Comparing upsides and downsides

A time of change forces us to take decisions based on little information and without knowing how things are going to turn out.

One way to achieve this is by applying our purpose and values. Others are to learn from people we admire, from our past, or from our future

This final technique is more analytical. It involves thinking through the upsides and downsides of the options you have identified. Often this is enough to reach a decision but, if not, then mapping the options on to a chart like the one above will bring you deeper insights.

To apply this technique, first make a short list of your preferred options.

Then think through the critical success factors of the decision you are taking:

  • How important is this issue compared with your other priorities?
  • Who are the key stakeholders (including yourself) and what would most inspire them?
  • What are the outcomes you and they want to create (and avoid)?
  • When do you need to take a decision by?
  • How quickly does a solution need to be implemented?
  • How long does it need to last?
  • How robust does it need to be to changing circumstances?
  • What resources are appropriate and available?
  • What other issues are important?

Once you are clear on this context then you can think through the specific options:

  • What are the upsides of each option, the advantages and benefits they might bring?
  • How likely or achievable are these outcomes and how easy to implement?
  • What are the downsides of each option, the disadvantages and difficulties they bring?
  • How likely are these difficulties and how difficult to avoid?

For each option, rank the upsides and the downsides as “high, very high, low, or very low.” Rank the ease of implementation as red (difficult), green (easy), or amber (medium).

Often this will make it clear which option you prefer. To get a deeper understanding and confirm your choice, map the options on to a grid like the one above.

Then take one more step:

  • Decide the option you prefer
  • Ask yourself what actions you could now take to shift that option further towards the top left and/or make it easier to implement

In the above scenario I chose Option B because, even though it was the most difficult to implement, it also brought the biggest upsides and the lowest downsides — if I could get it to work. Because, as Elon Musk said:

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”

There are no rules for which option to choose — it depends on your situation and your attitude to risk. Other people would have chosen differently.

With so much change happening in the world it is impossible to predict exactly what is going to happen. All ways forward are likely to be difficult. What makes the difference to finding the best way forward for you is the inspiration you and your key stakeholders will feel. Thinking through the upsides and downsides is a quick way to find that.

Are you currently considering alternatives for moving forward? Do you have a shortlist of the options? Have you thought through the upsides and downsides?

You might also want to see what lessons you could learn from your pastyour future, your purpose and values, or the people you admire. If none of your current options appeals, it might also be worth pausing to see if you can generate more alternatives to move forward.

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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