Bob’s new all-singing-and-dancing touchscreen phone pronounced the arrival of an email from an Improvement Science apprentice. This was always an opportunity for learning so he swiped the flashing icon and read the email. It was from Leslie.
<Leslie>Hi Bob, I have come across a new challenge that I never thought I would see – the team that I am working with are generating so many improvement-by-design ideas that we cannot decide what to try. Can you help?
Bob thumbed a reply immediately:
<Bob>Ah ha! The Tyranny of Choice challenge. Yes, I believe I can help. I am free to talk now if you are.
[“You have a call from Leslie”]
Bob’s new all-singing-and-dancing touchscreen phone said that it was Leslie on the line – (it actually said it in the synthetic robot voice that Bob had set as the default).
<Leslie>Hi Bob, thank you for replying so quickly. I gather that you have encountered this challenge before?
<Bob>Yes. It usually appears when a team are nearing the end of a bumpy ride on the Nerve Curve and are starting to see new possibilities that previously were there but hidden.
<Leslie>That is just where we are. The problem is we have flipped from no options to so many we cannot decide what to do.
<Bob>It is often assumed that choice is a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing. Many studies have shown that when the number of innovative choices are limited then people are more likely to make a decision and actually do something. As the number of choices increase it gets much harder to choose so we default to the more comfortable and familiar status quo. We avoid making a decision and we do nothing. That is the Tyranny of Choice.
<Leslie>Yes, that is just how it feels. Paralyzed by indecision. So how do we get past this barrier?
<Bob>The same way we get past all barriers. We step back, broaden our situational awareness and list all the obvious things and then consider doing exactly the opposite of what out intuition tells us. We just follow the tried-and-tested 6M Design script.
<Leslie>Arrgh! Yes, of course. We start with a 4N Chart.
<Bob>Yes, and specifically we start with the Nuggets. We look for what is working despite the odds. The positive deviants. Who do you know is decisive when faced with a host of confusing and conflicting options? Not tyrannized by choice.
<Leslie>Other than you?
<Bob>It does not matter who. How do they do it?
<Leslie>Well – “they” use a special sort of map that I confess I have not mastered yet – the Right-2-Left Map.
<Bob>Yes, an effective way to avoid getting lost in the Labyrinth of Options. What else?
<Leslie>“They” know what the critical steps are and “they” give clear step-by-step guidance of what to do to complete them.
<Bob>This is called “story-boarding”. It is rather like sketching each scene of a play – then practicing each scene script individually until they are second nature and ready when needed.
<Leslie>That is just like what the emergency medical teams do. They have scripts that they use for emergent situations where it is dangerous to try to plan what to do in the moment. They call them “care bundles”. It avoids a lot of time-wasting, debate, prevarication and the evidence shows that it delivers better outcomes and saves lives.
<Bob>In an emergency situation the natural feeling of fear creates the emotional drive to act; but without a well-designed and fully-tested script the same fear can paralyze the decision process. It is the rabbit-in-the-headlights effect. When the feeling of urgency is less a different approach is needed to engage the emotional-power-train.
<Leslie>Do you mean build engagement?
<Bob>Yes, and how do we do that?
<Leslie>We use a combination of subjective stories and objective evidence – heart stuff and head stuff. It is a very effective combination to break through the Carapace of Complacency as you call it. I have seen that work really well in practice.
<Bob>And the 4N Chart comes in handy here again because it helps us see the emotional-terrain in perspective and to align us in moving away from the Niggles towards the NiceIfs while avoiding the NoNos and leveraging the Nuggets.
<Leslie>Yes! I have seen that too. But what do we do when we are in new territory; when we are faced with a swarm of novel options; when we have no pre-designed scripts to help us?
<Bob>We use a meta-script?
<Bob>A meta-script is one that we use to design a novel action script when we need it.
<Leslie>You mean a single method for creating a plan that we are confident will work?
<Leslie>That is what the Right-2-Left Map is!
<Leslie>So the Tyranny of Choice is the result of our habitual Left-2-Right thinking.
<Leslie>And when the future choices we see are also shrouded in ambiguity it is even harder to make a decision!
<Bob>Yes. We cannot see past the barrier of uncertainty – so we stop and debate because it feels safer.
<Leslie>Which is why so many really clever people seem get stuck in the paralysis of analysis and valueless discussion.
<Leslie>So all we need to do is switch to the counter-intuitive Right-2-Left thinking and the path becomes clear?
<Bob>Not quite. The choices become a lot easier so the Tyranny of Choice disappears. We still have choices. There are still many possible paths. But it does not matter which we choose because they all lead to the common goal.
<Leslie>Thank you Bob. I am going to have to mull this one over for a while – red wine may help.
<Bob>Yes – mulled wine is a favorite of mine too. Ching-ching!