Thinking processes and templates

Decision making, whether individual or collective, appears to be something that we don’t ‘think about’ very often, and yet there is a pattern to it – a sequence of things which take place almost subconsciously (much like Kolb’s Learning Cycle).

The diagram below right illustrates the general flow.
Depending on the decision, we may cycle within it, skip steps entirely, or even repeat the process as a sub-process within itself.
If we use the steps well, we will usually make good decisions, and if we use them poorly, we will make bad ones. It is therefore vitally important for meeting effectiveness that we bear these steps in mind as we design our meetings.
The key steps illustrated are:
  1. Collecting or recollecting – understanding the current situation in terms of the need, how it is currently fulfilled, and any other salient features of the situation
  2. Constructing possibilities – considering a range of alternative explanations or ideas – this is a creative step about opening up perspectives on what might be possible
  3. Critiquing what has emerged – sifting out the valuable possibilities from those that are flawed in some way
  4. Configuring a way forward – pulling the preferred ideas together into some sort of rationale, or strategy for moving forward – perhaps a critique, or a plan, or a solution
  5. Committing – making a decision to invest (sacrifice) what is needed to take things to the next step.
There are a number of meeting tools which can support these steps so that they are both participative and well supported. These can be found via the article on meeting tools selection.
Each of the tools can be used simplistically, or they can be enhanced by structuring them to bias them toward one or other process, or by predefining certain values or conditions in how they are set up (or both). To illustrate this for the most familiar item in the list, brainstorming:
  • Simple brainstorming would be getting as many answers as possible to a question like: In how many ways could ‘we’ increase ‘the use of’ web-based meetings
  • Structured brainstorming could break the phrase ‘the use of’ down into a number of similar questions such as: ‘people’s desire for’, ‘the availability of tools for’, ‘management support of’, etc.
  • Conditioned brainstorming could use a stimulus to help people think of innovative links, such as by replacing ‘we’ with a phrase like: ‘ideas around nature’ or ‘light’ or ‘structures’ etc.  TRIZ is an excellent tool to help identify what the most fruitful concepts are likely to be.

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