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©2017 BY DAVID VAN BRAKLE.

Off Menu: Ways to Expand Choices and Find New Ideas

July 19, 2016

 

Sometimes it feels like we are in situations that have limited options or where our ideas aren’t picking up much traction. How can we see beyond our regular ideas? Here is one simple tool to help us look beyond the regular menu.  

 

Even when I know what I want to order, I look at the restaurant menu because I want to make sure there isn’t a better option. Then one night someone took a group of us to a restaurant that was operated by one of their family friends. When the waiter brought our menus he waved them away. “Don’t look at the menu,” he told us, “the best stuff isn’t even on there.” 

 

Sure enough, he was right. I’m still not sure what we ate, but it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Anyone who knows that you can order your meal Animal Style from In and Out or get a Grande coffee in a Venti cup at Starbucks is already aware that the best menu options are not always the ones listed in front of us. 

 

Someone once told me that her way of looking "off the menu" in decision making was to come up with seven options. “I start with the option to do nothing and then think through six more.” 

 

Recently, we were looking at needed building renovations for the upcoming program year. Our board was not in agreement, and it felt like we were going in circles. On the staff end, we were frustrated, feeling like we were running out of ideas. I walked up to our whiteboard and said, “Ok, let’s chart out seven options.”

 

“Seven options?” was the overwhelming response. 

 

“Well, one option is to do nothing. We can table the conversation about renovation indefinitely, but then we don’t have space for our programming. What are six other options?”

 

We came up with ideas we hadn’t thought of before, and everyone felt they had contributed to the final decision.

 

Seven options seem like a lot, especially when you are in a situation that already seems like ideas have been exhausted. The rules of making seven options, however, is simple:

 

1.) The seven options go on the board before discussion happens. 

 

All options go on the board first. We all know that not every idea is a good or even a viable idea. Other than questions for clarity, every option goes on the board before a discussion.

 

2.) Go through and discuss each option.

 

What are the benefits and drawback of each option? What are the resources and time required for each option? Everyone should feel heard and know why their option may not be the best choice. 

 

3.) The first option is to do nothing and to let things continue as they are.

 

It helps to start the conversation knowing the first choice. More than an empty choice, though, it is important to weigh the cost if nothing happens. Sometimes things have run their course, and the best option is to let something go.

 

4.) Anyone can call for the seven options at any time. 

 

I was frustrated with one of our projects and could not see a viable solution. I told staff in our meeting, “We are cutting this program in the fall.” 

 

Then someone spoke up, “Well, what are our seven options?”

 

Sure enough, we went with option six instead of my option one. The project was not working, but instead of getting cut we reworked the program. First, though, we had to look a little off the menu. 

 

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