It's Time to Outlaw Adverbs (a Different View of Decision-making)

by Robert E. Cannon - Date: 2007-02-03 - Word Count: 562 Share This!

The classical decision-making process includes the following 7 steps:
1. Define or clarify the problem.
2. Stating a goal or objective. (Sometimes this is presented as finding the causes of the problem.)
3. Generate options or alternatives.
4. Evaluate alternatives and tradeoffs.
5. Estimate Risk associated with each alternative.
6. Deciding on the best alternative.
7. Implement the decision.
As I continue to study the decision-making process, I am amazed at how we have all been trained to look at decisions as problems to be solved. How many of you have ever been in the situation where your boss came to you and said, "We have a problem." How did you feel? Were you excited, inspired, creative? I don't think so.

With that experience in mind, you can understand when I suggest there is something wrong with our approach to decision-making when we have all been taught to approach decision-making as a problem solving effort. Problems are something none of us go looking for. I can't think of a single person who looks forward to problems to start their day. Rather, the goal in decision-making is to not have the problem.

So the first step in the Classical Approach to Decision-making is to define the problem. How is that for a downer. I just can't find anything positive about problems. Solutions, yes. Problems, no.

The second step is to state a goal or objective. If you start with defining the problem, in all likelihood, your goal will be to not have the problem. Right?

To my way of thinking, it is extremely difficult to be excited, inspired or creative when I am dealing with problems. Then defining my objective to solve the problem just compounds THE PROBLEM. To a large degree, I blame this on adverbs. Who can tell me what an adverb is? It has been so long since I studied this stuff that I had to go look it up. An adverb is a word that modifies a verb. I am convinced that the subconscious mind doesn't recognize adverbs any more than most of us did with our conscious minds. Let me give you an example. Occasionally, I play golf and I try to envision each shot before I hit it. The problem arises when someone says to me, "Do no't hit it into the lake." What do I end up doing? Yep, right into the lake. Why? Because "not" is an adverb and my subconscious mind doesn't know what an adverb is. Consequently the message I receive is not "Do not hit it into the lake", but rather "Do hit it into the lake."

By the same token, if you have ever been a parent, I am sure you recognize this phenomenon in your children. How many times did you ever tell them not to do something and they turned right around and did that very thing. Kids don't know what adverbs are either.

Research tells us that half of all decisions fail. If we approach all our decisions as problems and then use adverbs to define our objective, it is a wonder that we make any good decisions at all.

When you stop to think that even God had this problem when he told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to "Not eat from the Tree of Knowledge," maybe we should outlaw adverbs and find a more positive or constructive approach to decision-making.

 Copyright Bob Cannon/The Cannon Advantage, 2006. All rights reserved.

Related Tags: decision-making, define problem

Bob Cannon helps visionary leaders improve performance and profitability. He is the author of the new book "Taking Aim for Better Decision-Making", available at . Bob can be reached at (216) 408-9495 or mailto:

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