A very crude (and simple) method to structure discussions in order to achieve better decisions faster and with less frustration. And hopefully with more fun.

This image has nothing to do with the article. At least not now. But this wasn’t the case when I first started writing.

I am a designer. I design businesses. I design products and services to satisfy customers… and the businesses that serve to those customers. I design and implement workshops. I even design simple leather goods. I design all these things but if you ask my girlfriend all I do is talk, talk… and talk some more.

Well, she is right. That’s what most knowledge workers do. We talk all day long. More specifically, we generate and communicate ideas. That’s why one of the most frequent form of talking we do is actually argumentation.

For every idea we state, there has to be a reasoning behind it. Let’s call this the solo argumentation. Then we share ideas with others. They have either supporting or counter ideas. Which we can call as the collaborative argumentation. The interplay between solo and collaborative argumentation is the unchanging constant of our life. Yet, the amount of thinking and structuring we do for argumentation is infinitesimal compared to what we do for execution.

Thinking And Execution

We talk a lot on how we should execute. “Should we do Scrum or Kanban? Can we use Design Sprint or would it be better to quickly Build, Measure and Learn? Is it better to use a Business Model Canvas or write a Business Plan at this stage?
A very high portion of our discussion at work revolves around similar questions. We do that in order to make sure we consistently do a good job. And that’s great. I do that, too.

But how we execute is secondary to how we think. Because thinking is the underlying activity in everything we do to execute. Yes, we have intuition, too. But we can’t just go with intuition every time and it is also part of our thinking.

So, if we don’t think right and make good decisions then it doesn’t matter if we execute right. No amount of good execution can make a wrong decision right. That is why argumentation is very crucial because it is fundamental to good decision making.

However, it can be very difficult to argument in a way to achieve good decisions. Because we are not taught how to do that. Additionally, it is very easy and normal to get emotional or give in to biases while discussing with others. Because we are, well, humans. We tend to get attached to our own ideas and forget the actual purpose of discussion. We start defending our position instead of trying to figure out the best decision. Most of the times even without realizing we do so.

That’s perfectly normal as we are programmed to defend ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we have to give in to that program. We can develop technology, design tools or devise methods to solve this problem. So, without further ado here is my very crude, amateur, simple and under-researched method to solve this thinking problem: The Quantified Argumentation Method.

The Quantified Argumentation Method

Disclaimer: I haven’t even Googled to see the existing work on this topic. I really enjoyed thinking about this problem and felt compelled to share what I think. Mainly, to see how this would echo and learn from others.

I am mildly obsessed (is that an oxymoron?) with methods. I guess the reason behind this is that I am a little too afraid to leave things to luck. Anyways, this article is not about my psyche. This is about a method I made up while preparing a market analysis as part of a business plan.

When I got to the market analysis part of the business plan, I felt a need to frame my thinking. And as usual, I turned to pen and paper to set things straight by freely writing, sketching, erasing, connecting… ideas on paper. Very quickly, the form of the exercise became the purpose of the exercise. (Such a convoluted way to say “I got distracted and started playing with argumentation visualization.”)

After a few iterations to come up with a visual structure, I’ve realized that I first needed a way to standardize the way are made. After writing down a couple of I came to see that these six words are pretty much comprehensive when it comes to making : However, But, Can, And, Would, Because.

Then, I’ve created the method I call The Quantified Argumentation Method. It is basically a turn based game described as below.

First, take a look at an example to get a feeling of it.

An Example

Objective

Find a way to fund the next version of our product.

Suggestion

Get investment.

Argumentation & Scoring

— Turn 1: The First Counter Argument = -11
[2+2] But We Would lose shares Because investors get our shares. (This is called the main argument as there is an argument below related to it.)
[5+2] And We Would lose control Because investors get our shares. (This is called the related argument as it is directly related to the argument above.)

— Turn 2: Supporting Argument =+17
[5+2] But We Can
increase the value of our remaining shares Because our valuation of will increase after Series A.
[8+2] And We Can keep control Because we can issue non-controlling shares.

— Turn 3: Counter Argument =-0
[0] No argument made by Counter Party.

— Turn 4: Supporting Argument =+3
(Starts with However since there is no previous counter argument. See rule 3.4.)
[2+2–1]However We Can attract more skilled people Because we can use the extra money to offer better wages.

— Turn 5: Counter Argument =-2
[2] But We Would have to increase the wages of existing personnel.

— Turn 6: Supporting Argument =+7
[5+2] But We Can increase the wages without affecting financial forecasts Because the number of existing personnel is very low to cause any risks.

Final Score= -11+17–0+3–2+7= 14… Supporting Party Wins!

How To Play

Now, take a look at the details.

0. Stating Your Objective and Make A Suggestion To Achieve It

  1. Start by clearly stating your objective. An objective should call for an action to achieve a desired end.
  2. Then write your suggestion to achieve that objective. The owner and the supporters of the suggestion play the game as the Supporting Party. And the people opposing to the suggestion play the game as the Counter Party.

1. Creating A Counter Argument

  1. Start with a counter argument to the suggestion. Every starting counter argument must be in the following form: But We Would …
    You can add evidence to your argument in the following form: But We Would … Because 
  2. You can add related counter arguments to the previously stated counter argument using this format: And We Would … 
    This is called a Counter Argument Group (CAG).
  3. You can add evidence to your related argument in the following form: And We Would … Because 

2. Creating A Supporting Argument

  1. Supporting arguments should first try to address previously stated counter arguments. A supporting argument addressing a counter argument has to be in the following form: But We Can …
    You can add evidence to your argument in the following form: But We Can … Because 
  2. If there is no way to address previously stated counter arguments you can add supporting arguments using this format: However We Can 
    You can add evidence to your argument in the following form: However We Can … Because 
  3. In either case, you can add related supporting arguments to your previously stated argument in the following form: And We Can 
    This is called a Supporting Argument Group (SAG).
  4. You can add evidence to your related argument in the following form: And We Can … Because 

3. Alternate Argumentation

  1. A counter argument should first try to address previously stated supporting arguments. A counter argument addressing a supporting argument has to be in the following form: But We Would 
  2. If there is no way to address previously stated supporting arguments you can add counter arguments using this format: However We Would 
  3. You can add related counter arguments to the previously stated counter argument using this format: And We Would … 
    This is called a Counter Argument Group (CAG).
  4. If one party is not able to add any new argument the other party is allowed to add another argument starting with However.

4. Scoring

  1. Possible points for a supporting argument are:2, 3, 5 and 8. Possible points for a counter argument are:-2, -3, -5 and -8.
  2. Points are first suggested by the opposing party. (If you are scoring a counter argument, then the Supporting Party should suggest a point and vice versa.) Then the argument owner can dispute or accept the suggested points.
  3. Score all the arguments following the steps above and then add or subtract points according to the rules below.
  4. Any argument supported with evidence using the word “Because” gets 2 extra points.
  5. Any argument with the word “However” loses 1 point per argument.
    Related arguments in argument groups lose 1 point each if the main argument starts with the word “However”.
  6. Argument Scoring format: -/+[Assigned Point+Because Point-However Point]
  7. If the final score is bigger than 0 then the Supporting Party wins.
    If the final score is equal or below 0 then the Counter Party wins.

5. Notes

  • Use the word “We” because it helps with reminding us we are trying to achieve the same objective but only differ in how to achieve there.
  • Score the arguments honestly. Don’t try to win by scoring tricks. The goal is not winning. The goal is to make a good decision. Win state is just an indicator towards a good decision. But it can only indicate the correct direction if you play honestly.
  • This is only a method, not a magic wand. Don’t expect it to magically work perfectly for every occasion.
  • If you feel compelled to change or break the rules to achieve better results, then do it. But do it at your own peril as changing the tool might create new complications as with any tool.
  • This method is created for general purposes. However, I mostly think in terms of design and wouldn’t be surprised if this fails miserably in other domains. Hell, I wouldn’t even be surprised if this fails miserably in design, either 🙂
  • In the end, any method is only a mean to your end. If you honestly think you can ignore the score then ignore it. The original suggestion should be somewhat changed at the end of the game anyway. Otherwise, there is a big chance you are missing an opportunity to make a better decision.

An Example (Again)

Now, take a more careful look at the example and try to catch the nuances.

Objective

Find a way to fund the next version of our product.

Suggestion

Get investment.

Argumentation & Scoring

— Turn 1: The First Counter Argument = -11
[2+2] But We Would lose shares Because investors get our shares. (This is called the main argument as there is an argument below related to it.)
[5+2] And We Would lose control Because investors get our shares. (This is called the related argument as it is directly related to the argument above.)

— Turn 2: Supporting Argument =+17
[5+2] But We Can
increase the value of our remaining shares Because our valuation of will increase after Series A.
[8+2] And We Can keep control Because we can issue non-controlling shares.

— Turn 3: Counter Argument =-0
[0] No argument made by Counter Party.

— Turn 4: Supporting Argument =+3
(Starts with However since there is no previous counter argument. See rule 3.4.)
[2+2–1]However We Can attract more skilled people Because we can use the extra money to offer better wages.

— Turn 5: Counter Argument =-2
[2] But We Would have to increase the wages of existing personnel.

— Turn 6: Supporting Argument =+7
[5+2] But We Can increase the wages without affecting financial forecasts Because the number of existing personnel is very low to cause any risks.

Final Score= -11+17–0+3–2+7= 14… Supporting Party Wins!



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