Including both pros and cons when proposing a solution makes you and your suggestions more reliable

In your work you will be tasked all the time with providing solutions to a problem or ideas for an assignment. Your responsibility then is not to provide a “perfect” idea, but a well-thought-out suggestion that offers sufficient details to enable your manager to make an informed decision.

Here are the steps to approach a possible solution:

  1. Define the solution as you would explain it to your team/supervisor.
  2. Identify what supports this solution. What are the advantages, strengths, and potential success factors of this solution? Research and collect the information through primary or desk research.
  3. Identify what goes against this solution. What are the risks, weaknesses, and potential for damage or failure of this solution? Do the research the same way as for pros.
  4. If the solution still stands, redefine the explanation of the solution to encompass the pros and cons of the solution.
  5. Present it with all the richness of supporting information.

The key in all these steps is in the information that supports the pros and cons. Complex problems often do not have right or wrong solutions, but solutions which propose more or less risk, and more or less gains. 

In order to be able to provide both the pros and cons to an idea, you will have to investigate the information available for it, which will pose the risk of cognitive bias, a sneaky enemy to your sound judgement that comes from inside your mind. There are, however, ways to understand it and work with it to make better, smarter, more inclusive decisions. 

Cognitive bias is a restriction in factual thinking caused by the tendency of our brains to interpret information through a filter of our personal experiences and beliefs, which can impact the end decisions made. Here are a few examples of biases that could lead to overly simplistic or erroneous decisions when it comes to processing information and data:

  1. Anchoring bias – when your decision is heavily influenced by the first piece of information you get, regardless of whether that information is reliable or not. For instance, if you research for the best customer relationship management software and you read the description of the first one you find, you will tend to compare all following options to that first one even if some of the features are exaggerated, and you may even forget the features you were looking for at the beginning of the research. 
  2. Confirmation bias – we tend to listen to information that confirms what we already believe or think we know. When we want to suggest an idea that we have already formed and we are fond of, we risk looking for arguments only in favour of that idea and not researching what could go against it as well.
  3. The availability heuristic – the tendency to estimate the severity or the probability of an action based on how many such examples we have seen. For instance, if the news shows only information about small companies going bankrupt in an economic crisis, you may look at every small company in your research as posing a high risk of bankruptcy. 
  4. The optimism bias – the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of positive outcomes. When we assess a solution, we may tend to minimise real risks and act with the confidence that things should go well. Consider an idea that an article proposes to have a lot of benefits, you may be drawn to it quite fast and look at all the ways it can succeed, while unconsciously ignoring the ways it could fail. 

When you look for information for pros and cons to support your solution, keep these in mind and ask yourself whether you are accepting information objectively or if any cognitive bias is getting in your way. 

There are articles out there that can shine a light for you to discover and learn about numerous other biases. Knowing them just well enough helps you be aware of them, allowing us to act more wisely when assessing ideas and solutions.

Extra resources

1. What is cognitive bias

2. Youtube: 12 Cognitive biases

3. TEDx: How to outsmart your unconscious bias

4. List of common cognitive biases

5. Youtube: Cognitive bias – Why you’re rightfully wrong