a dilemma

Image Credit:Creative Commons License Julia Manzerova via Compfight

Three letters.

A simple conjunction.

It coordinates two items of equal syntactic importance.

Use it to replace another conjunction when framing an important decision. Instead of OR, use AND.

Interim pastors often have to train lay leaders how to make good decisions. Teaching them to use this word will revolutionize their decision process.

Use it lavishly and you will revolutionize your decision process. Staff meetings will become exhilarating brain storming sessions. Bandages will fall from your eyes. Important information will flow to the process.

In their latest book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, brothers Dan and Chip Heath describe danger of OR. Instead, they suggest we tap into the power of AND to improve our decision process.

The trouble with OR

By framing the question with OR we trap ourselves with what they call “narrow framing.” OR throws a spotlight on two options, hiding other pertinent information in the shadows. Our minds automatically focus on the facts in the spotlight instead of asking the obvious questions.

And that, in essence, is the core difficulty of decision-making: What’s in the spotlight will rarely be everything we need to make a good decision, but we won’t always remember to shift the light. Sometimes, in fact, we’ll forget there’s a spotlight at all, dwelling so long in the tiny circle of light that we forget there’s a broader landscape beyond it.

Narrow framing subtly seduces us into ignoring rather than exploring options. Consider the following real-life decision scenario that was recently presented to me by a friend.

“Should I quit my job as Youth Pastor OR not? The staff pastor I report to continually pressures me to stage big events that don’t leave me time to pursue my passion of discipling young adults.”

Notice my friend framed the decision. The “either or” focuses your mind such that you miss options. This is true of hormone crazed teenagers and highly paid CEOs.

Decisive cites 30 years of research into how business leaders make decisions. The research, conducted by Paul Nutt of Ohio State University proves a stunning conclusion.

Of the teams he studied, only 29%considered more than one alternative. By way of comparison, 30% of the teens in the Fischhoff study considered more than one alternative.

According to Paul Nutt’s research, then, most organizations seem to be using the same decision process as a hormone-crazed teenager.

Organizations, like teenagers, are blind to their choices. And the consequences are serious: Nutt found that “whether or not” decisions failed 52% of the time over the long-term, versus only 32% of the decisions with two or more alternatives. (my emphasis)

The power of AND

One of my client churches may have saved itself a great deal of time, trouble and treasure if they had reframed a staffing decision with AND.

Their pastor was in his first ministry; he was still a seminary student when they extended the call. His inexperience combined with giftedness of compassion and caring rather than leadership soon led to trouble. He couldn’t keep up with the demands of leading a thriving ministry.

A lay leader with a heart of gold and a bit of business experience stepped into the breach. After more than a year of self-less service the governing board had to answer an important question.

“Should we hire Brother Gumball to serve as an Executive Pastor to help Pastor Grumdrop manage the church OR not?”

Before I ask you for the obvious questions you’d use in response, let me give you a few salient details:

  • It had been a mobile church for seven years
  • Giving income was beginning to trend down
  • The church was upside down in a mortgage on an office condo they had purchased in 2005
  • The pastor was still in search of a vision for the church

How would you reframe the church board’s question?

You’re the skilled consultant they’ve retained to help guide them to a solution to their problem of a pastor they loved, but one who didn’t have the leadership skills.

How would you get them to use AND instead of OR?