Making good choices – how to get better at making decisions

By - Thursday 29th January, 2015

Taking the idea of a ‘think piece’ to a whole new level, Robert Ward considers the act of consideration itself

Our life is defined by the choices we make. Stay on at school or get a job? Holiday in Spain or Cornwall? Ask that girl on a date or not?

As for people, so too for Croydon. Choices are made, mostly through our elected representatives – build more houses or not; if we build then where; executive flats or social housing? Spend the money we have on improved infrastructure, extra bin collections, or on more pay for council employees?

Luck, good and bad, strongly influences whether we eventually judge our decisions as right or wrong. We can never know whether life would have been better or worse had we made different choices, but how then can we judge the quality of our choices? Fellow Croydonian, I offer you decision analysis.

Step one: define the problem

Let’s illustrate by thinking about the future of our town. Step one: define the problem. Frequent cause of failure is not being clear about what you are and are not trying to do. For the future of Croydon, the physical boundaries are easily found on a map. Clearly we aren’t addressing national issues (although we will be influenced by them). Nor, are we addressing, say, Crystal Palace – except the part that falls within Croydon. We don’t ignore these matters; we just focus on their impact on Croydon. Our time scale is, say, 2020.

Now invent alternative strategies – creative, but realistic and doable. We could be a centre of innovation as envisaged by Croydon Tech City; or a retail hub around the Westfield/Hammerson development, or the green capital of the UK. Make up one of your own. We might end up with a combination, but to understand our options we must explore what each might offer in a pure form.

Now we need information and analysis to help us understand what each means. What do they need to thrive; do we have it, if not how might we get it? What infrastructure – hotels, office space and transport – is needed? Do we have people with the right skills in the right numbers? Can we compete with other towns? How much money would we need and when? What are the downsides?

We should do our best to mitigate downside implications but they are there

Having built our business model of Tech-Croydon, Retail-Croydon and Green-Croydon we compare what they deliver against measures that are important to us. So what are these measures? Is it number of jobs; size of the Croydon economy or softer measures like how happy our residents feel?

Three or four primary measures are best. Let’s say we choose number of jobs; average income; size of Croydon’s economy and how we score as the most desirable London borough in which to live.

With our three alternative Croydon futures modelled it is time to make choices – the really hard part. We would like everything, but life is not like that. Having clear measures to help us understand the inevitable trade-offs is the single most important characteristic of a good decision. Political decisions are awful for avoiding this aspect. It is skimmed over, typically suggesting the trade-offs aren’t real or won’t happen. Of course we should do our best to mitigate downside implications but they are there and it is not a good decision if you haven’t confronted them.

Lastly, we need to make it happen

So let’s say Retail Croydon scores highest on number of jobs and size of the Croydon economy but gives us a lower average income than Tech-Croydon and a lower ‘live-ability’ score than Green-Croydon. Now we can look at optimising with variations that give us the best overall mix, eventually choosing our final hybrid ‘Cronx2020’. Next we test that the whole process has logically correct reasoning. Robust challenge helps here.

Lastly, we need to make it happen. Events will knock us of course and there will be unforeseen obstacles. We may have to change our plan, perhaps delaying some parts while bringing others forward. Managing the risks and grasping new opportunities will test our mettle. It is never easy but we must test how robust Cronx2020 is to likely challenges.

Back in the real world, how do our Croydon plans look against these benchmarks? I think I’ll steer clear of politics today, so I’ll leave that for you to judge.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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