Repost – Choices Vs. Decisions and Working Through Multiple Options

Reposting an older blog post I like from a Sutton Enterprises’ internal team blog area.

April 2014 
Choices Vs. Decisions and Working Through Multiple Options

4/1/2014 This is not an April Fool’s joke, rather will help us all be less of fools… 🙂

I came across a posting from Nov. 1, 2013 by John Cameron about making better business decisions that I liked: It emphasizes the relationship and difference between choices and decisions. It  reminded me of something I’ve tried to follow since my early days at Beloit College.

I like to say “You have Choices. You may not always like the choices you have, but you do have choices.” The concept of your choices leading decisions is important. For example, choosing to do nothing can lead to a decision by default and it may not be one in your best interest.

This approach can be enhanced by incorporating a concept in science called “multiple working hypotheses” (note 1) or in lean development called “set-based development” (note 2) that can apply to most aspects of life. The methods are closely related and involve having a set of concepts that you work through. You don’t pick one, rather you focus on evaluating the group of ideas and eliminating ones that don’t meet your needs / criteria / set of requirements, then you refine or combine ones that meet most or some. Repeat! Your set gradually narrows and you make your choice at the latest point you need to make a decision.

No matter how short or long of a time you have to make the decision, the choice you make will address at least some your needs and interests. You end up with better and faster decisions because you don’t spend the time and rework involved in starting over when you decide without considering the options and it fails.

1. T.C. Chamberlain. Science. 1890 see:
2. Durward K. Sobek, Allen C. Ward, Jeffrey k. Liker “Toyota’s Principle of Set-Based Concurrent Engineering” Sloan Management Review 1999. see:

© 2014. Sutton Enterprises Inc.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tricia Sutton, PMP  is an innovator. As the leader of Sutton Enterprises Inc., she has been able to instigate strategic change in not-for-profits looking to improve their practices and performance. Tricia works relentlessly to be on the cutting edge of knowledge and technology, including authoring and co-authoring many articles and serving as a volunteer in professional associations.

Learn more: Sutton Enterprises
Connect on LinkedIn: Company Page

Follow on Twitter –   Help4NFPs      SuttonTricia

If Your Nonprofit has Student Members, Do You Charge a Nominal Fee?

by Nick NCS. Spencer 8/28/2015 at 11:00 AM in Not-for-profit, Ideas, Opinions, Process Improvement

​Student members can be a great way to keep your membership pipeline growing and stay aware of emerging interests and needs of new generations of professionals. Engaging these potential members as they embark on their professional careers also benefits the students through  networking, professional insight, and mentoring that an association offers its members. Such early engagement can help build loyalty too.

The concept of discounted student memberships has always seemed like a natural fit until I was speaking with a large healthcare association recently.  Our discussion revealed that the process of charging the nominal fee was actually costing the organization more money than it was receiving. This led to an interesting point around whether the money would be better spent on engagement.

For example, if your association charges student members $25 annually, yet your administrative costs average $65, how can the association improve the situation for processing a member at a fixed price?  Our group’s answer was engagement.  Why not eliminate the cost of student membership and put the money that was the deficit into engaging those students?  Suggestions ranged from free local chapter pizza parties to happy hour networking events.

The thought was that these additional points of contact could yield even more student members who, upon graduation, would be readily engaged with the organization and even better, be committed to becoming full members. Alternatively, when I worked for TD Ameritrade, we would often discuss the value individuals place in something that has a cost associated with it.  The perceptions of goods or services that were free was that it had less value.

Pricing and sales professionals usually recommend charging a nominal fee for this very reason.  How can we get students to see the value in associations without having to charge them the administrative costs?  Could this perception of valuing something free be changing with younger generations who expect many services to be free?

What do you think? ​

(I have previously written about the cost of member acquisition – Read that post.)​​

© 2015 Nick Spencer & Sutton Enterprises Inc.


Nick is an experienced Marketing, Branding, and Association Management leader. Throughout his career, Nick has developed various strategies to support the nonprofit and association management worlds. At Sutton, Nick develops Marketing and Sales Strategies and plays a key role in the development and implementation of special projects.​

Learn more: Sutton Enterprises
Connect on LinkedIn: Company Page

Follow on Twitter –   Help4NFPs ​​


Dangerous Assumptions – Maybe we should just ask?

by Tricia Sutton 11/18/2014 at 12:00 PM in Process Improvement, Continuous Improvement / Lean / Agile, Not-for-profit, Tools / Tips / Tricks

Image: Question Assumptions. Magnifying glass with question mark in blue oval.

Most people know about breaking down ASSUME into what it can mean about us when we make assumptions… Ass_U_Me.  I’ve found that to be especially true for “dangerous assumptions.”

Back in October, I enjoyed a LinkedIn® Pulse article by Glenn Leibowitz(1) on “The 3 Dangerous Assumptions You Need To Avoid.” After an anecdote about his childhood that could easily be a part of a family vacation Hollywood movie, he describes the danger of assumptions and three types of dangerous assumptions:

Assumptions about:

  1. What is expected
  2. Other people
  3. Our abilities


The post has kept rolling around my mind, especially as I plan some process improvement efforts for some not-for-profits I serve, so I decided to expand on it with an organizational perspective…


In processes, people make a lot of assumptions and they can be important and useful to help move forward in many cases. There are good reasons to make assumptions, like to get things started,  to test what is or is not true (part of the act of hypothesizing), to expedite things, to prioritize what a process will address, to mitigate analysis paralysis … Much of the risk or danger, though, comes from how we use the assumptions and whether we remember we are basing something on assumptions.


Some categories of assumptions that go across Mr. Leibowitz’ three types are:


  • Hidden Assumptions
    • Were they made consciously, intentionally, for good reasons?
    • Are we aware we made an assumption (closely related to the next category … assumptions treated as facts).

We can uncover them by asking questions about why we are doing something a certain way, whether we know a good reason why we shouldn’t change how we are doing something… Awareness of assumptions goes a long way to knowing what may or may not be open to improvement.


  • Assumptions Treated As Facts
    • Do we realize it is an assumption (especially that it was put in place for a specific reason)?
    • Do we recognize or provide for exceptions that may not fit the assumption?

Again here, question things to test understanding. Probe into what we believe to be true and why we believe that.  Look at the basis, past documentation, data available to support the way we are doing things. We may decide it is an appropriate assumption, just call it out as an assumption so all are more aware of it.


  • Forgotten Assumptions
    • Are the assumptions visible so that the participants in the process are reminded the basis for the approach taken?
    • Have we used an assumption so long that we take it for granted?  Forgotten we are basing our approach on an assumption?

Assumptions can and should be made visible – called out and integrated into the process documentation,  as well as in systems that support a process. For example, add short notes and links to more information. Reminders and mental queues help keep assumptions top of mind and help us identify when to re-evaluate them.


  • Outdated or Invalid Assumptions
    • Are the reasons for doing it that way still valid? Has the original basis for the assumption changed? (Do we even know the reasons or original basis?)
    • Have we reviewed the assumptions recently to evaluate whether they are still valid?

For example, if a certain age group constituted the bulk of our members at the time the process was defined, we may have prioritized the process to handle the needs of that group, such as the information gathered and how it is gathered. Different groups tend to have different needs and preferences. Failing to recognize changing demographics can increase the work-arounds or exceptions or worse yet, make important member groups dissatisfied, potentially reducing retention. Look at whether the organization’s demographics have changed.  Also evaluate whether / how does that affect the priorities and processes.


These types of assumptions can become evident when we have an increasing number of exceptions that don’t work well within the process. Something that only occurred rarely but is now happening frequently can suggest something may be changing. The more workarounds and exceptions to be addressed, the more likely we should look at analyzing and improving the process.


Questioning assumptions is a healthy part of continuous improvement, especially process improvement. Assumptions are powerful when made consciously and managed. So ask some questions! The answers often can be simple and easy to address and at least help identify and set priorities for improvement.


P.S. Now asking questions is a topic of its own so stay tuned for that topic in the future…



(1)  Glenn Leibowitz. 10/7/2014.  “The 3 Dangerous Assumptions You Need To Avoid.” LinkedIn Pulse Article.


© 2014. Sutton Enterprises Inc.


Tricia Sutton, PMP  is an innovator. As the leader of Sutton Enterprises Inc., she has been able to instigate strategic change in not-for-profits looking to improve their practices and performance. Tricia works relentlessly to be on the cutting edge of knowledge and technology, including authoring and co-authoring many articles and serving as a volunteer in professional associations.
Learn more: Sutton Enterprises
Follow on Twitter –   Help4NFPs      SuttonTricia