Poverty of Choice by Choice
by Rick Brenner
Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions, and how can we tell when we're doing it?
Since it was a longish layover, Terri suggested that they go up to the observation deck, where they could watch the take-offs and landings, and where she knew there were about a dozen wooden rocking chairs. Reluctantly, Kyle agreed.
After only three rocks Kyle felt the urge to thank Terri. "Good idea, Terri. Thank you."
She smiled. They rocked a while.
Kyle spoke. "I wonder how we got here," he said.
"You mean…" Terri left it open.
"You know, shipping it when we knew it was a mess. This trip is so predictable, so unnecessary."
"Yeah. But we really didn't have a choice."
Perhaps. It does happen. Or perhaps they didn't want to have a choice.
Choosing from alternatives that cause discomfort or anxiety can make life complex. Often, we're more comfortable with limited options, even though later we might regret having chosen one of them.
Here are just a few of the reasons why we limit our own choices.
- Difficult choices can cause
discomfort. Sometimes, we'd
rather not have a choice.We're afraid of — or can't discuss — some of the unspoken choices. For instance, even though canceling a troubled project is always a choice, we seldom consider cancellation. See "Workplace Taboos and Change," Point Lookout for February 26, 2003.
- It's my football
- Those controlling the decision process have a favored option, which is already on the table. They don't want to develop more options.
- It's their football
- The options we already have include one that would please those who finally approve our choice. We converge on the one we think they want.
- Fear of success
- We prefer to go with what we know, rather than take risks that might lead to something better. Virginia Satir captured this situation when she said, "People prefer the familiar to the comfortable."
- Trips to Abilene
- We're all so careful to avoid rocking the boat that we end up rowing in a direction nobody wants to go. This is one form of a dynamic called "a trip to Abilene." See "Trips to Abilene," Point Lookout for November 27, 2002.
Noticing that we're avoiding uncomfortable choices can be difficult. Here are some of the phrases we hear when we're limiting our own choices.
- We're forced to
- You leave me no choice
- It's in God's hands now
- They made me do it
- I don't know what else to do; I see no other way
- I had no choice
- I couldn't help it
- It's our only option
- We're out of moves (options)
- We have only one real choice
- We're between a rock and a hard place
- Our hands are tied
- Beggars can't be choosers
- We have to bite the bullet
- There's only one way to do this
- Here's what we have to do
- I'll go along with whatever you decide
- If you say so…you're the expert.
- It doesn't make any difference — we lose either way
- Been there, done that
- We tried that last time
Limiting our own choices is actually a choice in itself. It can be a wise choice only if we're aware we've made it. Top Next Issue
If you notice this happening, what can you do about it? We'll look at that next time.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness
- Knowing Where You're Going
- Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
- Inner Babble
- It goes by various names — self-talk, inner dialog, or internal conversation. Because it is so often disorganized and illogical, I like to call it inner babble. But whatever you call it, it's often misleading, distracting, and unhelpful. How can you recognize inner babble?
- Healthy Practices
- Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
- One Cost of Split Assignments
- Sometimes management practices have unintended consequences. To reduce costs, we keep staff ranks thin, but that leads to split assignments for those with rare skills. Here's one way split assignments can lead to higher costs.
- What Enough to Do Is Like
- Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 24: The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen? Available here and by RSS on December 24
- And on December 31: The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners. Available here and by RSS on December 31
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Human-Centered Risk Management
- Most of us can assess technological risks, but risks related to human behavior tend to resist our best efforts. This session provides a framework for evaluating risks related to the behavior of individuals, teams, organizations and people generally. Human-centered risk differs from technological or market risk, because objective evaluation requires acknowledging personal and organizational limitations and failures. Since some of those limitations and failures might apply to the people assessing the risks, or to their superiors, there's a tendency to deny them or to explain them away. Our approach examines capability, organization, context, risk mitigation, and workplace politics. It has tools for guiding the assessment and management of human-centered risk, and we show how to extend these tools to suit your situation. You'll learn how to identify sources of risk in human behavior; recognize systemic and individual barriers to acknowledging risk; assess the effects of organizational turbulence; determine the risk associated with inappropriate internal risk transfer; estimate the effects of team dysfunction, toxic conflict and turnover; and measure the impact of workplace politics. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: