“Sometimes the situation is only a problem because it is looked at in a certain way. Looked at in another way, the right course of action may be so obvious that the problem no longer exists.” Edward de Bono

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The Right Questions - Which, course of action, choice

Signpost by JMC photos via Flickr

How do we select our preferred strategy and best course of action?

“Sometimes the situation is only a problem because it is looked at in a certain way. Looked at in another way, the right course of action may be so obvious that the problem no longer exists.” Edward de Bono

The ‘Which’ question relates to selection. There are generally many roads we can choose to get to our destination and therefore we need to actively evaluate the factors, weigh up the pros and cons and look at the opportunities and risks of each route before we decide on our best course of action.

Brainstorming potential courses of action

The Right Questions - options, brainstorming

Brainstorming by Superlative00 via Flickr

Looking at ‘cons’ is a really about risk and is a separate subject in itself. Before looking at risk specifically, it is beneficial to start to generate some courses of action so they can be evaluated. There needs to be a variety of options to examine and compare so at this stage some brainstorming is required. By looking at the issues laterally it is possible to uncover profitable ways of achieving the aim that may not yet have been considered; something that could be of great benefit to the overall strategy.

When coming up with new ideas it is recommended that any team starts by working as individuals first – even if for just a few minutes – as this means everyone is fully engaged with the process and that the team benefits from two different levels of creativity; the personal and the team dynamic. If you start with the whole group it is likely that some of the individual ideas will be lost.

Once people have drawn some initial observations on their own the challenge can then be brought back to the team environment.  Other people will always bring an alternative view of a problem and even if you do not have a specific team it is worth involving at least one other person in the thinking; even if they just act as a sounding board for your ideas.

Divergent thinking

There are many ways to help your creativity in thinking through a problem. Edward de Bono has written some excellent books on the topic such as ‘Lateral Thinking’ and ‘Six Thinking Hats’.  Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’ and Tony Buzan’s work on Mind Mapping are other good resources that can help you.

But even without these methods, forcing yourself or your team to come up with three alternative ways of achieving your goal will give you the chance to think more broadly and compare options.

When you feel you have come up with an appropriate number of alternative ways of achieving your task (between 2 and 5 is usually a manageable number) you can properly evaluate each in turn and choose the best course of action.

Contingency planning

The Right Questions - Decision making

Explosion of ideas by d4rkcr0w

The time spent on this process is not wasted as the courses you don’t choose to pursue become part of your contingency planning. There is an army phrase that says ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’; in other words there will always be unforeseen circumstances that mean you will have to adapt your ideas. Having looked at alternatives in the planning process you will find it much easier and quicker to adapt your plan and move on when you face obstacles. Therefore it is more about the planning than the plan itself.

Making your choice

By the time you have gone through the exercises above you should have several courses of action that you might choose between to achieve your aim. You will also have a feel for which option is the most attractive.

Be prepared that you may have to revisit the questions of ‘How’, ‘Who’, and ‘When’ as you come up with options you may have not considered before. After doing this we can move onto the next post on this subject where we will look at risk in more detail and see whether your choice of route is confirmed.

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” Sun Tzu

This post was first published at http://www.therightquestions.org/