I recently read Russ Roberts’ Wild Problems: A Guide to the Decisions That Define Us.

The basic premise is that there are certain decisions you can’t make with a pro and con list, and that we can get stuck in these loops – especially with the biggest decisions we make in our lives.

We often go into the decision assuming we can accurately describe the pros and the cons. Because we are trying to describe pros of something we have never experienced, we end up listing many cons (and many assumptions) about how life will be on the other side.  

Because we hate to lose (Cognitive scientist Daniel Kahneman showed humans are far more likely to avoid loss than move toward gain), we get stuck. We avoid or delay making the decision, even if it’s what we know we want on a deeper level.

But the opposite happens in business. We often can imagine into likely futures. Sometimes when we do that, though, we picture an ideal that isn’t built off our current reality. And it makes it really hard to connect the two places and get people to move in that new direction.

This is why I get calls when people have put a strategy in place, and it’s either not doing what they thought it would, or it’s upset people. They’ve created a role, but that didn’t seem to do what it was they thought it would. They invested in a new business, but it didn’t turn out to be what they thought. They keep hiring the “wrong people,” and realize there might be things outside of the selection process itself that are driving retention.

In Wild Problems, there’s one example the author uses that I can’t stop thinking about. Coincidentally, it’s related to hiring.

Roberts references a technique Kahneman recommended for making decisions about who to hire: creating a matrix to score candidates.

He argues against this technique, that the whole of a human can’t be reduced to something as simple as a scoring matrix – that it’s more complex than that.

And while I agree that an entire human can’t be simplified to a set of boxes, this entirely misses the point of the scoring matrix.

Any time you’re working using a matrix with a group of people to decide between a set of choices, it shouldn’t be reductionistic in the sense that it strips away the essence. If this is what happens, it’s not being used well.  

I say this as someone entirely biased towards scoring matrices. I create and use them with clients all the time.

The value of these matrices and frameworks is that they facilitate a deeper understanding of what matters and how people think about the topic at hand.

You can’t just pull one off the internet.

Well… you can, but then you risk being reductionistic because you’ve taken something that doesn’t fit your context.

You need to apply it to your context.

What that means is that you systematically discover what is most critical for your business – quantitatively and qualitatively. And you create a tool to help you score against that (even the qualitative stuff!).  

Creating this beforehand allows you to enter a discussion with something to ground you before new information is presented, emotions get triggered, people get tired, and you forget what the thing was you really wanted to leave with in the first place. It’s too easy to get spun around.

Then, using that matrix as your grounding tool, you do the most important step… have a discussion with key players about why they scored what they did.

In an ideal world, you provide scoring guidance and training around how to score, so that there is less discrepancy on scores – but realistically, not many people are going to follow that process perfectly, because it’s time consuming.

And even when you do, there are slight variations in how people will score, because some people tend to score more middle-of-the-road no matter what, and some people tend to score on the extremes, no matter what.  

So you have the discussion around the scoring, with the intent of creating understanding – not with the intent of having perfect scores.

If you have the discussion without first creating some sort of tool, framework, or matrix, it becomes difficult to guide the discussion back to common ground – AND ground that is on the path directed towards the result you want to see.

Without a more objective tool, you risk decisions being swayed by the opinions of the loudest voice in the room or the one with the highest title.

When you have this discussion, it should level the playing field. This is often easier to do when it’s facilitated. This pulls all perspectives into the room, and helps adjust for power dynamics.

It makes the discussion about what’s best for the business, and what’s most aligned with your most important objectives – given the way things actually work.

This enables better and more aligned decisions – not to mention deeper understanding of how the people around you operate.

Bonus: when you have a better understanding of why you made the decisions you made, it makes it infinitely easier to share with others.

Especially when the decisions you make spark any kind of change, being able to “show and tell” a sound decision making process and rationale has been proven to do wonders in eliminating resistance to the change… and a host of other issues.

So, over to you….

What are you choosing, and why? What are you choosing, and how?

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