Creative Tool: Want easier, better decision making?

Do you want to get better at making decisions, or working out if something’s right for you? Do you want to stop muddling through every business decision, making things up on the fly, or as you go along?

There are lots of factors to consider when trying to make the right decision for you. But one thing that helps is understanding your values.

Inner Creative Blog - Creative Values Tool: Want easier, better decision making? - Image Credit: Karen Arnold

Have you ever made a decision that looked good on paper, but still made you feel uneasy? Often when we’re feeling conflicted about a choice it can mean that it’s in conflict with one or more of our values. When you know what your values are, it’s easier to work out what’s important to you and know what you stand for. The opportunity might just need a small tweak to realign it with your values and give it the go ahead.

In this blog, I’ll share a Creative Values Tool that you can use to quickly work out what your top 3-5 values are. Value exercises are also great for creating a shared identity for your team, so that everyone’s on the same page.

First off, why pick such a small number of values? We all honour a lot more than just 5 values. But it’s easier to make decisions quickly if you know which ones are the most important to you.

The common way of working out your values is sitting down with a long list of potential values and deciding which ones resonate most with you. But it gets a bit tricky when you have to narrow it down to less than 5 values. It’s also hard to cross values off the list that you think you should have, for instance honesty, excellence, fairness, punctuality.

So I like to use this Creative Values Tool to bypass what we ‘think’ our values should be to create a result that is more aligned with what we truly believe. It’s also harder to fudge your results this way :-).

Now before we do anything, can I just say that there is no perfect answer and there are no wrong answers. So please tell your inner critic (the part of you that is on high alert to keep you from danger) that everything’s going to be ok and it can just relax. We’re just going to answer a few simple questions and let our imagination roam. Nothing serious. OK. So let’s begin.

Step 1: Name 3 to 5 people whom you most admire

These people can be alive or dead, people you know or don’t, famous people, fictional characters. So anyone from Leonardo Da Vinci to Leonardo DiCaprio; Brené Brown to Stephen Hawking; J.K. Rowling to Jane Austen; Harry Potter to Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennet; and even your Mum or Grandpa Joe counts. Your choice can be based on fact or what you believe based on the tabloids. You don’t even have to admire or respect everything about them either.

And if you’re hard pressed to think of any people you admire then it’s OK to pick animals instead, say your lovely pup called Ruby – even fictional ones, like Snoopy or Rudolf. There are no wrong answers, right? 🙂

Step 2: List why you admire these people

What do admire about each person on your list? It could be one thing for each person. It could be many. Try to describe the qualities or attributes about this person. If you admire them for something that they’ve achieved, then include what you liked about how they achieved it. For example, you might admire Thomas Edison for inventing a practical electric light bulb, but it might be his persistence, inventiveness, productivity or drive that you admire in relation to this achievement.

Step 3: Find any common themes.

Are there any common attributes or reasons amongst your list? If there are similarities between a number of descriptors, then what is the most important descriptor for you? For instance, there’s a subtle difference between ‘honesty’ and ‘frankness’. Is one more important than another? Then go with that one.

Also notice if there are any potential areas of conflict. If so, are there any important distinctions between these contradictory descriptors? Or is there something less obvious that links them together? For instance, you may value someone for their sense of adventure, but another for their ability to be the mainstay for their family in providing security. They seem to be contradictory on the surface, but perhaps the common thread is their strength, responsiveness, or commitment?

Step 4: Translate this into a short list of values

Look through your common themes and descriptor lists. Highlight the ones that are really really important to you. Make sure to get the flavour of the word right (e.g. ‘fairness’ vs ‘justice’).

If there are some descriptors that are close but you don’t think that it’s really hit the nail, then look through this values list or your thesaurus to see if another one word better describes what’s important to you.

Step 5: Check in and confirm you top 3 to 5 values

There is no point creating a list that is nice for others to see if it doesn’t really reflect what’s important to you. This is the time to check up if you really believe that “good will” (for example) is one of your top 5 values or what you think your mother believes she raised you to have. If any of your values make you feel uncomfortable then dump them. Go back to your list of people (or animals) you admire and their descriptors. See if there’s something more you. Keep checking in until they feel right.

Step 6: Test them out

Next time you need to make a decision see if it supports your values or contradicts them. It’s also a good way of refining your list and discovering the subtleties about yourself – for instance, maybe it’s not about feeling peaceful but about being authentic.

You can also use this exercise to create a shared identity and set of values or principles for your team. All you do is have each team member pick 3 people that they admire to identify their top 3-5 values as above and then ask everyone to share their results. You might want everyone to write their values on separate post-it notes, so you can stick them up on a board for everyone to see. It’s also easier to see if there are similarities or conflicts between them. Work through your results to ideally pick the top 3 values for the team (try not to have more than 5 as it gets harder to remember and apply them). You can then display your team values for everyone to see in the office and incorporate them into your team decision making processes.

Most importantly, whether you’re working out these values for yourself or with your team, try to use them deliberately, visibly, and as often as possible in your decision making. Each time you make a decision take a little time out to check in with your values list. Hopefully you’ll feel a little easier after having made the next tough decision you face.

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