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How many squirrels can you follow at once?
This is the thought that occurred to me while reading a recent article by Valeria Maltoni entitled Inventing Options for Mutual Gain. While describing an excellent process for arriving at options, and not necessarily “the final solution”, I am reminded of Edward de Bono and his book Lateral Thinking that I read years ago. The depth and specifics of this work long ago drifted into the “you don’t need to remember this at a granular level” section of my mind, but one of the descriptions I remember well is that the activity of lateral thinking could be visualized as you digging numerous holes in the ground. Although you may find something of interest, even compelling, in one of the holes you dig, you don’t stop digging. Don’t fall in love with the first appealing thing you come across. Other holes you dig may (or may not) offer up a more creative, more defining, more appropriate solution.
Now it’s true that at some point you’ll need to stop digging holes and bring all these potential answers up to consider, but the initial goal is to discover options, not arrive at an answer. Some of the options may well present you with trade-offs, value to different segments of the answer base (those for whom you are digging, whether they are customers, friend and family, or the factions in your head…).
In her article, Maltoni describes a prototypical strategy session that may be carried out amongst 5-8 people and many excellent points that will allow this group to get to the options, and THEN to a decision based upon negotiation. But what does this look like when it’s just you, the entrepreneur or small business owner?
There are a couple of complimentary approaches you can take.
The first is the internal conversation you have all the time. I alluded to this in the article I wrote last week about listening. Many of us have arguments, or at least discussions, with ourselves when mulling over problems and deciding the direction or action to take. Play devil’s advocate, “dig holes” and make note of the things you find, then walk away for a day or so before returning to the list and to weigh them. These are some methodologies for getting to an answer by yourself.
This is, however, the weaker of the two approaches, since it is much to easy to rush and accept “an acceptable” solution, whether it’s really the good one or not. It’s much too easy to focus on getting to an answer as quickly as possible when it’s just you in the “discussion.”
Consider this: in your business and in your life, you have a trusted advisor, a mentor, a close friend, SOMEONE who you could ask for assistance. This person doesn’t even need to know your business in depth. They provide a different point-of-view, another brain and creative spirit that will help you invent options (not judge them). This voice can help you broaden the options on the table, rather than look for a single answer, and invent ways for making the decision easy.
The great thing in this process is that you do NOT have finding the answer as the GOAL. The GOAL is creating options. Keep that as the goal. You eventually get to an answer, but are less likely to dig a single hole that not only ends up being sub-standard but which you can’t “get out of” if it’s not one of the better options (think sunk costs and the like that keep you from moving to Better from Good…).
What “nut” are you trying to crack in your business today? There are times that chasing a few different squirrels will get you to the right nut!