Sometimes it really is about the little things. Today I noticed that something as simple as leveraging options often goes forgotten. Options bridge the quantum leap from nothing to something. From theory to reality. Options should always be a tool you have at the ready either in business or technology.
A World Without Options
When options elude us, we're faced with the proverbial blank canvas; a featureless desert that snickers as it presents an overwhelming choice of directions to travel. Studies have shown that the human brain is fairly astute at identifying patterns, even when pieces of the puzzle are missing or distorted. However, scenarios devoid of options altogether seem to short-circuit our magnificent mental mojo, and thus leave us in a state of perpetual decision limbo. Examples include the manager who must mediate two quarreling employees, or the catch-22 paradoxes we often observe in the technology world such as: we can ship the product faster if we remove this critical feature everyone wants. These are the "all problem, no viable solution" type scenarios that really warrant options.
The Real Magic of Options
We all know what options are; we simply forget to use them when the time is right. When problems inevitably surface, curtailing the universe of ambiguity down to a finite set of alternatives is what options are all about. Perhaps the most simplistic example is the A/B test in which the range of possible solutions is limited to just two possibilities: option 'A' or option 'B.' Here are a couple examples:
Problem #1: What do we do with our legacy data center?
Solution-A: We migrate to Amazon's Public Cloud
Solution-B: We migrate to a private cloud hosted by Rackspace, Inc
Problem #2: How do we get security expertise during a hiring freeze?
Solution-A: We leverage consultants
Solution-B: We shift existing headcount into security roles
What's really happening here is I've curtailed the universe of options down to a controlled set of outcomes; all of which I'm confident in pulling off. Notice in problem number one, I didn't recommend upgrading the data center, nor did I mention moving to a new colocation facility. Those are technically options, too. However they're undesirable outcomes from my perspective. This may sound a tad domineering or perhaps even manipulative. However, if I'm responsible for driving the solution, then the onus is on me to obtain results in a timely fashion. Given such constraints, too many options equate to indecisive delays.
Fortunately, options are also iterative. Again examining problem number one, my superiors may opt for Microsoft Azure or perhaps Google Cloud Platform as "alternatives to my alternatives." What seems like a radical change of direction is merely evolutionary and benignly incremental. We may have switched lanes, but we're still driving on the public cloud freeway versus the ugly side streets of unmentioned alternatives-- the legacy data center upgrade route.
In our culture, criticism often has a negative connotation. Yet for busy decision makers, it’s far easier to edit and tweak existing options than it is to try to solution something from scratch. When you are the one who has the arduous task of compiling initial options, the initial critiques from your colleagues may indeed feel like criticism, but in reality, it’s progress and it’s how you move the ball forward.