OptionsMaking decisions is one of the most important functions of being a leader; it is also the hardest. As leaders or even as subordinates; we are faced with problems constantly. When we are, two options always seem to pop-up. They are often rooted in can or cannot.

When my wife and I bought our home we were faced with such a scenario. As we were moving our bedroom furniture in place, the room layout became a point of contention. She described an idea that was not possible; however, she was certain it was. She was the ‘can’ and I was the ‘cannot.’ Finally, a friend suggested angling the furniture a particular way. We became so focused on our positions; we could not explore this third option.

It is often this initially unseen option that is the best for all involved. This is likely due to the fact that when we are looking for a solution each party is looking for the best option for him or herself. We need to take a step back and look for the solution that will best solve the problem for the moment and for the long term. What is the best option for the organization and not just our particular work center?

The third option is present in most situations; however, we gain tunnel vision and refuse to look. Although I abhor the widely abused expression of “think outside the box,” there is merit to the idea. When we take a step back from the problem, we are often able to see another solution. A great example of this is the Cuban Missile Crisis.

President Kennedy was informed about nuclear missile silos being constructed in Cuba and he was initially advised on two options: surgical airstrikes and a full invasion. The president took a step back and was able to see the third option of a naval blockade. Had he not seen this choice, the world could have easily become engaged in nuclear war.

Finding the third option is not as challenging as it may seem. My favorite technique is to ask others without a stake in the outcome their opinion. I present the problem and listen. Never tell them the two options already on the table, because they usually fall victim to the tunnel vision too. Another option is to delve into trade manuals or other sources of history to see how this problem was solved in the past and see what could be learned. Finally, the third option to finding the solution…I leave up to you.

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