tips: the “newspaper” test for decision making

Have a decision to make at the office, and it isn’t obvious what to choose? Usually we look for positive confirmation using tools such as rationalization. But it can be often helpful to try negative confirmation. This approach can open up a whole new world of insight.

Use this handy little tool that I call the newspaper test. First, make a tentative choice, then think of the worst case scenario for that choice, then plug into this template:

  • Headline: [worst case scenario]. [the choice]. What were they thinking?

Let me give you an example:

  • Headline: Lost all the source code for the product, release date delayed indefinitely. They never got around to putting it into the repository before a hard drive crashed. What were they thinking?

The second stage of this test is to pretend that the above item is printed in a newspaper that your coworkers, management, and competition read. Now put yourselves in their shoes, and ponder on how they might react to such a published item. For example, think about what the newspaper article would infer about your decision and what the consequence might be. For example:

  • Infers: ouch.
  • Consequence: Marcel, call for you on line 2 from the VP. She doesn’t sound happy. Do you have your financial affairs in order?

Now the nice thing about this tool is that it works on a range of data. Let’s try another example:

  • Headline: Lurking bug found minutes before they started manufacturing. They ran the testcases just one more time to be sure. What were they thinking?
  • Infers: awesome. This is a person that makes sure things are right and is constantly thinking about customer satisfaction.
  • Consequences: Marcel, this poster-mounted award check for you doesn’t fit through your doorway by myself. Can you give me a hand?

And as an added bonus, this tool also works for personal situations outside of the office. For example:

  • Headline: Mayhem. Father lets 3-year old play inside car with the keys left in ignition. What where they thinking?
  • Infers: typical male.
  • Consequences: Sir, I’m glad nobody was hurt, but I’m still not clear on why we need to dispatch three tow trucks and a crane to your house.

So, the next time you are wondering what choice to make, give this tool a try!

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