray.
True or false becomes true and false.

My example of a false dilemma at work involved a new staffing proposal pitch to an executive. The presenter was offering two staffing solutions, Option A and Option B, and was very clearly excited about Option A. The presentation thoroughly evaluated the two options and appeared to go very well.

At the end of the presentation, the executive asked only one question. “What other options did you consider”?

The room was silent. Dumbfounded. There had been no other option in his mind.

Did the executive misunderstand there were only two options? No, the executive challenged the process, and the result was a better solution and a leadership lesson learned.

By the way, the presenter was me.

Three keys to avoiding false dilemmas:
Describe Your Process
How did you arrive at the options being presented for a decision? We frequently spend more time explaining the options rather than describing the process. Tell a story to build context for why the options are being recommended, reassuring the receiver that a thorough, objective process was completed.

Harvest the Cutting Room Floor
False dilemmas can result from neglect. Film directors leave film on the cutting room floor – unused footage that is not discarded and continues to have creative value. This footage is retained in a special cutting room bin for future needs. Where do you keep your unused ideas and how do you harvest them into new possibilities?

Open Source
While we associate stereotyping with people, it also applies to ideas. Either/or options can occur if we rely on traditional sources, failing to consider new perspectives. Sometimes this involves moving beyond an individual, perhaps someone you do not personally care for, to appreciate the value of their insight. I have found the best ideas often come from unlikely sources and not necessarily friends or traditional colleagues.

Identifying, resolving, and preventing false dilemmas are the marks of a true leader. Listen, appreciate, and ask the question – what else? A decision-making process where the question leads to a better answer.

All My Best,
Todd

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