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Making decisions: Ben Franklin’s approach

Benjamin Franklin’s model for making decisions is one of the most widespread techniques in the world. Businessmen, politics, teachers, and general human beings in need of making a tough decision no matter how complicated or odd the question is, may benefit from using this simple technique. It is easy and hard at the same time:

It goes like this: You take a piece of paper and write your dilemma on the top. Then you divide the paper into two equal columns. On one side you write the pros and on the other side you write the cons. You end up by having a column where you have a lot of statement and another one with lesser statements. After you have done this consciously, it looks very trouble-free to choose in between the two columns. Sometimes you will have many statements under one of the columns and only one on the other one, but that only one is so strong, that it invalidates the many arguments on the other column, yet it does not happen very often. You will find a sample of this analysis within this blog under: Case study 1 (Anna’s dilemma)

No matter how easy and uncomplicated this might look, there are many things we have to consider when using this approach

Stating the dilemma

This method works for very clear and concise dilemmas. Try to describe the dilemma in as lesser words as possible (3 will do better than 4). The main difficulty when using this method is precisely that the problem to be solved has to be exactly stated and many people are not trained in doing this. For example: I have worked with a person (let’s call her “Anna”) in making a hard decision about her life. Anna explained to me the problem the best she could. It took us about 30 minutes to dig into the core of it and, to our amazement, when we started breaking the long talk into concise phrases, we discovered that it was not a real dilemma needing a decision; it was just a small cluster of difficulties needing some hard actions. She had been postponing those hard actions in order to avoid facing what at the end could become a real dilemma needing a heart breaking decision for her and the people involved.

Tips on stating a dilemma:

1. Be concise.

“Start studding mathematics everyday at 6 pm?” works much better than “Start preparing for the exams I will have in July?”

2. Eliminate anything superfluous, taking actions to do it.

“Apply for this job?” Works much better than “I feel that I’m not completely qualified for this position and I will most probably be refused, therefore, should I apply for this job?” What you think or feel is just a consideration and a personal point of view. It is not a part of the dilemma. Better work on it and get the necessary qualifications, many times you will find out that (against your own opinion) you had enough qualifications.

3. Learn to recognize when a battle is lost before fighting it.

This is an aptitude you need to develop; it will save you a lot of time and effort. If no matter what you do, the final result remains unchanged, there’s no need for a decision, all it take is acceptance.

4. Beware of the “illusion of the only alternatives”

When choosing in between two alternatives as prescribed by this approach, time and again, it becomes very easy to create a limited understanding of the dilemma within ourselves and we end up by accepting these two alternatives as the “only” possible alternatives. We end up limiting the usually large spectrum of alternatives to these two we have in front of us, in such a way that we lose the opportunity of finding a better decision outside the closed circle we have created. This illusion deserves a separated chapter.


Filed under: Decision Making process


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