Since most of the information about the world enters our brains through our eyes, how that information is organized and displayed is really important for making a decision. Over the years we have made up standard forms of display--such as the metro map and the pie chart, to convey essential information quickly. This "table of tables" from Visual-Literacy is a great summary of many common examples. The tree to the right is one example.
I agree with most of Nick Currie's [AKA Momus] observations on brainstorming (a common decision making technique). I have facilitated or contributed to lots of brainstorming. Although they are creative and feel like fun, most brainstorming sessions result in a hodgepodge of ideas that no one really cares about except the person with the idea.
Nick believes that traditional brainstorming has been made obsolete by digitally-enabled role-playing games, avatars, and other ways to use masks to reveal ourselves. I have successfully used simple role-playing to make the point that the players in a process have different points-of-view. I have not yet tried actual masks.
Check it out.
Update: see my earlier post on Martin Leith's large and interesting collection of idea generation methods. Link
We make lists to organize our lives and help us remember details. We use lists to sort through options and make decisions, for example: What should I do first? Who do I need to call? Where should I go on my vacation?
Lists of actions—like other white foods—are bad for you. I put them right up there with French bread, ice cream, and donuts. Action-lists are saturated with high expectations. They fill us with empty promises and good intentions. They are highly processed. Just like wheat gets processed 14 times before it becomes a tuna-on-white, actions must be processed again and again.
Of all the words in an action-list, the verbs are especially processed—by which I mean—bad for you. Verbs direct us to act, commit, and perform. “Do this, don’t do that.” “Start this, stop that.” We even create personal make-over lists with stuff about ‘becoming a better person,’ or ‘being kinder to fools.’ These types of lists are about processing our inner selves; they are very dangerous.
Unlike action-lists, lists of ‘things’ are as warm and innocent as their items allow. Thing-lists help us remember what is good for us. For example, “Fresh coffee beans.” Or, “Bran muffins.” We feel satisfied as each item is addressed. Thing-lists help us run errands, write Christmas cards, and read the books we like. Thing-lists are wholesome and don’t pester us. Some people actually buy pre-printed thing-lists for their
groceries, complete with little empty boxes for checkmarks. You would never buy someone else’s action-lists.
I can throw away (or lose) my shopping list and still remember 96% of it at the store. This also works if I ‘write’ the list in the air with my index finger. (Be careful not to do this in public. Even a cell phone to your ear won’t keep you from looking like an idiot. To see what I mean, try writing the word ‘coffee’ in the air right now.)
January spawns that most virulent strain of action-list: My New Year’s Resolutions. This most wicked of lists embarrasses and shames us. It reminds us of our shortcomings and lapses at our most vulnerable time: winter has started and the holidays are over.
Many of the things we resolved to do last January still haunt us: losing weight, accepting ourselves as we are, spending more time with the kids, getting a life. Resolution action-lists don’t let us celebrate past successes. They have no checkboxes. Of all the lists we make throughout the year, New Year’s resolutions are by far the cruelest. Beware of all white foods and action-lists.
My resolution for 20062007?
Martin Leith has a large and interesting collection of idea generation methods that "...have been drawn not just from the worlds of creative problem solving and innovation, but also from other worlds such as organisational change, strategic planning, psychotherapy, the new sciences and the creative arts."
"Dotmocracy" is an updated version of an old technique for graphically displaying a group's opinions using clusters of dots. Tends to show the lowest common denominator across the group--not necessarily the right or best thing to do. I have never known a leader to act on the results of such an analysis, but it is a fun and engaging way to involve people in a decision process. Link