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Thinking before you act leads to good decisions


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2001


[Times art: Teresanne Cossetta]
Life is full of them. For example: Should you watch TV or do homework? Should you go swimming or go to a movie? Should you go out for a school team or get a job? You will never face a shortage of choices. You will need to make lots of decisions as you go through life.

Business people, too, need to make decisions all the time. Some typical business choices: Should we open a new store or be satisfied with the stores we already have? Should we buy a new computer system to keep track of sales and inventories, or stick with the current system? Should we keep advertising the same way, or make changes in how and where we advertise?

Because you will be making decisions all your life, you might as well learn to be good at it. Following are solid steps toward good decisionmaking:

  • Focus clearly upon the problem.
  • Decide upon your goal.
  • List all your possible choices.
  • Consider the costs and benefits of each possible choice.
  • Make a decision and take action.
  • Evaluate your decision.

Let us use the TV-or-homework scenario and go through the steps above to make a good decision.

Decision step chartsFocus clearly upon the problem. Ask yourself what exactly the problem is, and why it is a problem. Often, problems boil down to a lack of time or money. Sometimes you can rearrange other things to give yourself the time or money to do both of the things you thought you had to choose between. (Of course, that would involve giving up something else.) The more clearly you see your problem, the more likely you will be to make a choice that works out as you hope it will.

You want to see something on TV, but watching TV will keep you from doing a homework assignment. Time is your real problem. In economic terms, you have a scarcity of time, not enough to do all you want, so you'll need to make a trade-off. This means you will have to choose to give up something to get something else.

Decide upon your goal. Your goal is the destination. You must ask yourself exactly what you want to accomplish. Be honest in setting your goal. If you choose a goal you really aren't interested in (as you might if you are trying to please others instead of yourself), you probably won't work very hard toward it. You won't get to that goal, and the energy spent will keep you from other worthy goals.

When it is about TV or homework, your goal might be to learn the homework subject because you like it, because you need a good grade or because you need the knowledge for future success. Or maybe your goal is the fun of seeing a particular show, being able to talk about it with your friends or spending time watching it with family.

List all your possible choices. This is not the time to decide whether a choice is a good one that meets your goal. It is the time to look at the problem and brainstorm as many possible actions as you can. It often helps to ask others to help you think of choices. Often they will think of things you missed. Ideas seem to help you think of still more ideas, so don't cut this process short.

Some possible choices with your TV/homework problem:

Do homework; don't watch TV.

Do homework early, then watch TV if finished with homework before bedtime.

Do homework after watching TV.

Use VCR to record TV show for later viewing, then do homework while show is being recorded.

Do homework while watching TV.

Forget homework; watch TV instead.

Consider the costs and benefits of each possible choice. Costs are the negatives, the drawbacks. They are what you will give up as a result of the choice. Benefits are what you will get, the positives, or rewards, that come from the choice. Any choice you make will create both benefits and costs. The best choices are the ones in which benefits exceed the costs.

Chart your thoughts

Make your decision and take action. This is often the hardest step. You might be tempted to delay, afraid you are doing the wrong thing. But if you have thought the situation through, you should be confident. Sometimes almost any decision is better than no decision. Then, don't just decide what you will do -- DO IT! The whole point is to take action.

Which TV/homework choice will it be for you? I would try choice D, because that way I get (I hope) to do both things I thought I would need to choose between. I would then need to get started making sure I have blank tape, checking to make sure nobody else needed the VCR, and setting it up to record. I would also have to remember that whenever I watch the show, I will need to give up something else I could have done that hour. That will be my opportunity cost. (Opportunity cost is also known as my "next best alternative." It is what I gave up to get something else.) Then I should start the homework.

Evaluate your decision. After you have acted, check how it all worked out in light of your goal. Did you accomplish what you hoped you would? If not, why not? This will be valuable information next time you face a similar situation.

Sometimes our decisions are not of huge importance. In the business world, the wrong decisions can cost millions of dollars or destroy careers. A lot of people who have been very successful in business credit their ability to make decisions as a big part of their success. So do people who have achieved personal happiness.

Think about it

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

Introduction and previous chapters

1. Follow through the steps for decisionmaking about the following scenario: Imagine you own an ice cream store that is performing very well. You think you might be able to sell more ice cream if you open another store on the other side of town. What should you do?

* * *

-- Alan Musante was named the Florida Economic Educator of the Year by the Florida Council on Economic Education in 1999. He also has won many national and state awards in economic education. Musante, a former lawyer, has taught at Oviedo High School for nearly 20 years.

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 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.

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