What-If Questions and the Choices We Make
What-if questions are never scarce on social media. They give you the space to ponder decisions you’d make in various, unlikely circumstances:
- If you had a superpower, which one would you want, and why?
- If you won the lottery, would you keep working your current job, give most of your winnings to charity, or sail off into the sunset with your piles of cash?
- If you could have just one, which would you choose: someone to clean your house, cook your meals, or run your errands?
They’re fun, right?
But what about the opposite extreme– the extreme of NOT having choices that allow you to make decisions?
A World Without Choices
This is the premise of a newly released book The Loop: How Technology is Creating a World Without Choices and How to Fight Back by Jacob Ward.
Full disclosure- I haven’t yet read the book, but I did see an author interview in which he shared examples of decision making essentially becoming extinct due to never-ending advances in technology.
Some examples shared that most people would celebrate:
- The rarity of getting lost while driving due to the many GPS options available
- The speed of getting somewhere faster due to apps that guide you around- rather than through- traffic nightmares
- The abundance of information to help you through situations (e.g. recipe substitutions when you thought you had every ingredient in the house, the little nudges to press Buy Now after you searched for an item online).
Once the author shared these common conveniences technology offers, he shifted direction and shared a different view of technology. The view that technology can make too many decisions for us.
He discussed an app that helps divorced parents communicate more respectfully via text. When certain words or phrases are used that take the conversation down a negative path, AI intervenes and makes suggestions for how to respond in a more considerate manner.
He went a step further and predicted a future of technology walking colleagues through workplace communication, customer interactions, and co-worker conflict. In his prediction, people would no longer have to think about what to say, how to say it, or how to respond once it’s been said. The decisions would all be made for them—through technology.
You might be thinking this current and future view of technology sounds like a game-changer. Having something (not even a someone in this case) guide you through conversations. Never having to worry about saying ‘the right thing’ again.
It’s like getting the answers to a test in advance and simply having to copy them on your paper.
It’s also a superb example of giving up. Not doing the work. Not striving to show up better and stronger.
The Premise of Technology as One Tool in Your Leadership Toolbox
The leaders I most admire are the ones who get their hands dirty. The ones who don’t take the road most traveled. The ones who take action and sometimes fail. The ones who pick themselves up and don’t give up. The ones who would never settle for getting the ‘answers’ from someone else.
So how do you resist the Easy button technology often offers and commit to doing the work?
Three steps will get you there:
1. Start with curiosity.
Curiosity requires that questions be asked. It demands exploration and an ability to dig deep rather than assume you already have all the answers. Stimulate curiosity in your decision making with questions like:
- What is it I need more (or less) of?
- What about moving in this direction will help me achieve that?
- What personal biases do I have that could affect my final decision here?
- What’s the cost of failure with this decision? What’s the cost of waiting to make it?
2. Create an atmosphere of candor.
I’ve worked with many leaders who encourage their team members to speak up with complete honesty and transparency. Most of those leaders appreciate the ideas and opinions that surface. They know that when they hire smart, capable people, those employees (and their opinions) play an important part in the success of the team and company as a whole.
In creating an atmosphere of candor, you’re settled in knowing people won’t agree with you 100% of the time. They won’t think your idea is always the best way to move forward. They’ll also show up consistently, authentically, not as a team of ‘yes people’ but rather, genuine assets.
3. Decide when to invite technology to the party.
No one would encourage a biker to walk and push a bike ten miles rather than ride it, right? I’m also not encouraging a complete dismissal of technology. For the most part, it’s here to help us simplify and amplify how we support our end users, clients, or customers. And it’s a wise business decision to know when to invite technology to the party.
A simple example is the difference between building a professional relationship with someone via email, phone, or video calls and then inviting that person to take the conversation further by scheduling time on your online calendar vs. sending a person you’ve never met a link to book time with you. The latter feels cold and dismissive. The former feels like an extension of the relationship you’ve already begun. It’s a party I’d like to attend.
As a leader, you have the privilege of making multiple decisions every day. Your toolbox is full of resources, and technology is but one of them. Know the tools at your disposal; respect technology for all it offers; and lead your team with courage and tenacity to help them choose the most effective tool for every situation.