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
We will be looking some more at the ‘cons’ in the next section on risk so we will start by looking to make sure we generate the various courses of action so we can then evaluate them. We need a variety of options to examine and compare so at this stage we do some brainstorming. By looking at the issues laterally we may uncover a profitable way of achieving our aim that we have not yet considered; something that could be of great benefit to our overall strategy.
When I go through this process I prefer to look at the issues and do some thinking on my own first. I would recommend 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 you have drawn some initial observations on your own you can address the challenge again in a team environment. Other people will always bring an alternative view of a problem and I would recommend involving at least one other person in the thinking, even if they just act as a sounding board of your ideas.
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. I have suggested some simple exercises to get you going, then you might like to explore further by reading one or more of the books by these authors.
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.
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 ‘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 stage you have gone through the exercises below you should have several courses of action that you could choose 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