As we mentioned in our decision making video, a lot of decisions we make are based on our knowledge of past decisions in similar situations. Your manager doesn’t like the green shirt, so you choose the blue one; he likes bar graphs over line graphs, so with a quick examination to make sure it reads well, you choose the bar graph.
These are decisions by analogy – that is, using a previous similar example of successful decision making to support a new decision. Some call it “experience.” And it usually works out pretty well. But there are times when analogies can steer you in the wrong directions. Take a few steps to make sure you cover all your decision-making bases!
Make sure you’re not just focusing on the similarities of a situation – Just because a situation seems similar doesn’t mean that it actually is. For instance, if you’re an Apple executive trying to decide how quickly people will adopt your new product, the iPod, you really shouldn’t look at the stats for how quickly the American market adopted the television when it was introduced. There’s a big difference in the availability of technology today, technological expectations and the like. Focus on what’s similar to guide you, but focus on the differences as well.
Separate facts and assumptions – When you make an analogy between two situations, make sure you clearly understand what’s fact and what you’re assuming. For instance, if you are managing an employee and she’s missed a meeting for the third time, you might think, “Cheryl has skipped our staff meeting again.” You might automatically consider that a fact, but perhaps Cheryl is, in fact, detained on the side of the highway with a flat tire. That’s a very simple example, but it’s easy to get foggy on what’s fact and what’s an assumption.
Write down similarities and differences between the two situations – A great way to make sure that you’re catching all the issues in your analogy is to write it all down. Take a look at each of the situations you’re comparing and note the similarities and the differences between them. Are they really similar to one another? What, if anything, is different?
The most important thing about using analogies is to get a good understanding of the past situation. Then, when you compare the two situations, you can adapt your conclusions to the new situation, based on what you’ve learned.
Analogies are, perhaps, the easiest way to make decisions, but people have been burned more than once by not looking close enough at the comparison between two situations. Make sure your decisions emerge unscathed from the analogy process!
Next post: Thursday, March 22