A couple of nights ago, my daughter mentioned to me that her plan to undertake a new diploma course in digital media had been scuppered because she was not eligible for government grant and had to pay the full fee, which costs $19,000 for the one year programme. With the grant, it would have cost only $5,000 (and this was the amount that she used to get us to agree to sponsoring her for the course). The reason she was not eligible for the grant was because she had already completed a diploma programme that attracted government funding, and thus was not eligible for another one. I was not in favour of paying full fees for such a course, and told her I was not going to fund it. She was upset but reluctantly accepted it.
But that was not the end of it. During the course of the dinner, the topic of buying another car came up. Changes in circumstances may have predicated a need for us to purchase a second car (although that decision has not yet been made). She commented that it seemed illogical that I could consider buying a car, but not sponsor her studies (which will definitely cost much less, and more likely have a net positive effect on the future.) This presents a great opportunity for us to educate her on the important ingredients to decision making. So while this may be a parenting topic, the lessons in this article are equally applicable at work.
If you are familiar with our material, you will know that the primary ingredient for the right decision is intent. One needs to be clear about what one is to achieve, and the outcomes of such an intent. For my daughter's case, the intent was to attain a degree in digital media and her point was since she did not have the necessary background knowledge to jump straight into a degree course, she had to first complete the diploma course. Yet, this still cannot be the final intent because what was the point of getting the degree if not to enter the industry and work on digital media projects? So that, ultimately, is my daughter's intent - to work on digital media projects in the industry.
But my intent is different. My intent is to make sure that I manage my expenditure well. At $5,000, it would not have impacted my expenses a lot and I could sponsor her course without thinking twice; but at $19,000, it would. But one could argue that buying the car would impact the budget even more, and that is true. But my intent there was to solve a pressing household need, one which affects many more people in the house than just my daughter. Hence, in terms of my expenditure priorities, the car - or, more accurately, meeting the household need - was more important than my daughter's diploma.
Once we are clear about what we want to achieve, we can start looking at the different options we could take to meet it. For my daughter's intent of entering into the industry, the options could be
(1) get a diploma or degree from an established school (which is what she is considering),
(2) get certification from online courses with established universities,
(3) simply jump into the industry and learn on the job,
(4) intern in a big digital media production house,
(5) take up digital media projects as a hobby
All of these have the potential to help her ease into the industry, but with different routes, timelines and costs. So, which is the best option? This brings me to constraints.
A constraint is a necessary condition for a successful decision. The option that you choose as your final solution would be the one that meets all (or most) of these constraints. For example, some of the constraints for my daughter's situation may be:
(1) to meet a maximum expenditure of $5,000
(2) to be able to work on a project within 18 months
(3) to be recognised as having met industry competency requirements
Notice that when we articulate these constraints, some options become invalid which will help us narrow down the different options to ultimately bring us to the right decision. This therefore brings me to the last point,
Balancing options and constraints
It is helpful to use this template:
This helps us visualise the options and constraints, and how they interact to provide the right solution. At the top are the constraints, and at the side are the options. To get at the right solution, you would have to consider constraint by constraint, working down each column and seeing if the option can meet the constraint. If it can, you put a tick in the box, and if not, you put a cross. If you do not know, you put a question mark. Then the option that has the most number of ticks across it is the right decision.
For my daughter's options, we can see that only the first option - doing the diploma/degree - does not meet the budget constraint.
For the second constraint, options 1 to 4 are able to meet that, but probably not option 5 (the hobby)
For the third constraint, only options 1 & 2 can meet that.
So, when they all come together, it can be seen that option 2 is the only one that can meet all the constraints. Perhaps that is the best way forward for my daughter?
Other key considerations
There are other key considerations that one should bear in mind when making a decision:
Where resources are involved - be it time, money, people, assets - there is an opportunity cost to using it. For example, if I were to pay for her diploma tuition of $19,000, it means that I won't be able to make the downpayment for the car, and hence the ability to purchase it. The car is the opportunity cost for the diploma tuition. Hence, cost is not the issue, but opportunity cost. For every resource that we use, we need to be aware of what other uses we have given up. This then allows us to make a balanced, critical decision.
When we put in an option, we do so without really assessing our capability to do it. It is only when we narrow down the options, balancing them with constraints (and capability is normally an unwritten constraint), we then look at whether indeed we can get that done. For example, if there is a problem with online learning - for whatever reason - then even if that was the best option, we might have to reject that; or maybe pull in additional resources to make that happen (which might impact on budgetary constraints). So it is good to be mindful of capabilities.
Values & Interest
It is important to consider values and interest. Some of the options may not be feasible because there is no interest in pursuing that. Other options may impact a person's values system negatively. These may cause one to reject the option that best meets all the constraints, and forces them to settle on the lesser options.
Finally, the risk of negative impact on the decision ecosystem may cause one to reject the best option for the lesser one.
So what should my daughter do?
Ultimately, I am not the one to make the decision. I can impact it, and shape it by way of constraints, but I cannot make it for my daughter. She needs to make the best decision for herself, identifying her intent, her constraints, her options. But following this process, she can make the right decision for her future.