The No-Brainer Scenario

by Victoria on September 4, 2009

Update (1/17/2011): If you like what you read here and want to see more ways to apply this technique for making decisions and getting unstuck, check out the ebook!

Every opportunity has benefits and costs.

Even the opportunities you want cost something (that’s where the concept of Opportunity Cost comes from). Doing Thing 1 often means not doing Thing 2.

Sometimes, when you’re trying to weigh the pros and cons, you come up empty – there’s no clear winner for or against.

Those types of decisions invariably send me into a tailspin and lead to much stuckness.

I like decisions to be clear and obvious. I’m trying to listen to my heart more, and give what it tells me priority over any list of pros and cons.

But it isn’t easy.

Here’s a technique that can help with those split-down-the-middle decisions.

It may not be useful for all types of decisions, but I’ve used it extensively when considering job offers and projects. It would probably work best when deciding whether to Do or Not Do something that involves some form of compensation.

If nothing else, it will give you a different perspective on what you’re considering.

How it works

You’re considering an opportunity, but you can’t seem to find clarity on whether to take it or pass on it.

For whatever reason, you’re not ready to say yes, nor are you ready to say no.

What’s your No-Brainer Scenario?

Try to find the set of conditions that would cause you to feel like it’s a “no-brainer” to say yes. What would the deal need to look like in order to say, “Hell, yeah! Sign me up!”

Why do this?

Figuring out your no-brainer scenario will help you create a contrast between what you want (or need) and what is there now (or what you think is there now).

From there, you can decide to try to get more of what you need. Or not.

Why this helps (a theory in development)

All those details about what the offer or project is can cloud your mind from seeing what you want.

Plus, how often do we make assumptions about stuff that hasn’t been said without asking for clarification?

By shining a light on the gaps between what you want the opportunity to look like, and what you currently know about it, you can gain insight into what you need to ask for.

Let’s see how it works in action.

A real life example

Back when I worked at Company A and started looking for a job, I got an offer from Company B.

It came with a nice raise, but I would have to be a contractor for a while, and I would lose a LOT of my precious, precious vacation time.

I kept going around and around, not able to figure out if the offer was good enough to leave Company A.

So I came up with my no-brainer scenario, which included keeping the raise (duh!), but also making sure they gave me enough vacation time so that I didn’t feel like I was giving up so much by leaving my old job. Doing that helped me figure out what it would take to give them a solid Yes.

For better or for worse, I even presented my requests using the phrase, “Here is what would make it a no-brainer for me…”

It worked.

Another (hypothetical but closely based on real life) example

Let’s say you are a freelance web consultant and a potential client contacts you. You find out about the project they need help with, and you feel…underwhelmed.

But maybe some of your other work is wrapping up, and you don’t have another gig lined up yet.

Maybe the opportunity came to you through a friend and you feel a sense of obligation. Who knows?

The point is, even though you’re not excited about the project, you aren’t ready to turn it down.

Time to figure out the No-Brainer Scenario…

Make a list of all the things you would need to have (or not have) in order for the project to become worthy of Yays and Hoorays.

It might wind up being a short list or a long list. It doesn’t matter as long as you can honestly say that you would feel good about doing the project under those conditions.

  • More money?
  • A more relaxed deadline so you don’t have to rush to complete your work?
  • Not having to deal with a certain difficult stakeholder?
  • Requiring that the people involved in the project not use icky business-speak like “stakeholder”?
  • Wednesday mornings off so you can go to your yoga class?

So for the sake of the example, let’s say that ALL of those requirements would have to be met in order for the project to be a no-brainer.

See what just happened there? You have gained a really valuable piece of information.

Now you know what you need in order to say yes and be happy about it.

The next step is to start looking at the gaps between what you know about the opportunity, and your no-brainer version of the opportunity.

This part is going to vary widely from person-to-person, project-to-project.

For every condition in your no-brainer scenario, your options are either to ask for it or not.

Whatever you decide is fine – there are lots of reasons not to ask for something.

But either way, now you know what the opportunity would need to look like in order to feel good about saying yes.

Sometimes there won’t be much of a gap, but sometimes it will be huge.

But what if I can’t come up with a No-Brainer Scenario?

Ah. It happens sometimes.

And it’s another extremely valuable piece of information, because it makes it clear that you don’t want to say yes, under any circumstances.

Will this process wash away all stuckness around all decisions?

I wish. Believe me, I know it can be really hard to say no, even when we’ve determined a no-brainer scenario doesn’t exist.

But what I’m learning is that decision-making and stuckness-removal are all about being a compassionate scientist – experimenting with as many techniques as it takes to get the desired results.

It’s about getting the information you need in the form that you need it.

This is another tool in your toolkit to try, when the time is right.

Got an opportunity you’re considering but having a hard time deciding? Try the No-Brainer Scenario and let me know how it goes!

Update (1/17/2011): If you like what you read here and want to see more ways to apply this technique for making decisions and getting unstuck, check out the ebook!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Havi Brooks (and duck) September 7, 2009 at 1:06 am

I love this post! And am totally going to use this strategy.

My favorite part is the reminder that if I can’t come up with a theoretical situation that WOULD make me say yes, clearly I don’t actually want to do it. I hadn’t thought about it that way, and yet it’s completely obvious that you’re right.

I’m going to go grab a pen and paper and start outlining some scenarios.

Thanks for this! The timing for me was *perfect*.
.-= Havi Brooks (and duck)´s last blog ..Very Personal Ads #10: Brought to you by Smoove B =-.

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Victoria September 7, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

After reading your post today about pricing, I started thinking about how the No-Brainer Scenario has similarities to the Mikelann Valterra post (that you linked to) about finding your Resentment Number.

If the Resentment Number is the minimum you should be charging, maybe the No-Brainer Scenario is kind of like finding the “happy number” that Valterra refers to, except it encompasses more than just the money part of the compensation.

I’m really glad that you linked to the Resentment Number article, because I don’t know that I would have come upon it otherwise!

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Jason (@allpraxis) September 7, 2009 at 11:37 pm

The perfect antidote for my “take the first offer problem.” Most of the time this doesn’t end too badly, and sometimes it works out surprisingly well. But I can’t rely on luck to get everything I want. And if I don’t know what I want, all the more important to ponder my “no-brainer scenario.” Thanks Victoria!

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Cairene September 16, 2009 at 9:10 am

What a great way to make decisions you can feel good about! I love this. Definitely adding this to my toolbox. Thank you.
.-= Cairene´s last blog ..Polishing what is already smooth and shiny. =-.

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Sherri September 16, 2009 at 5:23 pm

This sounds like a great technique. I plan on trying it the next time I feel iffy about something.

Also, love the new site!
.-= Sherri´s last blog ..August Usability Newsletter is Live =-.

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GirlPie September 16, 2009 at 5:39 pm

VERY cool (and simple, so bonus for that) strategy — I’ve been doing something similar but only for stuff I knew I didn’t want to take, so I’d put up a bunch of not real hoops the thing would have to jump through to get me to want it, but you process seems more honest, more educational too. Very nice — keep up the good work…

~GirlPie
(You weren’t talking about taking on my challenge for 3 for September, were you?!)
PS: your comments are lovely.
.-= GirlPie´s last blog ..TheGirlPie: @marenhogan Form reading yr tweets, it’s clear that you’re a mom who files + wears a dress — you da super-tasticist superhero: "mom." =-.

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Kelly Parkinson September 16, 2009 at 5:54 pm

My no-brainer scenario involves having Mitchell’s pumpkin ice cream FedExed to me via next-day air in dry ice. Oh, how I would LOVE to make that a part of every proposal fee. “50% deposit plus pumpkin ice cream via next-day air.” Thanks for the inspiration!

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Jennifer Breazeale September 16, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Great post – I’m definitely going to keep it handy!

When you mentioned “creating a contrast”, the first thing that popped into my mind was a visit to the eye doctor — you know when they put that big contraption in front of your eyes and go through the whole “which one is better: option 1 or option 2, option 3 or option 4, etc…” Sometimes, if you can’t tell much difference, they make one of the options *very* different from the others and start over again.
.-= Jennifer Breazeale´s last blog ..Bring on the inspiration =-.

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Victoria September 16, 2009 at 9:03 pm

@GirlPie – Challenge? What challenge? Just kidding…

@Kelly – I *dare* you to put that on your next proposal! And I want proof!

@Jennifer – That is such a great example! “…make one of the options *very* different from the others and start over again.” Yeah – it’s all about making it easier to see. (no pun intended)

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Mahala Mazerov September 16, 2009 at 9:26 pm

I like this. My system — that I learned from a Native American woman — is, if it’s not an Absolute Yes, it’s a No. Sometimes there’s disappointment of letting go of something that’s 97% Yes, but it sure brings clarity and clears the deck for 100% Yes-s.

But I like the way your process makes room for saying, um, what would make this an Absolute Yes is this. Which, to my mind, is like sending a personal request to the universe. Or one of Havi’s personal ads.
.-= Mahala Mazerov´s last blog ..The Bowl of Stars – A Guided Meditation =-.

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Jon Strocel September 16, 2009 at 11:25 pm

This would be helpful in the sense that if I can’t come up with a scenario to turn something into a no-brainer, then it probably was a bad idea in the first place.

Love it!
.-= Jon Strocel´s last blog ..The Flip Mino HD =-.

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Julie Stuart September 17, 2009 at 5:16 am

This is such a wonderful way to think about decisions, thank you. I love the idea of creating a contrast so that you can see if you really want it and what it would take to have to say “yes.” Brillant! Thank you.

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Gina September 17, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Ah yes, I do love it too. Just reading it, even without a specific scenario in mind, just imparts this feeling of ‘openness’. and breathing room. And with openness comes creativity and other options.

Thank you!

Gina
.-= Gina´s last blog ..of flakey muses and flying shoes =-.

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Wendy Cholbi September 19, 2009 at 11:57 am

Victoria! “Compassionate scientist” is my new absolute favorite phrase. Looking for what works, and being honest about what that means, but not being mechanical or cold-hearted about it. Bringing compassion into the “let’s look at this logically” mindset (that I try oh-so-hard to maintain) is so so so perfect. Thank you for this post. Count me in as a subscriber.
.-= Wendy Cholbi´s last blog ..Introducing Open Office Hours! =-.

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Ana October 26, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Victoria,

Another insightful share.

The no-brainer scenario is another form of just being-and going with how we truly feel within the moment.

I find this is who we truly are in our lifes, when we go with the flow and how we feel.

When we do this, regarding the pro’s or con’s, everything usually flows as we are not in a state of worry over the expected unexpected.

I think we know when something is not quite right, as we have that intuitive ability to see things.

The fruit is in the picking, our choice. :)

Keep Shining!

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Andrew Lightheart @alightheart January 2, 2010 at 3:02 am

Love it love it love it.

Searching for places to apply…
.-= Andrew Lightheart @alightheart´s last blog ..How to make sure you fight at Christmas =-.

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