A Surprising Secret of Forward Movement
Problem solving, opportunities and forward movement are about options. Life feels good when it presents options. We feel trapped, on the other hand, without options. Options liberate but not always.
The down side of options:
As few as two options may cause confusion, division, and stall forward movement. I know about a nonprofit that presented two qualified prospective leaders to fill the vacant lead role. They split over which one to hire so they didn’t hire either when either was qualified.
Options also drain enthusiasm and commitment. You’re never 100% committed to plan A when plan B sits in the wings. A fall back plan results in falling back. Entering marriage, for example, focused on the others you might have married suggests you aren’t ready for marriage.
If you create an escape hatch you’ll use it. Longing for “what might have been” kills momentum.
Create then eliminate:
What you “could do” may block you from doing anything. Great decision-makers courageously eliminate options. “No” enables and energizes “yes”.
Triumphant forward movement requires turning your back on all options except one and pursuing that option with gusto. Keeping all your options opened is like running with rocks in your pockets. The sooner you empty your pockets the better off you’ll be.
How do you eliminate options?
Can you think of decisions that are enhanced by keeping all your options opened?
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What a bailiwick!
People want options, usually the first question.
If we give options perhaps this helps make a better decision by all as compared to one shouldering the one solution and pay at the Counter scenario!
Thanks for your bailiwick comment. Perhaps we are at different stages in the process…
🙂 Great hearing from you Tim.
Am with Tim on this one Dan.
I think you like playing these games and seeing who will bite! It’s a nice post but naaaaah, I don’t think so.
Thanks for jumping in on this one. 🙂
I’m not above a game or two to instigate some thought but no game playing this time.
Absolutely, options are necessary to evaluate while making the decision. But, Dan is right: you need to rid yourself of options after the decision is made and move forward with the selected option as though it were the only option available. We must make this work!
Thanks for your comment. We could add that adjusting course when circumstances change is useful also. It’s not, however, keeping previous options opened as a fall-back plan.
I get what you are trying to say here.
I find that this one depends LARGELY on personality type. Some personality types will not move FORWARD unless they have options. Some get bogged down by options and really do feel like they are carrying around a bag full of rocks.
I think that trick is in the attitude, perhaps, and the self-talk, and how we word things.
My personality asks, why eliminate options when we can prioritize or optimize? Why burden the conscious mind with mountains of data, when we can prioritize that too, and then factor in our gut feel to cut through all the noise?
I think getting quickly to the best option is what many of us want… at least that’s what I want when I am leading a team, or wanting to move forward.
All the best!
Love how you bring the personal side to this. Some people are much better with ambiguity and or multiple options.
And I am definitely in favor of creating a situation where all resources and energies are focused on one course of action.
I’m thankful your participation.
Yes, some tolerate ambiguity better, and believe it or not, building tolerance for ambiguity is actually good for brain health. 🙂
An example of a type/situation where options promote forward movement? Average jungian perceiver types are more likely to buy, or fund a project, or enter into contracts, if they perceive an “out” option, or risk mitigation in in place.
You mention focus, and I couldn’t agree more on that point: even among those of us who have high tolerance for ambiguity and options, the ability to prioritize and focus and ACT as if we are working on the ONLY option is a key balancer and critical success factor, I think.
I experience this first hand with many things. Many options or keeping your options open prevent you from doing anything in some cases. Taking the approach of “this is what we are doing” while knowing another direction you could go successfully is ok but just keeping your options open and doing nothing is not. Too many times my kids, leaders and parents want to “keep options open”. It seems as if they are waiting for something better to come along at all times. They say yes to one thing half heartedly and then say no at the last minute. In an organization this can not only stifle forward momentum but also destroy trust and relationships. How can you trust someone will follow through if they never commit fully to a project or function. Then drop you like a hot rock when something better comes along.
Sometimes people use this tactic to get out of work or difficult tasks. “Mr. so and so had asked me to help with this project”. Well what about the one you said you were going to do for us???
Encourage people to write events and “options” down then pick the one that is most important to them or their project. When something else comes along they should say I’m sorry I already have a commitment.
I would rather have someone tell me they can not do something, then say yes and not do it at all.
Options and flexibility are necessary
but commitments are also necessary
My best to you Dan
Great though provoking commentary!!!
Great addition to the conversation.
Your comment reminds me that many situations, problems, and opportunities have more than one solution/answer. The more complex the situation the more answers emerge. The role of leadership is to get to a solution quickly and make it work.
I’m thankful for you and your comments.
While I understand the sentiment, I think a second choice a plan B is absolutely necessary. As an inside influencer, while I may have my sites firmly fixed on outcome A, I need to know what is an acceptable B or falback position is. If I put all my eggs in one basket, and this doesn’t work out, then I am stopped dead in my tracks. I may not get A, and I probably won’t the first time out, but I also know the point I will not back below.
This also means that the next time you take a run at outcome A, you are hopefully a little closer, have some traction, and can get what you are after.
Great comment. I love the “all the eggs in one basket” illustration. It suggests that rejecting all other alternatives is fool-hardy.
This is especially true with investments.
I’m not sure it applies to developing a new product line, initiating a building project, or hiring new staff. I believe these courses of action require an all in approach.
I will, however, acknowledge that things change and its normal and to be expected that a course of action will be adjusted as time goes by.
It’s a pleasure having you participate in the conversation.
Fully agree w Dan on this one. Once the decision is made, burn those bridges to alternative routes. It fuels all possible disruptions, slow-down tactics and “I told you so”‘s to have a plan B. Many people just don’t fully go for plan A if in their view there is a better option.
I once deliberately took this position because it was the only way to get a mega effort going. When – due to financial crisis – the mega effort halted, a sensible plan B was quickly constructed and performed on time.
Thanks for your comment. I find it very useful that you include the idea that if plan A does fall through people can quickly create an alternative. Makes sense to me.
How do you eliminate options?
Can you think of decisions that are enhanced by keeping all your options opened?
I eliminate options by accepting that the outcome of whatever choice I pick is more often than not a choice that I can modify in the future – but if I don’t start somewhere I’ll end up in a serious morass of inertia.
As far as decisions that are enhanced by keeping options open — I think that one place or situation where having a “bench” with several options available may be when funding or other resources are subject to change rapidly. In other words, have a unified goal but different plans for achieving it (the “we have everything we could possibly need” plan; the “we have most of the resources to implement but are lacking the “luxuries”; and the “we are back to starting from scratch resource-wise, how do we get there?” plan.
I agree with Dan, but I also like the perspective that Martina brings.
It’s important when you make a decision to commit to it. Fully committing to one path frees you to be excited about the goals you’re pursuing and how.
I think it’s also important to have benchmarks and to discern a point where it’s time to re-examine if all doesn’t go as well as planned. You don’t have to leave previous options open because at the point where it’s time to re-examine, you’ll want to look forward from the place you are, evaluate and develop new options from there.
Hi Dan, I think options are necessary for a couple of reasons. First and foremost it should provide you a great perspective of why your choice is the better one. (Don’t folks out there send out RFPs before committing?) Secondly it becomes an educational process because although option B and C were not chosen there is no saying whether they will BE the right choice when the environment changes. I don’t think one should let options stagnate and paralyze you but I am not sure I feel comfortable choosing when I have not explored at least several possibilities. As the saying goes ” I like to keep my options open. 🙂
I eliminate options by two ways. First, by creating new and better options. Second, by comparing my potential by available options. This is the way, I keep myself energized, aligned and focussed towards my dream. I also eliminate smaller options to achieve greater and better options.
I think, the better way to enhance decision keeping options open is to strengthen yourself. You need to understand, what is your dream, and what options are available. Options are always there. It is your ability to judge and measure those options whether they are in line with your strength or interest. When person is not focussed then options definitely deviate, but when you are focussed towards your goal, then even number of options may not deviate you. So, to prevent yourself from deviation, you need to make your focus clear and passion connected to your goal.
Great discussion. Dan is right – when a decision is made, move on. I don’t like to put much energy into Plan B, although I believe it is prudent to watch your dashboard and know in advance what might trigger rethinking your decision.
The trickier part is when you are not the decision maker, but responsible for setting the stage for decision – the role of most middle managers. I was trained to always recommend an option and rationale for why it’s right, but also present a couple of other options examined and rationale for rejecting. You must make a recommendation – otherwise you are being wishy-washy.
Looking forward to retirement, I thought about what I would do when I was free of working for a living. I really wanted to write, but I considered becoming a life coach. It was interesting and something I thought I could do well. So the last year or so I prepared for both, reading blogs, attending trainings, etc. The month I retired one of the coaching blogs offered a webinar on the dangers of having a Plan B, in that it would detract from achieving your real goals. While the purpose of the seminar was to entice you to take coaching training, it made me realize coaching was my plan b and I stopped pursuing it.
Dan, your thoughts spurred some great discussion. I will ignore the process at arriving at Option A and assume that the “due diligence” to arrive at the best option and talk about energy and focus. It has been my experience that the more things we keep in our head the more energy we use to maintain them. This can have an adverse affect on how we deliver on our ‘A’ option and how we personally perform (if we deplete too much energy keeping track of multiple option). While this will affect different people in different ways, as Mark pointed out, we are built to focus on one thing at a time. Knowing there is one thing to focus on, and not three or four, leads to better outcomes.
Not a simple question, but important to understand how we deal with this personally, as a team, and as an organization in order to create a process that will encourage the best way of doing things.
Eliminate is such a final word.
If, through a thorough, thoughtful, consensus-built process, the group has determined a ranked course of action, then it is time for the parking lot to fill with the leftover options. The foundation of that process might also include a culture of trying new things, embracing mistakes and learning from them, etc. Even picking between two fairly equal options, you can determine a ‘best guess’ by ranking that can have a degree of consensus building and team building. How you choose may be more important than what you choose.
And I say ‘group’ has decided rather than ‘you’ decided. If you have already started a collaborative decision-making process and mid-stream cut off the process, you are not leading. That’s more the illusion of input and that kills long term initiative in a heartbeat.
As far as keeping options open…probably do not want to pave over that parking lot either, keep them for future reference and options. Park ’em, their time may not be right or the resources not quite ready, etc.
Hey Doc thanks for reminding us that there is no “I” in team. 🙂
Al Diaz, don’t get me started! There IS an “I” in team, even if it isn’t in the word! 😉
Unless a team member understands what the team expects from him or her; what he or she is expecting from the team; what value he or she brings to the team; how can he or she be fully tuned into the team and team direction?
It’s all about relationships, and any relationship I’m in has me in it—IF I’m showing up for it. 😉
And when we do show up, really be there 100%.
Showing up (physically) and being there (mentally) are sadly two different critters.
(Ever sit in a meeting and see someone texting or scanning emails…put those phones on stun and really get that interaction going when you have that face to face opportunity! Oops, some of my baggage just slipped out, sorry bout that. Maybe that is using two communication options and doing neither of them particularly well.)
“And when we do show up, really be there 100%.”
Actually, this is EXACTLY what I meant. Heck, I bet if everyone showed up FIFTY percent, meetings wouldn’t get the bad rep that they have now. 😉
Of course you just KNOW that a good part of that cognitive/emotional turnout is contingent on expectations, in turn based on how the meetings have gone before, and who is running them.
Early in my career I realized I enjoyed showing up—physically and cognitively/emotionally—for meetings run with focus and purpose and that delivered value, and that allowed me to contribute my bit. Otherwise… I had other things to do…
That said, I know what you meant…
No argument from me on this one! 🙂 P.S. certainly would want you on my team! 🙂
Thanks, Al, the feelings are mutual! 🙂
“Great decision-makers courageously evaluate and prioritize options.” I like that better. I don’t believe that options have to create stagnation. They can create great what ifs and what could be scenarios. I believe that throwing out options can lead to tunnel vision. You can have a clear direction even with multiple options. You just need to be intentional about your decisions.
Doing well while you have an option or not have an option vary from person to person. Few do well when they have an options while other when they don’t have. In all this what matters is how keenly focused you are & how well you can prioritize your requirement.
Reminds me of the song “How Long To The Point of No Return”. I believe options are useful during the the decision-making phase. And Fall-back plans are useful for risk management. However, once committed to a course of action, it’s incredibly counter-productive to continue the discussion of the options that were not selected. I wish I could recover all the time spent/wasted discussing statements that begin with “if we had only chosen [option x] instead.” Once a course has been plotted, it’s important for everyone to start rowing in that direction. What’s in the rearview mirror doesn’t matter, unless it’s faster than you.
Being clear on all levels of intention helps me manage options. This includes my personal value’s intention, bigger picture intention, and immediate intention. Perhaps in the example of not hiring one of two candiates there wasn’t clear communication about all those levels of intention. To me that wasn’t about too many options, it was lack of agreement or clarity on all levels of intention .
Make a decision, and have confidence you made the right one. There’s nothing worse than second guessing yourself and living in “woulda, coulda, shoulda”-land. Life’s too short! Nice post, thanks!
I didn’t read all the posts. Maybe I am ditto’ing someone else… We can think about it this way: What about when you are one of two options? When they decide on you, do you still want them to be considering the one they didn’t choose?
I was just chosen over one person to take a position. Having been told (yes, TOLD) for many years that I am overqualified, underqualified, too energetic, not energetic enough, not social enough, too old (n so many words), too Jewish, I was hired for, get this:
“You’re a little bit of a risk (overqualified) with significant potential reward over someone doing this and only this (they added, but just do this until we ask for more…).”
There is no elephant in the room. I have my clear orders and I expect they will work with me as I equally work to stay on their track. I appreciate their saying yes to me and working with me as if I am their only option. I will also give back as their only option by being myself doing what needs to be done.
Options = Bad.
I feel giving people options on high end decissions is a bad idea. It shows lack of vision and direction from the organization’s leader. With options comes vision drift.
Options on smaller more personal matters empowers the person 90% of the time. The other 10% it just stresses out. Personality plays a role here.
That’s my 2 cents, anyhow.