The Douma attack in Syria and the alleged gassing of children and civilians has led to a very dangerous stand-off between Russia and the West. The USA has threatened to strike, and Russia has signalled that it is likely to shoot back. This has raised the stakes in the nuclear confrontation game.

The effect of this has been to put governments of all hues in a difficult place with many difficult decisions to make. Whatever decision is made, or not made, there will be consequences which are difficult to predict. Lives at risk, alliances at risk, bilateral relationships at risk, there will be consequences for our politicians who have to decide.

You may never have to take a decision where the stakes are this high but you may have made one involving significant risk when under pressure to act. Worse still, you may have one of these decisions simmering in the background, which will come up and bite you.

Being faced with a problem or an opportunity in which you have to decide on:

  1. Whether the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action.
  2. Whether you have a clear vision of where you want to end up.
  3. Whether any of the options on the table will bring about your vision.
  4. Whether you have factored in all the potential downsides.
  5. Whether you can deal with the worst case scenario.
  6. Which friends or partners will you let down?

will test you in the extreme. Having to decide tomorrow could break you.

Problems that arise when your values or cherished principles have been offended are more difficult to deal with than the failure of a process, the fact that you have a process indicates that you have already tried to tackle the problem. Let’s deal with the easiest problem first.

Assume that something you previously set up which has worked well for some time is now found wanting. It could be something in public life, it could be a business or part of a business, or it could be something personal. Given that whatever it was you created was built on the back of a series of decisions that you made, it makes sense to revisit those decisions in the light of experience. Experience is a wonderful thing when it culminates in wisdom and improves judgement, so the first step to a solution is to go back in time.

Take the following steps:

  1. What was the problem you were trying to solve when you set up your process?
  2. What key decisions did you make that led you to set up your process?
  3. What critical good and bad experiences have you had along the way?
  4. What would you have done differently knowing what you know now?
  5. Has my vision stood the test of time or do I need to change it?
  6. Should I mend my process or scrap it?
  7. What will my new or repaired process look like and what will I achieve?

There will be other things you can ask yourself but these questions cover the guts of the issue. The real point here is that however bad it looks you have got past and relevant experience together with an existing model to work on. This is a better place to be in than having a hidden problem that is going to come out and bite you.You will also have the benefit of knowledge and experience of similar situations and, if sensible, the help of sage advice from those you respect and who bring something different to the party. A health warning! We often misread our previous experiences and this can be dangerous when we are relying on them to inform us about future decisions, I will write about this in my next article.

Now we come to the really difficult issue, the head in the sand problem! A problem that is too difficult to solve and at worst, an ill-defined problem that only skirts the fundamental deep-lying issue. Syria presents such a problem and you may have one too, albeit with fewer ramifications. These difficult issues come about when you either, ignore something with the capacity to get out of or, stick the problem in a can and put the lid on it allowing it to fester. Sadly situations like this don’t ignore you, they come back at you when you are not ready.

When confronted with a hidden problem and pushed to find a solution It is easy to say, “I would not have started here.” The fact is that you shouldn’t be starting here, you should have decided what you wanted the outcome to be when the problem first came to your notice.

I used to work for a company that said it could manage everything but surprises, the company results were published 5 days after the year-end and managers were paid to anticipate results and problems ensuring that both were fully reflected before all the beans were counted.

The best way to deal with dilemmas is to avoid them, they often arise when situations are allowed to drift and you become a victim of events.

In this position when you are faced with a seemingly intractable situation with no complete solution there are broadly four alternatives:

  1. Do nothing and accept the consequences.
  2. Take holding action, deal with a few peripheral issues and massage your audience into believing that you are
  3. Take the least worst alternative.
  4. Plough every available resource into finding a better solution.

My overriding message is that if you have a problem, don’t ignore it.

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