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Radar-guided decision making: what it is and how to use it

Radar is easily one of the most useful technological breakthroughs of the past century. Air traffic controllers rely on it to track and guide planes, cops use it to make sure that people drive safely, and you likely utilize it every time you walk through the front doors at your local grocery store.

But did you know that it can also be helpful in guiding decision-making?

Communication design can be a subjective undertaking. There are a million different ways to broadcast a message, but rarely a single “right” way to go about getting your point across. When considering the best course of action, decision makers can sometimes get caught in an unproductive and costly whirlpool of analysis paralysis, playing favorites, or second-guessing themselves.

When it comes to making strategic, design, or communication decisions at thinkPARALLAX, we’ve sometimes found that radar charts (the ones that look like a little radar screen) can be very helpful. By establishing criteria that can guide decisions ahead of time and then forcing ourselves to stick to them, we’ve found that we can often streamline our process.

Here’s how it goes:

Step 1. Think of your objective — and write it down
Agree on an objective or outcome you want to accomplish at the outset of a project.

It might sound obvious, but simply writing down a project’s desired outcome can be enough to keep a project rolling smoothly. If a team doesn’t all understand where they’re headed, they’ll have little chance of agreeing on the best way to get there.

Write this objective down on a blank radar chart, such as the one in the example here. In this case, we’re using radar charts to come up with a hashtag for an exciting new campaign we’ll be launching in a few months.

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Step 2. Define criteria for success — and write those down too
Look at your objective and then finish this sentence: “In order to accomplish my objective, an idea will need to be …”

However, you finished that sentence can be thought of as your criteria for success. List these criteria on a piece of paper and (if you have a lot of them) narrow the list down to six or fewer. From here on out, these criteria will be the basis of all decisions.

TIP: If at all possible, it helps if everyone who will have a say in the final decision is involved in this process. Decisions sometimes break down if you haven’t agreed on criteria for success at the outset.

List these criteria for success on your radar chart as well — one at the end of each axis. Once you’ve written them on your chart, make several copies of your work so far and set them aside.

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Step 3. Come up with ideas that will let you accomplish your objective.
Brainstorm. Imagine possibilities. Let your imagination go wild.

The idea generation process varies greatly from person to person and from workplace to workplace. There’s no single way to come up with a good idea. In general, though, lots of ideas usually work better than one or two.

As you ideate, write ideas down (in a notebook, on a whiteboard, or in a document on your computer) and make notes that will help you remember the details. At thinkPARALLAX, we often do this on our trademark red chalkboards. It often helps to give your ideas names that will help you remember them.

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Step 4. Fill out a chart for each idea you want to consider

For each of the ideas you want to consider, fill out a copy of the radar chart you made in Step 2.

Start by writing the name of an idea at the top or bottom of the chart (so you can tell different ideas apart). Then, assign a value to each axis that corresponds to how well that idea fulfills each criteria for success.

As you can see in this photo, Kendall is filling out a radar chart for one of the hashtags we considered for our campaign. Since this idea ranks high on most of the criteria, it clearly has a lot of strengths.

Once you’ve assigned value to each axis, connect the dots and color in the area you’ve created.

Hint: Do this quickly and go with your gut. Don’t get hung up trying to decide if you want to assign a 2.5 or a 3 to one axis. Subtle differences in the values along each axis rarely make a huge difference when making final decisions — trust yourself and keep moving.

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5. Compare ideas
You can use the shape you’ve created and colored in on each chart to quickly evaluate concepts side by side. In general, the more “colored in” area is present, the better that idea works toward accomplishing your objective.

As you can see in this photo, you can quickly and easily see where certain ideas have strengths or weaknesses.

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6. Make a decision and implement!
While these handy charts certainly aren’t the only tool we rely on to make decisions, they can be extremely helpful when we find ourselves vacillating over a decision — as they always give us another perspective on our options.

The more quickly a group can agree upon a course of action, the more time they will have to plan and implement — which can make all the difference in the world when it comes to working out the details.

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