August  2018     Edition 140
The "Best" Answer

Most of the tests we took

during our formal education years consisted of multiple choice questions where only one answer was “correct” and the others were “wrong”.   That learning however is not anything near what exists in most of our lives.

Almost all of the situations we encounter

, professionally and personally, don’t give us the luxury of choosing a single right answer, but usually a variety, sometimes a very large variety of possible solutions.  This means that most of the decisions we make are really about choosing the “best” solution vs. the “correct” one.

“Best” vs “Correct” have very different strategies.

  Questions that have only correct and wrong answers are generally self contained, with no other factors other than what is provided in the question.  If I have two apples, and I’m given two more, how many do I have; 2+2=4.   Simple, straight forward, single right answer.

Choosing the “Best” answer generally involves factors

that go beyond the information in the question.  If I have two apples and my friend has no apples, should I give my friend one of my apples?  This depends upon many factors; i.e. maybe my friend just ate two apples, maybe they are allergic to apples, maybe the apples are rotten and should be discarded, maybe I want to trade the apples for something else?

When choosing the “best” solution,

you have to look at two factors, often not stated in the initial problem statement.  

First; Is there a particular objective

that the solution should be focused on.  For example;  Take the question of “Should we replace a defective part in our product, pro-actively, or only when a customer asks?”.    The “best” answer here depends upon other factors, beyond the problem statement.   Is the goal to maximum customer satisfaction, or minimize costs, or stay out of the press, or be true to a “quality is number one” tag line?    What’s the ultimate objective of solving the problem? 

The second factor consists of Parameters related to the problem.

These include constraints, severity, urgency, impact on employees, financials, schedule, and more.  For example, customer satisfaction might take a priority over profitability, safety might override all factors, and employee moral might take the priority over cost savings.  Other factors might include return on investment, or allocation of finite resources, or good will.

When evaluating solutions for the "best" consider asking questions about the two factors:

What is the objective in solving this problem?
What are the parameters to consider when evaluating a solution?

And once you narrow in on a solution, ask yourself,

"Why is this the best answer?

The Takeaway:  Knowing the objectives for the solution of a problem, and the factors (rubric) that are related to the problem will provide you with the information you need to make an informed, “Best” answer given a particular situation.

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