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In our previous article, we looked at how three creative brainstorming techniques can lead to better -- or at the very least -- more contemplative decision-making. Here are two more worth considering:

Google Design Thinking

Design thinking helps flesh out a problem.

Here's how I apply Design Thinking:

  1. What do I want to achieve with the decision I feel I have to make? What's the end goal?

  2. Before I make a decision, I interview people who have been similarly situated and who have made similar decisions after encountering similar problems.

  3. I make a list of all the problems I learned about from talking with real people, their problematic consequences, and then I group them by theme.

  4. For each of the thematically-grouped problems or concerns, I brainstorm additional steps, actions, or decisions down the road that could solve or greatly improve these specific concerns arising from real world complications of the decision. This is the 10x or moonshot imagination phase in which I deliberately ignore assumed limitations. I add a "but, also" factor in which each great idea is supplemented by an even more ambitious great idea for addressing concerns with the decision.

  5. I sketch out a plan for proceeding with a more critical eye to what is possible given real-world constraints, but I strive to include in the plan as much of the 10x solutions as possible.

  6. Can I accept the plan? Is it worth it? How do I feel about the effort needed to undertake it?

Much of the time, the reason why decisions are difficult is because the decision-maker doesn't have enough information to proceed with confidence.

Design thinking is a great way to obtain just the information you need to proceed and amplify its utility with imagination and critical thinking.

The way I apply it to decision making, Design Thinking has another benefit -- it breaks down the illusion that single decisions or actions are somehow isolated. In reality, decisions bring consequences, which require more decisions. In helping to make one decision, Design Thinking helps form a path through several others, or it helps avoid such a path.

The biggest drawback to applying Design Thinking is that the framework requires substantial time and other resources.

What Would Jesus Christ Do?

This final tool for using imagination in decision-making is the most simple, direct, elegant, and powerful. There are only three steps:

  1. I think of a person whose character is impeccable and whose moral principles I've grown familiar with from thought and discussion.

  2. Then, given any question or proposed action, I simply ask myself: What would the person in Step #1, above, do in this circumstance.

  3. Optionally, I dictate or write out my thoughts on why the person would make that decision given their philosophy and who they are.

The most obvious historical person, if you will, in my mind is Jesus Christ. He has been the moral fountainhead of civilization for two millennia, and his influence is felt not only on Christians, but on secular ethicists and countless institutions by derivation. But, the person could be virtually anyone who meets this very high standard in a person's mind, including a very philosophically well-developed fictional character like Ayn Rand's John Galt or a business leader with a clear, fixed philosophy like Jack Welch.

Christian ethics aren't necessarily always simple to apply to difficult scenarios and John Galt's Objectivist ethics can be even harder to understand. But, for illustrative purposes, let's continue with the example of Jesus Christ. If I were to apply all the potential rules and reasoning I've heard as a Christian and someone who has read into the world of Christianity through historical, philosophical works and popular interpretations, I'd have to spend days or weeks trying to figure out how to apply the concerns to a difficult, close case. But, if I simply ask myself, "What would Jesus Christ do?" my subconscious integrates all of that understanding and provides an answer.

I like to think our minds have something very roughly analogous to a subconscious method for instantly integrating what we know about other people and anticipating their behavior and reactions. When someone acts outside our expectations -- even when it's just something subtly off in their demeanor -- we often get a sense that something is wrong, but we don't always know what it is. In more violent times, this could save our lives, but here we are using it as a mental shortcut, a way to fit all sorts of considerations into an idea of a person we can use quickly and easily.

When I ask myself, "Would Jesus Christ do this?," I'm able to get at least a feeling of how to answer my question almost immediately.

Sometimes, I want to think about the situation further, and for that purpose, I add the optional step of dictating or writing down my reasoning. But, the conclusion should probably come first and the justification second. The goal here is to let the subconscious mind do the heavy lifting.