When we come across a fork in the road // Angie Park May 06 2016

"One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. "Which road do I take?" she asked. "Where do you want to go?" was his response. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter." - Lewis Carroll



As young adolescents, we grow up hearing…


What do you want to do?


Who do you want to be?


What do you want to accomplish?


We think that the answers to these questions will lead us towards a clear path and some sort of ‘final destination.’ But, as we grow older, and gain new understandings, you realize these answer are not set in stone, but it shifts, adapts, and changes with time. These questions continue to pop up again and again over the course of our lives (sometimes, in different formats), and it allows us to reflect and re-calibrate. Sometimes, we come across a fork in the road— a chance for us to make adjustments, and re-set our path. These opportunities require us to make decisions.


If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time meandering at that fork, trying to decide which is the best path. As ‘adults,’ there is a perception that these questions feel more complex as there are more things to consider— there are responsibilities to upkeep, more information to process, more working parts to keep track of, etc. Sometimes we become victims of our inability to make decisions, and we succumb to the circumstance. At times, I’m what you should call a “Maximizer.” Gretchen Rubin from the Happiness Project describes the difference between a ‘Maximizer’ and a ‘Satisficer’ in Barry Schwartz book, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.”


"There are two types of decision makers. Satisficers make a decision once their criteria are met; when they find the hotel or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the best possible decision; even if they see a bicycle that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every option."


How can we avoid the Maximer’s decision-making paralysis and make the best decision? What do you do when stuck between crossroads? How do we move forward? How do we confidently re-set out path? How do we stop meandering and take action? Norman Peale once said, "Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all..." 
I spent the last few weeks reading and researching methods and strategies written by designers, business consultants, sociologists, etc.  What I found are some are some solid actionable steps you can take to wriggle you way out of paralysis — a way to make good decisions based on concrete strategies.  


1)   Envisioning

"..[you] will find it difficult to articulate a coherent vision unless it expresses his core values, his basic identity. One must first embark on the formidable journey of self-discovery in order to create a vision with authentic soul" - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

First, think about the things that really matter to you. What do you value and what do you want to hold on to? What kind of future do you see for yourself?  Break it down to components (ie: Career, family life, health, etc.)— to really understand the various aspects of the vision.  If you have a trouble doing this, it may help to think about the people that inspire you. What are the qualities that you admire about them and why? Paint a visual picture (through words, clippings, drawings, etc.) so that it reflects a tangible image of your aspirations.

Here is a a great article that helps guide you through the envisioning process with questions that can help shape your answers: Create a vision for the life you want 


2)   Deconstruction

“The process is very similar to how doctors treat their patients. Think about what doctors do when you visit them when you’re not well: They first ask you some questions about your symptoms and then take your temperature. They may also run blood tests or take X-rays. They are collecting information and analyzing it to identify the root cause of your illness…" Ken Wantanabe, Problem Solving 101

Next, it’s important to understand your current scenario. Deconstruction is defined as something that you reduce to its constituent parts in order to be able to reinterpret it. It’s being able to dismantle the components so you can build something new with the parts.  You can use a pro and con list (this can help you think through the positive and negatives), or use a tool called a mind map, etc. The principal focus here it to break up your current situation into basic, digestible building blocks (people, projects, places, etc.), also considering how it is connected to and/or affect your internal well-being. 


3) Define the problem.

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” —Albert Einstein

The "deconstruction" method is a great way to get a handle on your current experience and it will reveal what's working and what needs work.  It will help you define the problem. Having a well-defined problem is essential to being able to confidently make the right decisions and it's the catalyst that creates a solid solution. Don't feel rushed during this process. Take some time to reflect and think about the core problem (remember, don't jump to solutions just yet).  It may help to see your "envisioning" and "deconstruction" results side by side. Sometimes, the gaps observed between them can lead to the root source of the problem.


4) Ideation

“Daring ideas are like chessmen moving forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game” —Goethe

Now that you have spent some time reflecting and defining the problem— you can begin the process of brainstorming ideas. What are some solutions that can solve the problem? What can help bridge the gap between your current situation versus what you envisioned. Don't shoot down any ideas (even the crazy ones). Be 'un-selfconcious' and get the ideas flowing. Ideally, you'll end up with a ton of great ideas! Next, slowly begin to shift through—to begin prioritizing and filtering these ideas (based on it's how well the idea is addressing your defined problem, its feasibility, the level of both long term and short term sustainability etc.) Ultimately, the goal is to have your "top 3" ideas, that may serve as solid solutions to test.


6) Prototyping

“Prototyping could be living in a city like a local for a couple weeks before you decide to move there or taking evening classes before you quite your job and enroll full-time; or moonlight in something you love to see if you can make a living doing it; or living with your partner to see if you can share a life. It is making a working model as close to reality as possible and test and refining it before committing 100 percent”

 -Ayes Birsel, “Design the Life you Love”


Lastly (and most importantly) is process of prototyping and being able to test your ideas (personally, I find this to be one of the most critical step to decision making)— it's being able to put your idea to test out in the real world to glean insights on its efficacy. It's about making a decision without feeling burdened by its potential consequences. We need to keep in mind, that nothing is ever set in stone. Everything is a work in progress. All things are a working model. There's always room for tweaking, changing, shifting as you see how your solution progresses. All ideas, all solutions are always in iteration...