Decision Making

by Ian Moore

Pros and cons

Planning is an unnatural process: it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.

Sir John Harvey-Jones

This is the simplest and probably the best-known way of making decisions and may well be the only way you need, especially with some of the extensions that you can use with it.

To use this method, you simply draw a table and list all the positive and negative effects of making the decision:

Tip

You might want to leave this table on your desk for a few hours or overnight to let your subconscious work on it and spot more ‘pros’ and ‘cons’.

The simplest way of using this is to base your decision on the total numbers of items in each column. If there are more ‘pros’ than ‘cons’, then make that decision; if not, don’t.

In reality, however, many people still feel unhappy with the outcome, as if something is holding them back from taking the appropriate action. Even though the ‘pros’ significantly outweigh the ‘cons’, you might still feel hesitant about taking the decision. If the ‘cons’ outweigh the ‘pros’, you might still feel that this is the correct decision to make (see Intuitive decision making). This may be because some of the items have more weight in your mind than others or there might be some hidden ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ which have not risen to your conscious mind as yet.

Weighting items

So, firstly, you could try to put some weights on each item. For example, go through the lists and assign to each item a ‘significance value’ of between 1 and 10, where 1 is not very significant and 10 is highly significant. By adding up the items in each column, you may get a better analysis of the decision.

Strengths and weaknesses

Secondly, you can try to extend the number of items in each list. Assuming that ‘all strengths are weaknesses, and all weaknesses are strengths’, you can take each item in the ‘pros’ column and map it to three items in the ‘cons’ column. For example, if you thinking about buying a new car:

You might map this to a number of ‘cons’:

So for that single ‘pro’ you now have three new ‘cons’. (Don’t worry if some of the new ‘cons’ were already on the list.).

You can now repeat this for the rest of the ‘pros’.

Similarly we can look at the list of ‘cons’ and map each of these to three ‘pros’.

Tips

You can choose to do more than three items for each mapping; this is sometimes useful, although it may become a bit complex. If you do want to do more, you might want to use a large free space and post-it notes.

You can also dig deeper with your analysis. If you map a ‘pro’ to three ‘cons’, then take each of the three ‘cons’ and map them back again to three more ‘pros’. You will potentially have nine new ‘pros’. This can be useful for a deeper analysis, but it can get complex. Use your judgement.

Making your decision

Now, when you look through the lists, you might find that the balance has changed and you have a much deeper insight into the ramifications of the decision. You can delete the duplicates in each column, but note that the fact that there are duplicates may suggest that this factor is very important for you.