Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Effective Strategies for Making Decisions

We all make decisions. At work, within our families, and in our communities, the decisions we make and the actions we take have a profound impact on our own success and on the success of the organizations in which we work. There are several approaches to decision-making that are promoted in popular literature. But which is the best way to make decisions? In this post I will describe what I see as the three major categories or types of decision-making and will show how these can be used to make good decisions.

As I discussed in a previous post, there are three general approaches to decision-making: (1) systematic process approaches, (2) intuitive approaches, and (3) principle-based approaches.

In instructional design, systematic process approaches include things like the ADDIE Process, The Dick and Carey Model, and other systematic processes for creating instruction. Intuitive approaches are more creative in nature and employ what has been called The Creative Spirit of Design. Principles-based approaches assume that systematic processes produce generalizable results, and that we can base our design on the assumptions embedded in the principles. (I describe instructional principles in detail in this previous post).

Combine these Approaches
I would submit that effective decision-makers intuitively combine each of these approaches in the decisions they make. Thinking systematically enables the individual to use scientific forms of thinking and reasoning, and without this the decision will likely be flawed. For example, when I redesign a course in my work at Franklin University, I often review and analyze data related to that course - student feedback, faculty comments and concerns, the course materials, and trends in the field - so that I can have a sound basis upon which to redesign the course. But in that redesign, I can also rely on principles to guide my work. I assume that applying these research-based instructional principles will produce the optimal learning environment, so I apply them to the course I am redesigning. Finally, in any given course redesign, I find that I must use my intuition and creativity to make some of the decisions that go into the design and development of the course. If there is no clear way to develop an assignment or a piece of multimedia, I do my best to creatively apply what I believe will help students learn effectively.

Goals and Decisions
To make a good decision, you must have a goal or an outcome. If you know what you want to happen, then you are already on the right track. Sometimes the decision is to simply decide what your goal is. If you can't agree on a goal, then you are probably in trouble.

Context is Crucial
It should be noted that these three decision-making approaches all occur within a specific context. The nation, state, city, organization, college, department, and workspace a person is working in can all significantly influence the decisions being made. A good decision-maker is very aware of these contexts and considers them when applying all three decision-making strategies.

Decisions are Often Not "Right and Wrong"
In making decisions at work and in life, there is often no "right" answer.* There may be literally hundreds of ways to address a problem or work toward a goal, and you eventually have to make a decision and see what happens. But these decisions can be measured and held against a standard of success, and if the decisions (and their actions) lead to the desired result or goal, then it can be held up as a good decision. As a bonus, you can often learn from your experiences adjust your actions and decisions later to move you closer to your goal.

Use These Strategies!
I recommend using each of these strategies. The magic, of course, lies in when an individual should use which strategy, and through time an experience, you will develop your own approach. As long as you are thinking systematically, identifying and using principles effectively, and creatively applying your knowledge, you will make effective decisions that will positively impact your life and your work.

*I want to make clear that I am not promoting the notion that there is no right or wrong, or no good or evil. There are some decisions (and their subsequent actions) that I believe are most certainly wrong. I refer here to those decisions which do not have clearly right or wrong paths.

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