The next time you make an important decision, ask yourself: Are all these constraints valid? Is this question really a binary yes or no? Are there other alternatives that you're not considering? We tend to accept answers that others provide, but we forget our ability to find new options.
Photo by Brian Moore
Harvard Professor Richard Zeckhauser challenged his audience at a recent talk:
Your doctor has discovered that you have a high cholesterol level, namely 260. She prescribes one of many available statin drugs. She says this will generally drop your cholesterol about 30 per cent. There may be side effects. Two months later you return to your doctor. Your cholesterol level is now at 195. Your only negative side effect is sweaty palms, which you experience once or twice a week for one or two hours. Your doctor asks whether you can live with this side effect. You say yes. She tells you to continue on the medicine. What do you say?
Bazerman, who has naturally problematic lipids, had a wide body of knowledge on the subject and isn't known for his shyness. He went with the statin.
Zeckhauser responded, "Why don't you try one of the other statins instead?" I immediately realised that he was probably right. Rather than focusing on whether or not to stay on the current statin, broadening the question to include the option of trying other statins makes a great deal of sense. After all, there may well be equally effective statins that don't cause sweaty palms or any other side effects. My guess is that many patients err by accepting one of two options that a doctor presents to them. It is easy to get stuck on an either/or choice, which I … fell victim to at Zeckhauser's lecture. I made the mistake of accepting the choice as my colleague presented it. I could have and should have asked what all of the options were. But I didn't. I too easily accepted the choice presented to me.
Author Tina Seelig gave groups in her class $5 and challenged them to make as much money as possible in two hours. The teams that made the most money didn't even use the $5 at all. The small budget was too much of a restriction.
Naturally, no matter how hard you think, you'll find some situations have no positive outcome. Creative answers don't always work out. But it never hurts to reconsider the constraints and other possibilities before making a final decision.
The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See [Farnam Street]