Comparing upsides and downsides

Chapter 3 showed us how to find the ten ways forward from any situation. Chapter 4 is about choosing between them.

After learning from people we admire, learning from our past, and learning from our future, the final technique in the chapter is to compare the options analytically.

With so much change happening around us, all ways forward are likely to be difficult. When we can’t be sure how things are going to turn out, what makes the difference to finding the best way forward is to find the direction that will most inspire us and other people to want to make it happen.

In this case it becomes useful to think about the general ‘upsides’ and ‘downsides’ of each alternative: the benefits and advantages, disadvantages and difficulties that each would bring.

To apply this technique, write a list of your preferred alternatives. Then think about the key success factors for the outcome. What is the timeframe for your situation and the outcome you want to create: when do you need to take a decision by? How long does your solution need to last? How important is this issue compared with your other priorities? What resources are appropriate and available? How rapidly does your solution need to be put into place and how robust does it need to be? Who are the key stakeholders for each alternative (including yourself)? Which options are they most likely and least likely to support? You may have other questions.

Rate the upsides and downsides for each option: high, very high, low, or very low.

Then map them on to a diagram like the one above.

As you do so, mark each alternative as red, green, or amber according to how difficult or easy it would be to implement.

When you have finished you will find yourself with something like the map above.

In this example, Options D and E are both easy to implement but both bring high or very high downsides and not much in the way of upsides.

Option A brings a balanced mix of potential upsides and downsides. Option E would bring slightly better upsides and downsides but the dotted line indicates this option might not be possible for much longer.

Option B would bring the most inspiring mix of upsides and downsides but it is also the most difficult alternative to implement.

Which option is best for you will depend on your attitude to risk and reward and how important this particular issue is to you.

When my life was at stake I chose option B, even though it seemed the most difficult. As Elon Musk once said:

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”

Are you currently considering different options for moving forward? Do you have a shortlist of preferred alternatives?

Would thinking through the upsides and downsides help you to find the way forward that is best for you?

Might it also be useful to think through the lessons you could learn from your pastthe future you want to create, or people you admire? Do you want to use Chapter 3 to generate more alternatives?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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