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Generating options for better outcomes

Updated: Mar 6, 2019

Many years ago, we used to have three steps in our facilitation model:

  1. Current state

  2. Preferred state

  3. Actions

However, with these 3 steps we found that at the Action stage, we regularly got ambushed by a laundry list!

By this we mean, rather than the group remaining focused on the preferred future state, they dished up a long list of ‘business as usual’ ideas and pet projects.

These tended to be unrelated to creating the preferred future state and if enacted would result in more of the same current state problems and issues.

The reasons for people defaulting to a laundry list are understandable.  

These are:

a) known and comfortable

b) protects their job

c) is a passion

d) led by dominant people

However, if these actions do not create the aspired future or address changes in the external environment, then they are pointless activities.

Generating options for your preferred state

To resolve this conundrum, we introduced a fourth step - option generation.  

The four steps are now:

1. Current state

2. Preferred state

3. Options

4. Actions

This options step ensures the focus is on creating the preferred state.

Here is an example to help show how adding the options step opens up possibilities.  

Three-step model:

Current state:   I am unfit

Preferred state: I want to be fit and healthy

Action: I will join a spin class

Four-step model:

Current state: I am unfit

Preferred state: I want to be fit and healthy

Options: Diet, exercise, sleep a minimum of 7 hours a night, manage stress levels

Action: Adopt the 5:2 fast diet, join a spin class, take mini-holidays every quarter, establish a sleep routine

You will note that the spin class also made the action list in the four-step model but there is a difference. If I hate spin class, the broad option was to exercise. Rather than scrap the whole plan, I just refer to the options list of exercise and choose again eg. swimming, running, cycling, kayaking, walking, gym etc.

What the options step does is:

a) retains the focus on the preferred outcome

b) maintains the integrity of the plan and allows you to experiment with different actions

c) stops you being ambushed by a laundry list as you can eliminate things as they are not on the options list that will help create the preferred state

For those of you interested in how to generate options, the following are some distinctions that will help.

  • Options are the domain of all possibilities, a continuum from the realistic and practical to the outlandish and improbable

  • Getting groups to stretch to the outlandish and improbable end of the continuum allows groups to be more creative.  

For example:

‘Get fit’ extreme option generating might include;

  • Get a body transplant

  • Pay my personal trainer to exercise on my behalf

  • Only have friends who are elite athletes

  • Get a younger, fitter, healthy spouse

Working back down the continuum might include:

  • Buy a dog and walk it every day

  • Change my job so I am mobile all day

  • Get a workout buddy

  • Limit junk food during the week

Getting a group to stretch their thinking will ensure:

  • They remain future focused

  • Have some fun and be more creative

  • Consider more options and don’t jump to the first one

Investing in meaningful actions

In summary, people and groups like solving problems, though may not spend significant time in thinking beyond the current state or boundaries. This means their actions can lack the rigour or effectiveness to realise their goals.

Your role as a leader is to ensure the actions a group are investing in are robust and will maximise their chances of success.

We have found by introducing the additional logic step of broad option generation has significant benefits. I encourage you to try it!

Kevin Nuttall




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