Horns of a Dilemma

by Ron
Image Source: Martin Fisch, Creative Commons

Image Source: Martin Fisch, Creative Commons


“Boy do we have a dilemma!”
“This has presented a real dilemma.”
“This decision is so hard to make because it’s a real dilemma.”

I hear these kinds of statements all the time in my corporate world as well as in my civilian life. What are people saying when they talk of having a dilemma? Usually they want to make the “right” decision but it’s difficult to figure out which is the right decision or the best decision or the least damaging decision. Do you notice that there is a sense of right vs wrong or better vs best or least vs most in those words. Well, if that’s the case, you’re not faced with a dilemma, you’re just making a tough decision. The decision will (or should be) made for the right, best or most side of the scale, it’s just hard.

A dilemma is presented when you’re faced with making the right vs right, or the best vs best or the most vs most. Dilemmas are equally right! That’s what makes them a dilemma.

The original definition (without getting too deep into the word construction) meant the horns of a bull; thus, being on the horns of a dilemma. The idea is that you are about to get gored by one or the other horn, but you get to choose. Note that you’re going to be gored either way. Choosing which decision to make will not prevent you from getting gored! Now that’s a dilemma!

In the rapid paced world of today with global implications, I believe we are faced with more and more decisions that become true dilemmas. It’s not the case anymore that we’re faced with five “must do” activities to keep us competitive and all we need to do is prioritize them. No, today we are faced with five must do activities but we only have the resources and time to accomplish three of them. Which ones do we decide to kill (read the earlier blog on “Have We Decided Yet?”)? Now we’re facing a dilemma.

It’s when the goring for our decision happens at a later date when no one remembers (or admits to remembering) that we chose to get gored by one side of the decision. Today we’re getting beat up (gored) by the boss or the market place for lower sales volumes when we knew that would happen based on the price increase we took because of global commodity increases.

When you’re faced with a dilemma it’s important that you decide which alternative to kill, publicly execute the alternative and publicly record the expected consequences of that decision. Don’t look for someone to blame later, look at the consequences of your decisions to see if they were what you expected. Congratulate yourself if they are what you expected. Analyze your decision making process for improvement if they were not what you expected.

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