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Door 1, 2 or 3? A Guide to Making Tough Choices

Making choices is tough and it feels even tougher when there are so many options to choose from.

Think about picking music OR a show on Netflix OR a meal for dinner tonight. If you’re fortunate enough to have the resources to pick from among several options, you’ve probably experienced some anxiety over making the right choice and often, that anxiety is fuelled more by what you leave behind than what you choose. And of course, some choices have bigger consequences than others. If you choose to order in from a new restaurant and the food is ‘meh,’ no biggie. But what if you decide to focus yourself, or your team, or even your company on the wrong stuff? We spend our workdays helping Marketing teams make choices about the best way to spend their time. Often the inclination is to do EVERYTHING. It is REALLY hard to say ‘no.’ Over the years, we’ve learned some valuable lessons on how to make tough choices:

  • Engage the right people in the decision-making process. Who MUST be part of the decision? That comes down to: who must live with the consequences of the decision? Who is critical to effectively executing decisions made?

  • Start by thinking big so you know you’ve uncovered the full range of possibilities. You don’t want anyone to feel that potential options were left off the table.

  • Be aware of your own or the group’s biases and challenge yourselves to actively work against them. You can assign yourself and others different roles during the decision-making process – play devil’s advocate OR your competitor OR your customer. Take on different roles to play out different perspectives on the best decisions and their consequences.

  • Theme the list of choices. It is overwhelming to have lots of options. Our brains can only handle so much. Help yourself and others digest the options by grouping them based on similar themes. For instance, you may have a group of choices that are all about where to sell your product or service.

  • Identify Decision Criteria. To help you choose from among many options, identify must-have criteria for making the final decision. Maybe you need to ensure ‘brand fit’ or ‘growth potential?’ Be selective here. You don’t want too many criteria – that just complicates things. Pick a handful of distinct criteria that collectively ensure you make a strong choice.

  • Work your way up to harder choices. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start by making simpler choices and then work your way up to the harder ones. For instance, if you want to decide where to focus your innovation efforts this year, start by identifying a BIG bucket of activity like “Sustainable” products or “Functional Health Benefits” and then work deeper into what specific activities you will and WILL NOT do.

  • Give Yourself a Time Limit. Without a deadline, it’s easy to let these decisions drag on. Commit to deciding by a certain date. Be prepared to adapt as needed if new information comes along.

Think about the decisions you need to make over the next month. Write down all the possible ways forward, and even check in with a few people to brainstorm alternatives. Once you identify all the possibilities, challenge yourself to think outside of your personal, group or cultural biases and see how that changes your list. Now theme the options, select key decision-making criteria and choose. Commit to making the final decision by a specific date within the next month.

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