Why I hate Pros and Cons list

I hear people talking about making a “pros and cons list” all the time. And it annoys me.

You know those lists very well: Usually the column on the left is pros; the column on the right is cons. Some swear by them whenever they have to make a decision. In my view they are a terrible tool when trying to assess anything: When building them, you tend to focus on the assessment as opposed to how you assess things.

Most of our choices, whether we are conscious of this or not, are made in order to accomplish a specific goal. Whether you are choosing a new apartment, or a new car, you do have a set of goals in mind (From which you might derive “criteria” – But the semantic does not matter much). For some people, going from point A to point B is what they are looking for. For some others, social recognition, fuel economy or maybe performance is what they are looking for.

This is what Goal attachment is – Do you understand why you are doing things, do you understand what is important to you? Over the long run, not knowing will cost you opportunities and create pain. In the context of my current job search I get to assess often whether or not certain job offers are appealing to me. I could go with “I like the salary but don’t like where the offices are located, and the industry the company is in is dying” – Which is essentially me spitting out my gut-feeling about the job offer in an unstructured way. Instead of doing this, I am better off sitting down in front of a white piece of paper, and thinking long and hard about what is important for me in a job, in an absolute manner. Things like “Job interest”, “Compensation”, “Resume Impact” are the type of things that should be my criteria. Once I have that list, I can order it by order of importance. This will constitute my basis for assessing my interest in specific jobs. I can then literally grade jobs against each of those dimensions – Which will also be very helpful in comparing them with one another.

Generally speaking, we benefit for taking the time to think about how we do things, rather than just jumping in the mud and getting things done. The “pros and cons” thing above is very much a meta point so it can get confusing. We reach our goals depending on the set of decisions that we made along the way. Thinking about how to take those decisions, I realize that understanding what my goals are in the first place is key. Goal-attachment is a very implicit process for most. But it should not be. How do you drive somewhere if you don’t know the address? How are you going to be happy in life if you don’t know what really matters to you. Is that money? Is that a nice apartment, a nice car or personal relationships?