Decisions have context and context matters

Context matters!  This principle is one of the enduring lessons of my life.    You may recall the story of the man who was seeking divine guidance.   His favorite method was to close his eyes, pray, flip open the Bible to a page and poke his finger at a verse to hear from God.  One day, seeking urgent guidance, his first verse yielded:

  • “Judas went and hung himself.”  Puzzled, he tried again with another page and verse:
  • “Go and do thou likewise.”  Just to make sure, he tried a third time:
  • “What thou doest, do quickly”.

Context matters with decisions also.  Every decision has a context, which sets its scope (the fundamental question that demands an answer or solution).  Every decision has a context, which determines the range of criteria and alternatives that are relevant.  Every decision has a context, which identifies which other decisions are most strongly coupled to it.

You might sense that things aren’t going well at work and dive into the “Employer” decision.  But perhaps there aren’t many employer options in your current field of work, so the decision might expand (move up one level in context) to “Career”.  Or perhaps you’re at such a crossroads in life that you need to revisit your “Life Vocation” or calling.  Every time you change your decision context upwards, you tend to expand the scope of the question you’re answering and the number of other decisions that might be affected.

Of course, you don’t often want to “boil the ocean”.   As you think about the Employer question, it may make more sense to reduce your scope by focusing on a child decision such as “Job Title – Position – Role” which I frame as “What job title or position will I seek with this employer?  What role will I play?”  Moving the context down a level shrinks the scope of the decision and its ripple effect on other choices.

Finally, you may shift context “horizontally”.  Perhaps your unhappiness with your current Employer is more about you – your Work Philosophy and Work Habits may need a tune-up.  Or you could stand pat in your work life and seek fulfillment in a new area of volunteer service.

Context matters so much with decisions that I resist requests for tool features that show you decisions out-of-context.  The problem with most search engines is that they return a list of “hits” that have been pulled out of context.  The power of a pattern is that it preserves a stable context that you can grow familiar with.

Resetting the context of a decision is also a very powerful innovation technique.  “If you don’t like the answer, restate the question”.  This can produce a flood of new ideas.

So the next time you’re tempted to jump into a specific decision, think for a moment about its context.  Should I attack this decision, its parent or one of its children or siblings?

If your organization adopts the Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF) for its strategy and product development decisions, we will make available our rich life decision patterns upon request. By using DDSF for both business and personal decisions, you will gain many more learning cycles on the use of these powerful tools and rapidly improve your decision-framing and decision-making skills. If you haven’t begun this journey, please contact the Decision Driven® Solutions team at or to begin a free organizational trial of DDSF.

About decisiondriven

Innovator in Decision Management, Systems Thinking and System Engineering methods and tools
This entry was posted in Decision Concepts, Decision Driven Innovation, Decision Driven Life, Decision Driven Product Development, Decision Driven Strategy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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