The Messy Middle of decision making; exploring and evaluating and the emotions that drive us.

What’s the best system for us?

We get asked this question all the time. Without really knowing who you are and what you’re trying to do, it’s impossible to answer well.

Google trends report from 2021 has some interesting comments on the word ‘best’ when used as a modifier (modifier is an additional word or phrase that’s intended to refine search results further). The report highlights the decline of quantifiable terms like ‘cheap’ and the rise of the more subjective ‘best’.

When people ask what is the best system, they are not asking what is the fastest or cheapest or easiest to implement? Best is more nuanced and different from business to business than a more black and white measure like cheapest. The rise of what is best in search terms points to our rise in tolerance for complexity and desire for a greater understanding of specific needs.

Best might refer to quality, value, performance, price or a combination of these and other measures.

Increase in Complexity

If you want to increase complexity, just add humans! This phrase has stuck with me. I’ve touched on this before when it comes to communication, but the same is true for system interactions.

communication lines increase as we add people

Communication lines increase as we add people

And according to the biggest search experts on planet earth, “The way people use search has slowly increased in range and complexity over time.”

In our work with projects and businesses, we also see a rise in more nuanced and complex project implementations and measures. The balance between the complexity of back-end processes and making the many paths to purchase smooth and easy to navigate (simple) for the consumer is a challenge that retail businesses are working on all the time. The increase in complexity of systems must be balanced out with a simplification for the consumer.

So too, we see increased complexity in ways of working across implementation partners. Dependencies on one another to deliver systems that work for a client means that we all need to learn and lean on each other’s expertise. The need for more specialised skills means, that to work well together, it has to be clear ‘how’ we do that; what the terms of engagement with our and our clients teams are. Exploring your own existing complexities and examining ways to simplify your own terms of engagement can create some space to simplify and push against the rising complexity challenge.

Explore/ Evaluate

As consumers, we bounce around in what the google authors have called the ‘messy middle’. “Consumers explore their options and expand their knowledge and consideration sets, then – either sequentially or simultaneously – they evaluate the options and narrow down their choices.” –  Google Trends. Reading this, I was reminded of my recent search for an oven, the exploration of what brands were out there, where they were manufactured, quality reputation and cooking capability (explore) and then down to the features to compare. Some sites have made the comparison process easy by putting products side by side in an easy evaluation tool (evaluate). Back and forth between ratings and comparison sites and asking for advice from family and friends.

The same is true for finding business systems that are ‘best’ for you. The explore and evaluate model follows a ‘design thinking’ expansion of ideas and imagination and then the honing in on one option to compare and evaluate. This process is repeated multiple times through the system selection, implementation and refinement of systems use. It’s worth keeping in mind as you explore and evaluate that this is not ‘the end’, there will (possibly) be another round of this. Maybe not immediately but the path to continuous improvement, which is the path that we’re always on, is a path of re-examining your assumptions.
Design Thinking DNA

Emotion Drives Decisions

Martyn Newman, author of Emotional Capitalists talks of the fundamental emotion that drives decision making. We’re all subject to our stated and conscious emotions, and the less aware we are of these emotions the less likely we are to make balanced choices.
There’s a great theory in one of Douglas Adams‘ books that describes the idea of ‘pre-setting’ the decision outcome you’re looking for and then building the logic around it.

Well, Gordon’s great insight was to design a program which allowed you to specify in advance what decision you wished it to reach, and only then to give it all the facts. The program’s task, which it was able to accomplish with consummate ease, was simply to construct a plausible series of logical-sounding steps to connect the premises with the conclusion.

Whilst this has a mocking tone, there’s some strong resonance between how project timelines and go live targets are often constructed. Rather than evaluating the work to be done and the quality of the outcome we’re looking for, we have a decision to go live passed to us and then need to construct a ‘way of getting there in reverse.

How Does This Apply To Retail Systems?

We all need some help to navigate the messy middle of the software selection process. Exploring what is currently in place and working and what no longer serves involves reviewing systems that we work with and the processes that we structure around them.

Evaluating what systems might work for you involves developing a framework against which you can compare, involve multiple people and departments, and come to some conclusive points about which to make choices.

The last layer that we would add is the aspect of emotion and connections that people have in delivering both systems and processes.

You can’t really rely on vendors to do this for you. Quite often on paper, systems can look great. But when they’re put into practice, they often don’t live up to their promises. Vendors aren’t trying to deliberately mislead you. They’re telling you what they think is the best option for you, even if it isn’t. We call it the ‘software disappointment gap’.

We at 6R Retail provide retailers with a System Sense Check, a framework to help you understand your current systems, identify opportunities for improvement, and select the best solution for your needs. So, if you’ve got any questions about how we can help you, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.