On August 27 1776, the British attacked U.S. defenses on the Guan Heights. Unknown to the Americans, General Howe attacked their flank, and pushed George Washington to retreat, leaving to them the Port of New-York during the rest of the war.
Faced with a problematic situation, your mind naturally tends to reduce all your possibilities in a scheme of two alternatives, between a preferred choice and a fallback solution.
While this spontaneous decision model is effective in your everyday decisions, it may not be enough for major decisions such as the creation of a business project or the launch of a product.
By making you settled with options already on the table, this kind of decision-making prevents you from adapting to unique situations and limits your ability to find specific solutions.
How can you make your choices as a decision-maker more creative and appropriate to the circumstances?
Steven Johnson Farsighted elaborates at length on the benefits of imagination and openness to the future in our decisions.
You should be able to assess the consequence of your actions in the future rather than just considering them in their present implication. By thinking about the future, you stimulate your creativity and combine elements you would not have combined otherwise.
Imagining possibilities that are different from the one already suggested in the present, you open your minds to original and unnoticed alternatives and create solutions adapted to the risks and stakes of your choices.
Each situation presents its own challenges, which only a decision-maker capable of diversifying his perspectives and identifying the most decisive aspects can understand. An effective decision is the one that best synthesizes the specifics of these situations into a particular solution.
Here’s how in 3 steps you can boost your creativity in your decision-making.
1. Creating a Mental Map of The Situation
When it comes to making choices in the future, such as the shape of a next product or marketing campaign, your decisions may involve elements of various origins and complexity that need to be combined.
Synthesizing the elements clearly and concisely, highlighting each aspect of the decision according to the weight it carries, allows you to apprehend the future possibilities brought by your decisions.
Steven Johnson, in his book on long-term decisions, refers to the influence diagrams invented by decision theorists, which push you to visualize the effects of your actions in the long term. They enable you to realize the extent of ignorance and uncertainty in your projects and to take it into account in your decision-making.
It is a question of reflecting on all the dimensions of your decisions by involving the eyes of various actors, to allow your mind to spot its blind spots.
Drawing a mental map of your situation allows you to see the limits of your knowledge, and thus to prevent you from the uncertain events that might occur according to their odds.
For example, George Washington in the famous Battle of Brooklyn had to think about how the British would approach the port of New York. He used partners of diverse expertise but lacked an ally like General Green at his side (who knew the specific geography of Long-Island very well) to eventually understand that he couldn’t defend New York and had to retreat.
His mental map contained unknown uncertainties that prevented him to make a truly informed decision.
2. Predicting and Simulating The Future Effects
Faced with a major decision that will impact your projects or company in the future, it is also necessary to understand and predict the probabilities of each eventuality you will encounter.
Predicting and simulating the possible consequences of your actions in the future allows you to adapt to all eventualities and choose the solution closest to what you want as an outcome.
A tool such as the narration of alternative scenarios leads you to consider the possible effects of each choice and to understand their importance.
By narrating probable scenarios, possible turns of events, and the reactions that an opponent or your environment might have, you allow yourself to consider all possibilities equally, and to identify and warn yourself of the most likely outcomes.
For example, during the operation under the Obama administration aimed to the death of Osama Bin Laden, the goal was to simulate in relatively faithful conditions the different possible outcomes of the mission, revealing the possibility that one of the Black-Hawks helicopters could be affected by the terrain, which was foreseen with the use of a second helicopter — and this possibility was well realized.
Without such a narrative, the Obama administration would not have succeeded in this mission so brilliantly.
3. Inventing and Assessing a Unique Solution
Even more than predicting events in your decisions, it is about creating an optimal medium-term solution that takes into account all the contingencies and risks of the decision.
Your mind spontaneously tends to summarize its possibilities in a double decision scheme between making the preferred choice or a fallback choice. This schema prevents you from seeing the possibility of a third way, often more adapted to the particular situation of your decisions.
With the benefit of a mental map of the situation and the narration of alternative scenarios, you open yourself to the real creative work of decision making: finding a path anticipating the limits of your knowledge of the field and the most probable alternative scenarios.
There is no method for inventing the definitive solution, but schemes such as the Value Model can be useful to encourage the creation of truly innovative and optimal solutions.
It is a matter of assigning to each possibility at stakes a value of importance estimated by the information obtained from all the actors, drawing a chart that provides you a clear and complete vision and building a solution that responds to the most decisive issues:
Is price more important in the design of your product than design, marketing, innovation? Is it better to value the return on investment of your campaign, the visibility, or the good reputation it will bring to your brand?
It is by faithfully weighing each factor that you can then invent a tailored solution, truly differentiating and impactful.