Monday, July 2, 2012

The Pros & Cons of A Pros & Cons List

When I first got the idea for this post I figured I was either going to be the only one who had ever thought of it or the topic would be exhausted. I have noticed (probably not a new revelation) that many bloggers and article writers tend to just copy what others have written so the internet is inundated with a bunch of the same regurgitated information. I did not want to add to the regurgitation. And I was pleasantly surprised that only a couple bloggers on the first page of a Google search wrote about this topic. Awesome.

Anywho... Here's my take on a Pros and Cons list.

Con: Easy way out

I think I learned about Pros and Cons Lists in middle school or high school. And I'm pretty sure it was suggested to me when I told someone I was wrestling with two decisions and I didn't know which one to pick. It was probably easiest for them to tell me to write a Pros and Cons list than sit there and listen to me debate with myself. And I think this is the first Con about a P&C List.

P&C Lists are the easy way out of making a decision. You would think they would be a step in the right direction. After all P&C Lists were invented by the Productivity Gods to help us make decisions. But in the end they become an excuse to actually not make a decision.

Pro: A way to look at the big picture

Fear is usually the main force behind not being able to make a decision. And fear is caused by the unknown; not having enough information. So writing down the details of two decisions may help you to see the bigger picture. Except that I don't think this is where people's minds are when they write P&C Lists. I think this is largely because P&C Lists usually contain more possible outcomes than the actual scope of doing or not doing a thing. Which is weird because how could you possibly know with absolute certainty what the outcome of a particular decision will be?

For instance, if I was trying to decide whether to set up a booth at an Art Fest I might write a P&C List that looks something like this:
5 of the items on this list are predictions. And most the items don't really mean anything and 2 of the items cancel each other out (making money/not making money). How is this supposed to give me more information to make a decision?

To improve this list I could see if I could find vendors who set up a booth last year and ask them if it was worth it and what the clientele is like. I could also ask my husband if he could help which would make "too many people" better to handle.

Con: P&C Lists can be biased

For the most, I think that P&C Lists are based on what we think society or family or friends would want us to write down. For instance, in the above image I wrote "get the word out" because I've always been told that getting my business name out there is an important thing no matter what. But what if the clientele isn't my target market? My P&C List wouldn't give me that information. And so this "Pro" is worthless.

Con: Doesn't take value and expense into account

P&C Lists don't take into account the intrinsic value or expense of a decision. In my P&C List above I write "lot of work". Well of course setting up at an Art Fest would be a lot of work. That's not necessarily a Con. But it is an expense. The expense of making money.

Whenever we make a decision we are doing it at the expense of some other decision. And because we value one decision over another. On one hand, you could value "trying to make money" over "not trying to make money". But what if the money I make at the Art Fest is less than what I could have made somewhere else? Again, something I'm never going to know. Unfortunately, no one has invented a time machine yet so I can't go back and choose the other thing to see how it would have turned out.

There are consequences, both good and bad, about every decision we make. Having a child for example is a very big decision. But it would make sense to tell someone to make a Pros and Cons List about having a child and then tell them they shouldn't have one because there are 20 Cons and only 18 Pros. In this case, if you really want children the 18 Pros outweigh the 20 Cons.

Con: Our cons are usually based on our own piddly excuses

If you look at the Cons column in the above image you will notice that most of the cons are just piddly excuses for being lazy. The only Con that really means anything is "might loose money". Loosing money is a real risk in any venture and if you run a business you should be well aware of any risk involved. But the possibility of loosing money by itself shouldn't prevent you from taking a risk (as long as it's calculated and understood). Putting "loosing money" in the Cons column is a whiny cop out because loosing money isn't a con it's a risk. And a business owner should know this.

"A lot of work", "a lot of time", "too many people" and "won't be able to sleep in" are even more glaringly obvious piddly excuses.

Conclusion: Decisions and the outcome of our decisions are never as cut and dry as a P&C List makes it seem.

I thought I was going to have at least a few more Pros to this Pros and Cons List. But after reading some self help blogs and other blogs that suggest making a Pros and Cons list I'm pretty much concluding that Pros and Cons Lists are all matter of worthless.

First, a Pros and Cons List is merely a tool. And tools can be used in certain situations for certain reasons. Yet I found articles and posts suggesting the usage of a P&C List for all manner of decisions from having an abortion and other medical procedures to using cloth diapers. A P&C List can't possibly be a good enough tool for deciding on having surgery and it certainly is overkill for deciding whether or not to switch to cloth diapers.

Secondly, decisions aren't conveniently divided into Pros and Cons. They are, more accurately, comprised of values and expenses and good/bad consequences.

Thirdly, with a Pros & Cons List there is no room for alternate or in between reasons to do or not do a thing. It's either one or the other. In my P&C List above it was either "make money" or "not make money". There was no room for "break even".

Lastly, humans have a thing called instinct. Instinct was what drove most, if not all, of the decisions of our ancestors. It kept them alive and healthy. And instinct kicks in instantly not over the period it takes to write a P&C List. P&C Lists make us second guess ourselves and also provides for the possibility of including irrelevant information (like my "won't be able to sleep in" in the above image). We pretty much already know which decision we'd like to go with thanks to our instinct. We use P&C Lists out of fear of making a decision we know we should make.

Better than a P&C List

Instead of writing a P&C List every time you need to make a decision just try making the decision and see what happens. We make the mistake of thinking that every decision we make is final. This is rarely true. Only with big decisions like surgery or staking every penny we have on a venture should we take considerable pause to examine our options and get more information. And then it should truly be about getting more information and not merely writing a Pros and Cons List.

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