Prioritisation is a major element of decision making. Both as individuals and organisations / teams we constantly need to take decisions not in a vacuum, but in relation to other goals and other decisions.

We prioritise in all sorts of situations by ranking one goal ahead of another, or by judging that ‘x’ is more important than ‘y’. I call it “Morethanism”. Some examples:

  • India’s cricketers clearly put playing in the IPL ahead of Test cricket
  • The recent defence review judged that maintaining capability on land was more important than naval power, hence dispensing with carriers, Sea Harriers and the Nimrod replacement
  • The Coalition Government have made NHS spending a higher priority than spending in any other Department…
  • …and made the call that spending cuts have a higher priority than defending jobs

Morethanism works like any other decision matrix, except that you need data and intelligence to help rank the relative importance of different goals before coming up with a number of options. So the process looks like this:

  1. Best data and intelligence – and keep looking for more
  2. Clarity on which goal(s) is/are more important than others
  3. Frame – and if necessary keep on framing till the central question (and any others) have been well and truly defined and agreed upon
  4. Structure the most viable options for achieving the goals (in order) and solving problems
  5. Identify upsides and downsides in each option
  6. Reward / risk analysis, ensuring that you are not swayed too much by the attractiveness of an option if it has a dangerous downside
  7. Carefully weigh reward and risk, and then make the “Morethan” decision.

What we always have to remember is that prioritising is not an end in itself – all it achieves is the ranking of goals. We still have to frame questions, solve problems, and make decisions.

Prioritisation – like any multi-dimensional mental challenge – is what makes champion decision makers stand out from the rest. It is also really difficult to do by yourself. Even corporate despots, maverick generals, and you and I as individuals, are well advised to ask around, before setting out to try morethanism in a single scull. I am not a fan of most meetings, but to prioritise in a tough situation, or in one where there are conflicting opportunities, you are going to need meetings – and productive ones at that!