When optimism just delays disappointment

Optimistic decisions have a habit of coming back to haunt you. A good dose of reality now will reduce disappointments later.

There are just three steps to the making of important decisions ...

  1. Define the objective, distinguishing between needs and wants, and without consideration of alternatives.

  2. Objectively assess a suitable list of alternatives and shortlist the most promising.

  3. Vet the shortlist based on risk—what could go wrong with each alternative.

At the end of step 3, you will have decided on the best alternative to address the objective you defined. Now you can plan the steps.

Shortcut these three steps and you risk solving the wrong problem, missing an attractive alternative, or chasing a shiny object without regard for the likelihood of success.

Optimism arises when you truncate the process because you've seen this before and apply the solution that worked then. But ask yourself what could be different this time. Was the outcome last time really that good, or just sufficient? Could you have done better?

Skip step 3 and you're really pushing it on the optimistic scale. For any material challenge, problems will arise, and can begin on Decision Day. Step 3 simply allows you to anticipate and avoid or mitigate issues. Then you can act with confidence.

The time for optimism is when you're rallying the troops for the final lap.

Take a dose of reality

Consider the last time you had a project detour from your expected path and work backwards through the three steps above:

  1. What could you have done at the outset to foresee the detour?

  2. If you had foreseen the detour, would you have chosen a different approach entirely?

  3. Did the detour happen because the scope of the question evolved during the work? In hindsight, how would you frame the outcome you were after?

Call me during my Friday office hours at 9-noon Eastern on (647) 400 2514 and we can talk about reality First come, first served but if I don't pick up, leave a message and I’ll call you back promptly.

... and if you missed these related articles, go back and take another look:

Decision making is the new literacy

Seeing threats as opportunities

The Decision Action Loop