Lest My Thinking Be Without Rhyme or Reason…Let Me Try to Explain Myself

Why?  It’s the eternal question.  Children learn at an early age to ask the question incessantly, sometimes to the chagrin of their parents.  A slightly modified version that you encounter more often as you get older is – why do you think that?  Or similarly, what are your reasons for thinking what you do?  As a professional, it’s frequently necessary to justify your opinion, judgment, or decision by describing the factors that entered into your decision making process and explaining your reasons for reaching the conclusion you reached.  In other words, you typically have to answer the question – why do you think that?

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Why Did You Choose Alternative X?

One situation in which answering this question is particularly important is when you are deciding among multiple alternatives.  The alternatives could be courses of action, projects, people, or any other set of alternatives.  For example, you could be choosing between going out for the evening and staying at home or choosing among Projects A, B, and C.  Regardless of the nature of the alternatives, it is helpful to think about how you would answer this question because it clarifies your thought process and enables you to respond to questions asked by those who are affected by your decision.

How Did You Evaluate the Alternatives?

An important consideration when you’re deciding among multiple alternatives is the criteria you use to evaluate the alternatives.  Criteria are attributes or factors you can use to distinguish among the alternatives.  For example, if you’re deciding between going out for the evening and staying at home, a few criteria you might use are: 1. Enjoyment (i.e. what will be your level of enjoyment in each scenario?), 2. Comfort (i.e. how comfortable will you be in each scenario?), and 3. Cost (i.e. how much money will you spend in each scenario?).

As you can see, selecting criteria to use to evaluate alternatives is an interesting, important step in any decision making process.  For one thing, it’s a creative process.  You have to use your imagination and experience to think of relevant criteria.  It’s also possible for the criteria to be conflicting, like in the decision situation described above where a higher level of enjoyment is preferable to a lower level of enjoyment but a lower cost is preferable to a higher cost.  Also, if you have to work with others to define the criteria, the process of identifying, defining, and selecting the criteria becomes more complicated.

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How Are You Evaluating the Candidates?

I recently worked with a small team to define criteria we would use to evaluate candidates for leadership positions on a local policy advisory board.  While we would have identified criteria to use for our evaluation anyway, the necessity for doing so became very apparent when, prior to undertaking our task, a member of the advisory board requested that we provide the criteria we used to evaluate the candidates in addition to the final slate of candidates.  The request was important because it signaled to the team that (at least some of) the board members wanted our evaluation process and criteria to be transparent and defensible.

We thought about the type of person we would want to see in a leadership role on the board, meaning the attributes we would consider important for effective leadership, then we selected eight criteria to use to evaluate the candidates:

1. Can the candidate articulate a vision or set of goals for the coming year?

2. Does the candidate have experience running meetings?

3. Is the candidate a consumer or family member?

4. Does the candidate have a helpful temperament?

5. What is the length of the candidate’s experience on the board?

6. Does the candidate attend meetings regularly?

7. Does the candidate actively participate in the meetings?

8. Can the candidate make a good faith commitment to attend three key monthly meetings?

Despite our progress, defining and selecting criteria isn’t the end of the story.  After selecting the criteria and scoring each of the candidates (i.e. alternatives) on each criterion, we still have to determine how we’re going to evaluate the information to make our decision.  There are many ways to do so.  The different ways we could go about evaluating the information is an important topic that I’ll write about in a future article.

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I Think That Because…

For now, it’s important to recognize that defining and selecting criteria is a vital part of making informed decisions.  It helps you understand why you think what you do about a particular topic, and it enables you to explain your reasoning and decision to others.  As an individual and a professional, these capabilities will stand you in good stead.


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