What’s the Default Answer?

Darrell Hawley said something very intrusting in a conference call one day that sparked a lot of thought on my end. We were trying to hash out a decision on a conference call and as a lot of group decisions go it was taking time. Darrell said, “Well let’s pick the default answer and then if we have time to come back to the decision, we can maybe move off that default.” I started thinking about “default answers” and it came to me how brilliant this is. Almost every question in life has a default answer. We just have to identify the default answer and see if it’s palatable. If it is, then we can leave that question alone and focus on those where the default answer is not palatable. Once we answer those questions in a satisfactory way, then we can circle back to the default answers that were just palatable and improve the decisions there. That part alone is worth buying into because it does two things. 1) It frees us up to focus on the questions that we need to focus on rather than spending a ton of time fighting with decisions that we don’t have to make anyway. 2) Just as importantly, it accelerates the decision making process.

You probably already employ this method to a degree. Think about your favorite restaurant. You probably have a favorite meal. Well – that’s your default answer. When I’m in a hurry, I will just go with the default answer whenever I’m ordering food. When I’ve got lots of time, I’ll read the menu and think through the possible answers and possibly choose something else.

Something that’s very important to understand – the default doesn’t have to be very good. You can review it and improve it. Continuing the dinner theme – the default answer for me at most restaurants is a burger with fries. Often, there are much better choices on the menu. However, I default to the burger a lot of times because of time or lack of focus on the menu or something.

Then I started thinking about those repeatable decisions and how we have to make them over and over and over and it burns a lot of cycles. The easy example is paying the mortgage. Is that a question – yes. Every month you have the decision to pay the mortgage and the default answer, if you don’t decide one way or the other, is that the mortgage goes unpaid. Is that default answer acceptable? No but we are forced to make that decision over and over again. Among all of the other questions in our lives, it’s another thing that we have keep on our mind and struggle with. The result of all of this thought is that I’m starting to look for ways that I can apply technology or process to start changing the default answers. This is different from the first part because moving off of the default takes action every time we answer the question whereas changing the default answer to something at least palatable means that you don’t have to take action after that. Applied to the mortgage example changing the default involves setting up online bill pay or something in that vein. Once that’s in place the default answer is that the mortgage gets paid and you have to take action to stop it. At that point it’s a decision that make itself and you don’t have to do anything which frees you up to focus on other things.

After I shared my thought process with Darrell, he posted the “Philosophy of If“. He wants to break it down to code and write things in If statements. I don’t think that it’s that simple.

However, since Darrell is insisting on me codifying the solution – it would be in the form of database lookups. There’s a table of questions and a table of possible answers with a link table between to put them together. Each question has a link to its default answer. Replacing the default requires identifying better answers, injecting them into the database and replacing the link. Writing the code in Ifs assumes that you have a set number of possible answers and that you have identified all of them.

The question table has the following fields:

The link table has the following fields:

The PossibleAnswer table has the following fields:
FirstAction -> nod to David Allen and “Getting Things Done” (Great book and process that everyone should read)

Any time that you find a new answer, you insert the answer and alter the AnswerNeedsReview to false. Once you have reviewed, sorted and set the default again, the decisions is just made until the next time that the AnswerNeedsReview somewhere.

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