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Weekly 3: What's your best option?


Idea Journal Weekly 3

February 7 · Issue #177 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Having multiple options (e.g., career opportunities) is great, but how do you choose the best one? This issue explores a few frameworks to help you decide.
(~4 min read)

#1. Add numbers to your pro-con list
Imagine that you’re planning to make a career move. You have a range of next steps to consider, including: 
  • You could look for the same job you’re doing now, but with better aspects (e.g., location, compensation, mission of the organization, etc.). 
  • You could try to get promoted at your current organization. 
  • You could move to a similar organization at a higher position. 
  • You could change careers altogether, starting by taking classes or going back to school full-time.
These are just some of your options. 
Researchers Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write that the go-to decision-making framework for most people in this situation is the pro-con list. You list all the positive things (pros) and negative things (cons) about choosing a given option.
But as McCann and Weinberg point out, although a basic pro-con list is helpful in simple situations, it has significant shortcomings when making more complex decisions like deciding the next step in your career.
For example, a basic pro-con list presents all the pros and cons as if they have equal weight. Another shortcoming is that pro-con lists treat each item independently when many factors are interrelated. 
McCann and Gabriel suggest that one easy way to make your pro-con list more useful is to add numbers to it. 
Go through each of the pros and cons for a given option and put a score of -10 to +10 next to each one: negatives for cons and positives for pros.
This allows you to assign a relative value to each pro or con, indicating how much it matters to you. 
In the career move example above, maybe location is more important to you than compensation. If so, location would get a higher score. 
This scoring helps you overcome some of the pro-con list shortcomings. Each item is no longer treated equally, and if multiple items are related you can group them into one score. 
As Gabriel and Weinberg put it, now you can more easily compare your options: “simply add up all the pros and cons for each option (e.g., job offers) and see which one comes out on top.”
#2. “When given a choice -- take both!”
As author and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis writes in his book Bold, we’re taught that when we’re given a choice we have to choose only one option.
But why should you have to choose?
In Diamandis’s own experience, throughout graduate school people told him he would either have to go to school or start a company.
Instead, he did both: he started three companies while in school, and eight more before he was 40 years old.
Diamandis gives the below examples of other entrepreneurs who also rejected such binary choices:
  • Steve Jobs ran both Apple and Pixar.
  • Elon Musk leads three multibillion-dollar companies: SolarCity, SpaceX, and Tesla.
  • In addition to Virgin Management, Richard Branson has started over 500 companies, including 8 billion-dollar companies in eight different industries.
For Diamandis, if managed well, this multiple-choice approach can create extraordinary momentum: “Ideas cross-pollinate. Networks expand. The whole becomes much bigger than the sum of its parts.”
#3. Choose the experience you want to have
Author Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA that many people have trouble figuring out what to do because they hesitate to make an actual decision: loss aversion prompts them to leave all of their options open, just in case.
But as Kaufman points out: “Without a decision … their brains can’t use Mental Simulation to figure out how to get from where they are now to where they think they want to be, so their minds thrash around unproductively.”
If you’re struggling to make a decision, Kaufman recommends asking yourself: “Out of the available options, which experience do I want to have?”
When you’re struggling to make a decision, it’s often because your brain is having a hard time figuring out which option is best. 
Kaufman writes that this can be an uncomfortable situation, “but what it really means is that it doesn’t really matter which one you choose.
And if that’s true, then you can just choose the option you find more interesting. 
Kaufman tells the story of using this approach when his wife Kelsey received an exciting job offer in New York City. They spent weeks torn between staying in Cincinnati and moving to New York. 
Where would they live? Could they afford it? What about Kaufman’s job?
Kaufman reflects on the lesson from this experience: 
“In the end, we realized there wasn’t a clear winner, so it didn’t really matter which one we chose. Living in New York was an experience we both wanted to have, so we decided to move. Almost immediately, we felt a sense of clarity and relief.”
Quote of the week
“A decision without tradeoffs … isn’t a decision.
The art of good decision making is looking forward to and celebrating the tradeoffs, not pretending they don’t exist.”
- Author and marketing expert Seth Godin writing on his blog
Idea Journal
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