We all make hundreds of decisions every day.  Small decisions based on what we know from experience works. Our bigger decisions are made in a similar way. This pattern of making decisions works well with routine decisions in a predictable world.

Unfortunately for us, our tendency to use our familiar patterns as the basis for decision-making in new and unfamiliar situations is a problem.

We need to step back and be aware of how our mental models influence our decisions. 

That same tendency exists for work organizations, and there are several additional challenges that contribute to making poor decisions including:

  • Groupthink[i]
  • Reputation and politics
  • Compensation processes
  • The pressure to act quickly
  • Lack of recognition of the consequences associated with missing or disregarding what appear to be minor issues

Even when an organization that is dealing with routine problems in a predictable situation doesn’t fall into any of those traps, effective implementation of decisions can be a major challenge. Those same things affect small organizations like families as well.

Every decision has positive and negative attributes related to the specific problem.  It also has implications for the system within which those decisions are being made.  Avoiding decision-making paralysis requires identification of the significant tangential consequences, assessing the risks and implementing the most beneficial solutions for the core problem.  Using a structured problem-solving approach will produce better decisions.

Basics of good problem solving:

  • Clearly describe your problem
    • Assess the situation
    • Consider best case/worst-case scenarios
  • Clearly describe your desired outcome
  • Establish/confirm your values and use them as the foundation for action planning
  • Ask meaningful questions, for example:
    • What are our priorities in order of importance?
    • What do we not know?
    • What have we missed?
    • What could happen going forward?
    • What can we do now that could benefit us later?
  • Involve your stakeholders
  • Develop your implementation plan
  • Act
  • Evaluate and Adapt based on what is learned

So, when our decisions are hard, important, complicated, and taking place during a major crisis, what do we need to do to ensure they are the best ones possible?

Use those core problem-solving skills, obtain a variety of different perspectives and focus on what is learned to inform the next step to be taken.

And, if the results needed aren’t there, rethink the problem and modify or change your solution.

When you are stuck and aren’t sure what to do – start somewhere.


Need help?  The following resources are quite useful, and it takes slightly more than an hour to get through all of them. Need someone to talk with?  Please get in touch.

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.  College of Continuing Education. University of Minnesota

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSfq3BQjKN4 (44.43 minutes)

Creative Thinking

Creative Thinking Skills Techniques.  The Five Whys. James Taylor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbN-66Iwtgk (3:07 minutes)

 Force Field Analysis

A-Level Business Revision – Lewin’s Force Field Analysis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9ujAtYAfqU (8.31 minutes)

Root Cause Analysis


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69XBUdEzKI8  (25 minutes)

[i] Group Think is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.

Decision Making in a Disrupted World