Getting out of the maze – in a complex way.
How do you make a choice in a complex, subjective situation with more than a few realistic options?
You could sit and think over each option, hoping for divine inspiration – but you may end up more confused than when you started.
You could leave it to fate – draw straws or pick a number. Of course, this won't win you the Decision Maker of the Year award!
An all-too-common strategy is to simply wait out the problem, doing nothing proactively, until a solution is somehow chosen for you by circumstances.
None of these approaches are very effective. What you need is a systematic, organized way to evaluate your choices and figure out which one offers the best solution to your problem.
As rational beings, we usually like to quantify variables and options to make objective decisions. However, the problem is that not all criteria are easy to measure.
So what do you do when you're faced with a decision that needs significant personal judgment and subjective evaluation? How do you avoid getting caught in the "thinking over" stage? And how can you be more objective?
To address this problem, Thomas Saaty created the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) in the 1970s. This system is useful because it combines two approaches – the "black and white" of mathematics, and the subjectivity and intuitiveness of psychology – to evaluate information and make decisions that are easy to defend.
Let's look at an (admittedly slightly trivial) example. If you want to determine the best route to work in the morning, and travel time is your deciding factor, the decision making process is very straightforward and simple. You would use each alternative route for a week, time the commute, and choose the one that's fastest on average.
If, however, you carpool with other riders, and you have to consider everyone's priorities, the decision becomes much more complex. Larry is concerned about his personal safety, because one route goes through a dangerous part of town. Joanne wants to factor in a stop at a drive-through coffee shop, so that everyone can get coffee. Richard points out that Java Jolt is better than Cuppa Jo. There are several branches of each in the city, with both types accessible from all routes, although at different distances.
Now you've got tangible and intangible, and quantitative and qualitative, factors to think about. And you have to consider the different perspectives and priorities of the various people.
AHP can combine these different types of factors and turn them into a standardized numerical scale. You can use this to make your choice objectively, while including all the decision criteria.
Here's a quick overview of the Analytic Hierarchy Process.
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