“What Would I Need to Believe For This to Be the Right Decision?”

Long time readers know I love easy-to-remember questions, litmus tests, proxies, rules of thumb that make navigating a complex and uncertain world a little bit easier.

Dan Shapero, a VP at LinkedIn, wrote a good post recently about a way to bring clarity to a decision making process.

If you’re faced with a choice of whether or not to do something, just ask yourself, “What would I need to believe for this to be the right decision?” This simple question is incredibly clarifying.

Here’s an example: I’m trying to decide whether or not to prioritize the development of a new product. In order for that to be a great idea, I would need to believe the following assertions:

1. We have the team capable of building the product

2. Customers will buy the product at an attractive price if we build it

3. We have the distribution to reach potential customers at a reasonable cost

4. None of our competitors can replicate this offering in the next 12 months

5. There are no higher priority development opportunities for the R&D team

Simple and powerful.

5 Responses to “What Would I Need to Believe For This to Be the Right Decision?”

  1. Let’s see how that worked for Mitt Romney, formerly of Bain & Company:

    1. We have the team capable of winning the presidency

    2. Voters will buy our product at the cost of our integrity if we fabricate it

    3. We have the backing of right-wing billionaires to reach potential swing voters at a reasonable, at least in the eyes of Karl Rove, cost

    4. Our competitor will not stoop to our level of duplicity and mendacity in the next 12 months

    5. There are no higher priorities for our marketing and propaganda team than ensuring low tax rates for our right-wing and libertarian corporate masters

    Yes, that does indeed clarify things.

  2. Chris Kelly says:

    Great post. This was a common decision-making framework at McKinsey; e.g., What do you need to believe for this to be a $100mm business line? Usually elucidates your assumptions.

  3. This sounds similar in spirit (or identical to) the White Hat thinking that Edward deBono talks about in his Six Thinking Hats Method. It is very useful to get a group in action.


  4. DaveJ says:

    Taking it one step further, for each “belief” you can ask “what would I need to know to believe this?”

    I have been thinking about the relationship between decisions and knowledge claims and it’s an interesting one.


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