Making Difficult Choices

April 12, 2024

When people must choose between alternatives, they typically list their options and seek the one they consider best. This approach works when the differences between choices are clear, making it easy to identify the superior one. However, what happens when none of the options seems superior, and you face a difficult decision?

In the Adizes methodology, there's an effective approach for such situations. First, create an exhaustive list of exclusive alternatives—meaning no additional choices can be considered, and each alternative excludes the others. To achieve this, one may need to abstract the choices, simplifying them to essential opposites like "live or die." Then, add a "goat" alternative.

A "goat" alternative is one that everyone, including a group debating choices, agrees is the worst or cannot be implemented under any circumstances. Why add it? As Plato suggested, for people to disagree, they must first agree on something. By including a goat, you establish a starting point of agreement and signal that the list is exhaustive, helping to clarify that the decision must come from the available options.

Why call it a goat? There's a Jewish story about a family living unhappily in a cramped apartment. At the rabbi's advice, they added a goat, making life unbearable. When they removed the goat, they found their previous situation much more tolerable.

After creating the exhaustive list, add the goat and identify which choice is the worst. This often makes the goat stand out clearly. Continue eliminating choices by asking which is the worst remaining alternative until only one option is left—the one to choose.

People may not like the chosen alternative and will likely have many reasons against it. However, it's the best option among the available choices. For example, consider the Israel-Palestine conflict. The options might include one state, two states, or maintaining the status quo. Adding a goat option, such as one nation leaving the area, highlights the impracticality of this choice.

After removing the goat, in my opinion, maintaining the status quo is the worst of the three because this alternative is not bearable; The Israeli military forces are mostly reserves. The economy will collapse, and I do not see how a nation can live with continuous terror. Of the two left one state is the worst one. The Zionist dream of having a Jewish state is dead. That leaves us with a two-state solution.

Many have very valid reasons why it is not a good solution, but the others are worse and there are no more choices. We must make it work.

By systematically eliminating the worst options, you arrive at the best available choice, even if it's not ideal. This method challenges critics to propose a better alternative or accept the reality of the chosen option.

In conclusion, the method works best when the list is exhaustive. The chosen alternative may not be perfect, but if no better option exists, it becomes the pragmatic choice.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes