Do you make decisions based on a complete set of goals and a consideration of all the alternatives and consequences? Do you choose your actions in a calculated way according to established decision rules?
If you answered "yes" to both questions then you make decisions like a rational decision maker. If you answered "no" to one or both questions then you make your decisions like everyone else! Rational decision making is not obsolete, it's just incomplete. That's where Positive Uncertainty comes in.
Positive Uncertainty is a philosophy for making decisions when you don’t know what the future will be, which is all the time. It may sound a little strange to you. That’s because it is strange. Actually it is paradoxical. Being uncertain and positive is what we are saying is what you need to be a successful decision maker.
Positive Uncertainty starts with two attitudes. First, you need to accept the uncertainty of the future because the future is real and inevitable. No one has been to your future. There are no advance scouts, guides or road maps. Second, you need to be positive about this uncertainty because it is better than certainty. If the future were certain or even predictable, the only choice is to prepare for it. By being uncertain you allow yourself to be a proactive instead of reactive decision maker. These two attitudes are the cornerstones of Positive Uncertainty, but there’s more to it than that.
Decision making is using what you know and believe to decide what to do to get what you want. What you want, know, believe and do are the four core factors involved in every decision. But what you do doesn’t always get you what you want. And sometimes when you do get what you want you find out it isn’t what you wanted after all. That’s the uncertainty in all decision making.
Traditional decision making models provide rational strategies to reduce uncertainty. And these strategies don’t include personal beliefs. Decision making using Positive Uncertainty involves multiple decision strategies – rational, intuitive, traditional and creative – to sometimes reduce uncertainty and to always deal with it.
We’ve expanded these four factors – want, know, believe and do – into four paradoxical principles. These four principles are paradoxical because they are contradictory statements which may nevertheless be true. Each principle embraces conventional decision making wisdom and contradicts it. It’s not an either-or approach to decision making but a both-and-more.
1. Be focused and flexible about what you want Traditional decision theory stresses being focused on your future goals. This strategy is not obsolete but incomplete. Being focused helps you attain goals. It keeps you from getting distracted easily, but can prevent you from discovering new goals.
Become flexible with what you want by asking yourself the following questions:
What else could I do? What other possible actions are there? What other choices or options for what I could do?
What else could happen? What other possible outcomes might occur? What are the possible results or consequences of what could happen?
Use your goals to guide you not govern you.
2. Be aware and wary about what you know Information is the hallmark of decision making. When making a decision we are told to get the facts because collecting information will reduce uncertainty. However, very often…
The information you have is not what you want
The information you want is not what you need
The information you need is not available
Being aware and wary about what you know helps you to assess what is known and appreciate what is unknown. The hallmark of this principle is to be open-minded. That means to:
Look for “mis-information,” missing information and out-of-date information
Use both fact and intuition when deciding
To be aware and wary is to use your whole brain – the rational, factual side and the intuitive, imaginative side. Knowing and not knowing are both important for creative decision makers.
3. Be realistic and optimistic about what you believe What you believe has always been seen as one of the most important factors in what you decide but seldom the most important factor in traditional decision making strategies. What you believe determines what you see – and do.
To be realistic is not to be totally objective. There is no such thing. Reality is not only what is “out there.” It is also in the mind’s eye of the beholder. The optimistic part of this principle (the non-traditional part) helps you notice how beliefs can be prophecy. Optimism leads to proactive behavior.
What you believe may be the most significant factor in creative decision making. Therefore be sure your beliefs are a bridge not a barrier when making decisions.
4. Be practical and magical about what you do to decide This principle is about your decision rules, methods and your strategy for deciding. Do you know what your decision making strategies are? Most people don’t know how they decide. To be practical and magical is to be whole brained and bodied. You use both your head and heart when deciding.
Start by becoming aware of your decision strategies. Avoid rigid decision rules. Rules are for guidance not obedience. Make up your mind creatively. Every decision is different, every strategy should be different. Become a versatile, creative decision maker.
By embracing this 2 X 4 decision making framework you will expand their future possibilities and increase the probability of being satisfied with your decisions.
What you do to decide depends on your willingness to decide. Being positive about uncertainty brings about the opportunity for proactive creativity in your decision making. If the future is certain, all you can do is prepare for it. When the future is uncertain, you have the opportunity to influence it. You can be part of the creating your future.