Commingling issues leads to confusion and sometimes, a bad outcome


Did you read in the Sunday Times last week (Nov 23 issue, page 15, Home section) about a company organising a “tribute walk” on behalf of two men who died at work but didn’t inform nor invite the widow of one of them to attend? It was later reported that the event was a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project and not directly linked to the tribute, despite the company using the two men’s names in promotion materials to collect donations. The donations were to go to the Community Chest and the Children’s Cancer Foundation. There are other complications in this matter which I shall not comment upon; rather I would like to use this as an example of how commingling separate issues together and trying to solve all of them in one decision or action do often lead to confusion, and sometimes, a bad outcome.

What is commingling?

Commingling is the act of putting things together, treating them as one. In decision-making, I have often come across people commingling, say, the purchase of a home with parents-in-law, the distance to the workplace, proximity to childcare services, orientation of the home, and the like. These are all commingled into one issue and they try to solve everything with one decision. This will not work.

Delayering your decisions

When there are many layers in a situation, and this is highly likely, the key thing to do is to delayer it to make the right decision. One way to do that is to write down all the issues, each on one piece of paper, and then rank order them from most important to solve to the least important. Once done, take the most important issue and solve only that. Use that as your main intent, and find solutions to only that.

Treat the other issues as constraints

You may sometimes use the other issues of the situation as constraints of your decision. To recap, a constraint is not so much a limitation as a necessary condition required for a successful decision. While the main intent is something that you are directly solving, constraints may be relaxed or even solved by other means. Constraints ultimately guide you to the right decision, but they are not the intents of the decision.

Related: You need constraints to make the right decision

What should the company have done?

If the event was a CSR, then they should just have treated it as such; if it was a tribute, then they should have treated that as such. Commingling the two would have left many, the widow included, wondering what the event was about. People involved in it would be unsure of what is expected of them. This would make it difficult to judge the event’s success. For that company, they should simply have identified one key intent and stuck to it!

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