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Get Better Decision-Making With The I-Wish-I-Knew Tool

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In our rush to jump into solution mode, we confuse activity with impact and fail to frame the problem, often leading us down the wrong path.

The first step of making any sort of good decision is to ask ourselves one straightforward but extremely powerful question: What do I wish I knew to make the best decision possible? IWIK, as we’ll henceforth refer to the formula “I wish I knew,” has a particular goal: to identify the core fundamental issue that needs to be solved. IWIK accelerates your team’s thinking to establish awareness of what you know and what knowledge is necessary to make an informed decision. By focusing on what matters, IWIK speeds up the decision-making process.

Agile decision-making is grounded in how you think, not how hard you work. Either through repetition or observation, we have all developed habits that undermine our ability to solve a problem. We jump into solution mode, accepting what is asked of us at face value, often confusing activity with impact. In our rush toward a solution, we neglect to frame the problem. We need to understand this crucial insight: The quality of your decision is directly proportional to the effort invested in framing the problem. The frame enables you to narrow what you need to solve.

IWIK is a tool—a thinking technique, if you will—that’s designed to help you frame the problem. It clarifies priorities, uncovers the essential information needed, quickly identifies knowledge gaps, defines assumptions, and reveals biases that might threaten to influence, slow, or shape a decision. So how does it work? Let’s assume you work at a large company and are challenged to grow your business’s streaming service. Instead of jumping directly into analyzing viewer data, it may be more productive to first answer the following questions:

1. Can we grow revenue by adding incremental premium content?

2. Are we looking for bottom-line revenue or top-line subscriber growth?

3. Do we want to attract a different target customer, for example, GenZ?

4. Do we have an attrition issue?

5. Is our marketing, product offering, or media budget superior to competitors?

6. Are we interested in educating people about the service or completing the sale?

7. Do we have an awareness issue or a value proposition challenge?

While the request to increase growth might seem obvious at first, there are different ways of tackling it, and how you do so will lead you down very particular paths all the way from building the business case to shaping your recommendation to the size of the budget request, and the ultimate success of the company.

Interestingly, if you talk to various colleagues and they all define growth differently, you have just uncovered the root cause: lack of alignment. By doing this upfront, you save yourself time and effort, and set up the company for success.

Without pausing to truly understand the questions behind the question, you might well find yourself swirling. By applying IWIK, you’ll quickly understand and appreciate the essential issue that your stakeholders or clients want to answer.

IWIK is a technique to unpack what is at the root of an issue, also known as the first cause or first principle, which Aristotle defined as “the first basis from which a thing is known.” IWIK uses first principle’s reasoning to deconstruct a problem to its core. Once you understand the components of a decision, you can quickly start to solve it. IWIK ensures your data discovery, analysis, and effort are proportional and directed to what is needed.

First principle’s reasoning is an especially smart approach to decision-making, as teams desire to move faster, reduce rework and navigate complexities.

The IWIK Process

IWIK is a simple but powerful technique that acts as a catalyst to bring clarity to an issue. We begin by asking “What do you wish you knew?” The output is a series of statements, all beginning with the reply “I wish I knew. . . .” The IWIK statements your colleagues or clients provide, reveal a deep understanding of their actual needs. IWIK goes beyond stating objectives to gathering a visceral understanding of essential needs. It is a fresh and unexpected way to learn what your colleagues really need to decide.

There are four parts to the IWIK process:

1. Ask

2. Brainstorm

3. Capture

4. Deliberate

Framing the Decision

IWIK is designed to prevent companies from the immense temptation to drown themselves in data. It won’t help you answer every single question that might possibly be related to solving a greater problem, but it will help you determine what the most important and salient questions are for framing the problem at hand.

The beauty of IWIK is that it scales. It is a flexible technique that can be used in a single conversation or over a series of conversations. You do not need to complete the entire end-to-end process. With repetition, IWIK can be done one-on-one in less than 15 minutes or even asynchronously via mail. By asking stakeholders to answer a simple four-word question “I Wish I Knew. . .,” you will start to discern the series of essential questions to answer. IWIK is easy to apply, does not require any preparation, and will quickly make you smarter about a new situation as well as engage your colleagues in a strategic conversation.

IWIK is also an unexpected technique that forces people to think differently. As they complete this four-word statement, it serves as a key to unlock a new dialogue. It gives your clients or stakeholders permission to think differently, providing an alternate way to explore the situation by simply rattling off a wish list of questions. This fresh thinking uncovers new learning and a deep understanding of what matters to them. It opens the aperture.

For your teams, the IWIK process helps produce smart decisions that will inspire action. It sets up teams for success and enables them to understand what needs to be done to appreciate the whole metaphorical data elephant in all its mysterious glory.

If you choose to adopt IWIK as a technique, you should derive comfort from the fact that, even though it might feel like a cumbersome process at first, it becomes easier the more you do it. IWIK can become habitual. We have heard from teams that have embraced IWIK and now find it necessary before any strategic decision is made. The IWIK technique is self-perpetuating. The IWIKs used to frame the issue can even serve as the kick-off slide when you present your recommendation: they link and label your analysis of essential needs.


Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Decisions Over Decimals by Christopher Frank, Paul Magnone, Oded Netzer. Copyright © 2023 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and eBooks are sold.



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