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Tools to help you take charge

photo
[Times photo: Teresanne Cossetta]

By EVELYN CHASTAIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 2001


Flash, flash. The crimson light is persistent in its mission. Flash, flash.

With the touch of your finger, the recognizable robotic receptionist reveals "You have three messages."

The mechanical Ms. then calmly announces, "Message one."

"Hi. It's me. What are you wearing to the dance Friday night? I can't decide. It's between the jeans I got at the mall yesterday and those black pants. You know, the ones we have alike. Black makes me look thinner. Thank goodness! After all that pizza we ate watching TV last night. Ugh. But the jeans make me look taller. Oh, I don't know! Call me as soon as you get home." Beep.

"Message two," continues your computerized assistant.

"What about the khakis? Please call me the minute you get this! I really need your help." Beep.

"Message three," reports the emotionless receptionist, with no hint of the insistence in the plea to follow.

chart"Where are you anyway? Call me!" Beep.

Whether you are anticipating the big dance or deliberating the effect of a product price increase in the business world, making an important decision calls for a STASH ( Strategies To Acquire Serious Help) of tools to help you arrive at the best outcome.

You've just overheard one strategy: SEEK THE ADVICE OF SOMEONE YOU TRUST. Develop a relationship with a peer who will tell it like it is. This is no time for a yes man! You're asking for expert judgment and knowledge to help your decision-making process. Whether you use a journal, Internet site, or a warm body to assist in your research, two heads are better than one, which is one strategy you might choose in bringing about an informed decision.

Be prepared to accept criticism; constructive criticism can build the bridge to a positive desired outcome. Your chosen confidant must be someone whose opinions you value and don't cause you to see red when she tells you something you hoped not to hear.

Together, you decide on the jeans. Well, maybe.

Another strategy in your STASH is to make a T-CHART TO WEIGH THE PROS AND CONS. In other words, think of all the reasons you should wear the jeans, as well as all the reasons you shouldn't wear the jeans. Make a T-chart to serve as your scale. This strategy provides a way to look at every reason, both pro (for) and con (against). An effective T-chart focuses on a clearly defined question. For example: Should I wear the jeans to the dance? Above the left horizontal line, insert the word PRO. Above the right horizontal line, insert the word CON.

* * *

The T-chart can be used by an individual, small group, or large group to help organize ideas. Begin thinking of every solution to the question, determine if it is pro or con and list it in the appropriate column. Every idea has merit. Include them all on your T-chart. Following this brainstorming session, use the T-chart as a visual scale to help you weigh the decision.

Sometimes you might want more than two heads to assist in the decision-making process. The third strategy in your STASH is to ASK A SMALL GROUP OF PEOPLE. This strategy incorporates the first two strategies, because the members of the small group should be trusted peers or associates. Show respect for their input by acknowledging their expertise. Be open-minded to their perspective as it may differ from yours. You also should develop a T-chart for the group to assist in the decision-making process by brainstorming all possible solutions to the question. Accept all ideas without question. When all suggestions have come forward, set guidelines to help you zero in on the final decision. You might be pleasantly surprised at the valuable insight gained into the decision by asking a small group of people to brainstorm with you.

chartWhen logistics make it impractical to gather a large number of advisers together, you may have to reach out to them. A SURVEY can secure a large quantity of information in a limited amount of time. Ask the questions you really want answered. Be clear. You probably wouldn't consider surveying the entire school to decide on your dance outfit; however, a survey might be used to select the music for the evening. You could arrange to have every student answer the survey or select a sample to make a decision. With the sample you would survey only a representative group of students. If your school serves multiple grades, each should be represented. If your school serves girls and boys, each should be represented. If your school serves multiracial students, each group should be represented. With a proper sample, the opinions of those sampled should reflect the entire student body.

After you have selected the sample, design the questionnaire. Survey questions may be closed, such as the first question below. A closed question provides choices. The last survey question below is an open question, requiring the input of the person being surveyed.

* * *

Parker Brothers decided to introduce a new token for its popular Monopoly game to celebrate the millennium. Who better to decide on the token than some of the more than 500-million people who have played Monopoly since the game came out in 1935? During three months in 1998, more than 1.5-million votes were cast to select the new token. (See monopoly.com).

Of the people voting, 51 percent chose the sack of money, followed by the biplane, with 29 percent of the votes, and the piggy bank with 20 percent. If Parker Brothers had ignored the results and incorporated the piggy bank instead of the popular money sack into the game, more than 750,000 people might be wondering, "Why did you ask me anyway if you weren't going to listen?" An additional benefit of the survey for Parker Brothers is that it generated tremendous interest and enthusiasm for the new game piece, cultivating 1.5-million potential customers! When you use this strategy, be prepared to implement the results, just like Parker Brothers. Keep the survey in your STASH of effective decision-making strategies.

One last strategy to incorporate in your decision-making effort is to HOLD A TEST. Remember those jeans for the dance? Well, you would probably try them on and look in the mirror at yourself from all angles before you make your final decision. Million dollar business decisions aren't made on a whim! The corporate world regularly incorporates tests into decision-making efforts.

chartAccording to a story published on wired.com, Nintendo of America Inc. in Redmond, Wash., pays hundreds of gamers to play Nintendo games that are under development! Not only do they play all day but they talk on the phone at the same time to other gamers comparing notes. What's the purpose of all this playing/testing? To get the bugs out before producing thousands of games, thereby avoiding recalls which could result in product delays, millions of lost dollars, and thousands of frustrated fans. So before you sink your big bank loan into production of your wonder product, pull this effective decision-making strategy from your STASH. Produce a limited number, hold a test, modify and adjust to perfection.

Ignoring the decision by putting it off is not an effective form of decision-making. In such a scenario, the decision is made FOR you instead of BY you because you relinquished any control. Consider the Tale of Two Stevens -- Wozniak and Jobs, high-school friends and founders of Apple Computer. According to an account about the company on its Web site, apple-history.com, both Stevens were "a little different" and really into electronics, beginning their garage computer company on April 1, 1976. Few took it seriously at first, including International Business Machines (IBM), which provided large-scale, custom built systems for businesses and government.

Money Stuff: Get it! Spend it! Keep It!

Introduction and previous chapters

IBM (ibm.com) saw no market for small office and home computers in those early days of personal computing, essentially ignoring the decision to enter that market until the Stevens had helped revolutionize the computer market by introducing the first personal computer, Apple II, in 1977. It was not until 1981 that IBM developed its first personal computer. Which company used its STASH to make the initial decision to enter the personal computer market?

* * *

Armed with your Strategies To Acquire Serious Help, you're well on your way to tackle any decision -- small or large, personal or professional -- because YOU will be in charge of the decision.

"You have no more messages." Beep.

-- Evelyn Chastain teaches at Clay Hill Elementary, Jacksonville.

About the Florida Council on Economic Education

Money Stuff was developed by the Florida Council on Economic Education and project director Fonda Anderson. The council is a statewide non-profit organization founded in 1975 to educate K-12 teachers and students about the free enterprise system and to instill in them an appreciation for a market economy. For more information on the council's programs for teachers and students, please call (813) 289-8489.

About Newspaper in Education

The St. Petersburg Times devotes news space to NIE features throughout the year, including this classroom series. The Times' NIE department works with local businesses and individuals to enrich the classroom experience by providing newspapers, supplemental guides and educational services to schools in the Tampa Bay area. To find out how you can become involved in NIE, please call (727) 893-8969 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 8969. For past chapters check out www.sptimes.com/nie and click on Money Stuff.

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