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Deciding How to Decide


Wed Sep 11 2019

Deciding How to Decide

Recently, a group of senior talent professionals were discussing why they selected various tools and techniques to gain a greater understanding of their organizations’ capability to grow business. The conversation turned into this question: “How do you decide how to decide?” The academic question eventually morphed into a discussion on making choices. How do we make choices? And what are the consequences of those choices?

Every day we make choices. Some are small while others have huge implications. The good thing about having choices, even the hardest ones, is it means you can act. You are not boxed in but can influence your situation—not just today, but into the future. Choosing what to do and what not to do–in conditions that can be ambiguous, heavy with consequences, and changing constantly–defines strategy.


In the rush and flow of just running our daily business and responding to requests related to training and learning, we may use our expert intuition\* and suggest a solution from our current portfolio. Think about this: If you need to come up with ideas for developing microlearning, what are your choices and how do you decide what to do and why? And once you have decided the action you will take, what are the tradeoffs you made by choosing this option (time, availability of people, technology, and so on)?

What are the options in your current portfolio? Do you circle your team and do a brainstorm? If so, what method do you use? Perhaps one of these:

  • verbal listing of ideas

  • Nominal Group Technique

  • a Design Thinking tool like Creative Matrix

  • brain writing using the LUMA Round Robin Method

  • research via Google

  • go to a vendor

  • benchmark

  • conduct a Delphi Method with your industry colleagues

  • use the creative strategy approach

  • combination of these

  • other.

Something to consider when deciding on the path forward once you have a request includes how you understand the context (for example, what’s the purpose of you doing this action?). A famous story from Dr. Deming, the quality management expert, articulates the importance of context. When asked to list five things needed to wash a table, the most frequent and typical answers include water, a cleaning solution, a bucket, a sponge, a drying cloth, and a person. Most often, the replies do not include asking about how the table will be used once it’s cleaned. You clean one way if the table will be used for serving food, another if it is an operating table, and still another if it will be used as a base for four-year-olds to build a Lego village. Context matters with making choices. In this story, the best choice considers aligning the varying degree of cleanliness of the table with its intended use, shifting from whether the table is clean (or not) to how clean it should be.

Given the microlearning scenario above, the choice selected may be affected by time constraints, resources, understanding of the various options, and more. Verbal brainstorming is one option to consider for decision making. It may be the easiest and quickest but the solid ideas may not be feasible. Another option, using the creative strategy approach, should produce workable practices from others, but the process itself is time consuming and resource intensive. As you consider all of the options, some may be eliminated as not being worth the effort.

As an expert in the realm of understanding employee needs and designing learning experiences, how do you continually build your portfolio of options or choices in your toolkit? Once aware of new tools, how do you gain experience in using them? Most importantly, how you bring context and purpose together to make the best decision and develop a clear and succinct point of view for when and how to use a high impact tool or technique, how do you decide how to decide?

\*Expert Intuition:

Expert intuition is when a highly skilled and experienced person can rapidly recall and apply thoughts and actions from direct experiences in similar situations. Consider skilled workers such as first responders in a triage situation or an HVAC technician when your system is down. They can walk into a situation, see one or two data points and immediately understand what is going on. According to Duggan, this expert intuition is a product of the memory and is generally called the “sixth sense.” Experts can walk into a situation and quickly “see” a fix for the problem because what they see reminds them of former situations. How do experienced and skilled learning professionals use this expert intuition when a business unit manager calls and says his team needs training is problem-solving or the executive team says we need leadership training for front line supervisors?


Expert intuition is useful and when situations are similar, it is an excellent choice; however, when you walk into an unfamiliar situation and there are no clues that resonant with familiarity, what do you do? At this point, expert intuition can be compared to strategic intuition—what William Duggan calls the seventh sense. This is being able to have an aha idea for a situation or challenge that you have never encountered based on combining two completely unrelated examples. See Duggan’s books, The Seventh Sense: How Flashes of Insight Change Your Life and Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement, Creative Strategy: A Guide for Innovation

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