Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 30;   July 23, 2003: Poverty of Choice by Choice

Poverty of Choice by Choice

by

Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions, and how can we tell when we're doing it?

Since it was a longish layover, Terri suggested that they go up to the observation deck, where they could watch the take-offs and landings, and where she knew there were about a dozen wooden rocking chairs. Reluctantly, Kyle agreed.

A rocking chairAfter only three rocks Kyle felt the urge to thank Terri. "Good idea, Terri. Thank you."

She smiled. They rocked a while.

Kyle spoke. "I wonder how we got here," he said.

"You mean…" Terri left it open.

"You know, shipping it when we knew it was a mess. This trip is so predictable, so unnecessary."

"Yeah. But we really didn't have a choice."

Perhaps. It does happen. Or perhaps they didn't want to have a choice.

Choosing from alternatives that cause discomfort or anxiety can make life complex. Often, we're more comfortable with limited options, even though later we might regret having chosen one of them.

Here are just a few of the reasons why we limit our own choices.

Taboos
Difficult choices can cause
discomfort. Sometimes, we'd
rather not have a choice.
We're afraid of — or can't discuss — some of the unspoken choices. For instance, even though canceling a troubled project is always a choice, we seldom consider cancellation. See "Workplace Taboos and Change," Point Lookout for February 26, 2003.
It's my football
Those controlling the decision process have a favored option, which is already on the table. They don't want to develop more options.
It's their football
The options we already have include one that would please those who finally approve our choice. We converge on the one we think they want.
Fear of success
We prefer to go with what we know, rather than take risks that might lead to something better. Virginia Satir captured this situation when she said, "People prefer the familiar to the comfortable."
Trips to Abilene
We're all so careful to avoid rocking the boat that we end up rowing in a direction nobody wants to go. This is one form of a dynamic called "a trip to Abilene." See "Trips to Abilene," Point Lookout for November 27, 2002.

Noticing that we're avoiding uncomfortable choices can be difficult. Here are some of the phrases we hear when we're limiting our own choices.

  • We're forced to
  • You leave me no choice
  • It's in God's hands now
  • They made me do it
  • I don't know what else to do; I see no other way
  • I had no choice
  • I couldn't help it
  • It's our only option
  • We're out of moves (options)
  • We have only one real choice
  • We're between a rock and a hard place
  • Our hands are tied
  • Beggars can't be choosers
  • We have to bite the bullet
  • There's only one way to do this
  • Here's what we have to do
  • I'll go along with whatever you decide
  • If you say so…you're the expert.
  • It doesn't make any difference — we lose either way
  • Been there, done that
  • We tried that last time

Limiting our own choices is actually a choice in itself. It can be a wise choice only if we're aware we've made it. Go to top Top  Next issue: Choices for Widening Choices  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

If you notice this happening, what can you do about it? We'll look at that next time.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenFuPeuTbsBGyyhgNPner@ChacZdTATUGRSLTCLxKpoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeTen Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: III
The phrase "You get what you measure," has acquired the status of "truism." Yet many measurement-based initiatives have produced disappointing results. Here's Part III of an examination of the idea — a look at management's role in these surprises.
Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Focus on the Question
When group decisions go awry, we sometimes feel that the failure could have been foreseen. Often, the cause of the failure was foreseen, but because the seer was a dissenter within the group, the issue was set aside. Improving how groups deal with dissent can enhance decision quality.
The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airlinerThe Limits of Status Reports: II
We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.
Astronauts Musgrave and Hoffman install corrective optics during the Hubble Telescope's Service Mission 1How We Waste Time: I
Time is the one workplace resource that's evenly distributed. Everyone gets exactly the same share, but some use it more wisely than others. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways we waste time.
Five almondsWorkplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) speaks at a recent Senate hearingComing October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
A man, standing, explaining something to a woman, seatedAnd on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenqrfgPAttvLmNCefhner@ChaclKNlZIRMtgSrkntVoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.