Decision Making in Business— Why Do Designers Generate Multiple Options For a Problem?

In 1983, William Smithburg, CEO of Quaker acquired Gatorade for $220 million. It was touted as an impulsive purchase. Quaker grew the brand value to $3 billion. In 1994, Smithsburg bought another beverage brand, Snapple, for $1.8 billion. Due to Gatorade’s grand success, none of the board members opposed or protested against this acquisition. Smithburg acquired Snapple because of his vivid memories of Gatorade’s success and thought they could succeed with Quaker’s marketing and management skills.

‘Snapple’ was a different product from ‘Gatorade -It had an unfamiliar target segment, demanded unique approaches in terms of branding, manufacturing, and distribution, which Quaker failed to manage and ended up destroying the brand value. A few years later, Snapple was sold off to Triarc Corporation for $300 million. Does Success blind them? Though media, outside experts touted this as one of the worst acquisitions in business history, why none from inside the company argued against the acquisition. A KPMG study of 700 mergers and acquisitions saw that 83% failed to boost shareholder value.

Jurgen Schrempp, CEO of Daimler-Benz, led the merger of Chrysler and Daimler against stiff opposition. Nine years later, Daimler was forced to give Chrysler away.

Both the CEOs were highly qualified, experienced for their jobs, and yet they made decisions To move forward in business or in life, we need to make decisions for our problems — Be it overhaul of company’s pricing structure, substantial investment in one manufacturing site, global or local manufacturing, Outsourcing or in-house, type of value proposition for the product or to whom we should love, marry- whom to hang out with, what car to buy, should I join this company or that company, should I eat at Subway or McDonalds or A2B.

Designer’s profession is to solve the problem, and they are trained to generate multiple solutions for solving a problem. The first thing taught to them is not to rush to judge and trust their first solution. They understand that any problem could have multiple solutions, willing to go for “wider” options, approaches and look for unexpected solutions, before converging on worthy ideas. Each and Every solution need to be meaningfully distinct from each other. Designers are encouraged to dig deeper to unearth solutions.

Most of the business of life decisions failed when there is only one option to choose. David Nutt, a British Psychiatrist analyzed decisions made by businesses. Businesses which made decisions based on only a single option had a 52% failure rate and decisions based on multiple options had a 32% failure rate.

In 2006, Colgate wanted to launch a disposable mini toothbrush, approached a design studio for a product name. This toothbrush did not need any mouth rinsing and therefore could be used inside a cab, aircraft. The smaller size of the brush was so prominent that the branding team was mentally locked to generate names related to tiny, smallness, brush — Petite Brush, Mini-brush, Brush-let. The design team started to venture into different directions to generate names other than focusing on small, tiny — One direction was the “beauty” -the oral care — Better Looking white teeth and a pleasant smile. One of the biggest advantages of the toothbrush — No need to spit out, no big mass of minty lather or foam(A strong feature) — Lightness, Cleanliness, Softness. The design team started looking for metaphors, sounds, words that could communicate Lightness. Out of the long list of words emerged “WISP” — Which means a small, thin, a twisted bunch(Wisp of rising smoke) representing lightness. The first option they got were related to size and brush. Multiple options broke the thinking mold and liberated the ideas.


One of the reasons why a designer is required to generate more than one idea — Prevent falling in love with a single idea and to avoid cognitive bias.

When only one idea/single option is there — We spend most of the time to make it work rather than exploring any other better option. We intend to find a way to get the team like the concept rather than exploring other ways to solve the problem.

When only one option is there — We become passionate about the solution, stand firm against disagreements, look for information to support our solution(Confirmation Bias) and exaggerate the benefits. Once confirmation bias sets in, our ability to pay attention to opposing arguments will be restricted and we will no more hold the balanced view. We would unconsciously withhold relevant information that conflicts with our solution idea.

Once you get attached to your solution, any disagreements would be viewed as a personal criticism and you would react weirdly, spoiling the relationship, future cooperation of the team affecting implementation of the idea.

A single option would further stifle innovation, affect team spirit, discourage others from suggesting or sharing their ideas — Would be detrimental to business in the long run.

To disrupt a market, you need to go beyond the most obvious solution — Most people do not know what they want unless they see it.

Most of the times, our decisions are based on the emotional mind than rational mind — Past memories, emotional associations with an earlier event, attachment to people, conflict of interest, Likability — all play a massive role in tuning our subconscious mind to take decisions on behalf of us — there is a higher probability of error in your judgment, when there is only one option to choose.


Multiple solutions necessitate that ideas need to distinctively different and meaningful, not just tweakings of earlier concept — This results in unexpected, disruptive ideas. More options, More informed choices, well-tested the solution, higher the quality, faster the decisions.

‘Research In Motion’ wanted a new brand name for its PDA — The PDA market that time had a lot of negative associations — Notifications irritated, stressed out the users, Vibration further added to the stress. The design team looked at things that could bring joy, that could slow their life, relax, make them enjoy. Camping, Movies, Cycling -the names went on and someone added ‘Picking Strawberries’ as relaxing and pleasant exercise — Designers started to search for words of similar vowels ‘Strawberry’ and got a word ‘Blackberry’ and one guy felt that keys of the phone looked like seeds of ‘Blackberry’. Thus generating multiple options by digging deeper had helped RIM to get a new brand name.

People discuss ideas, provide feedback on ideas rather than on people. Ideas compete and not people. Designers/creative thinkers would not take the disagreements on an idea as a personal criticism, undercutting politics, reduced bias, resulting in better team cooperation and smooth implementation of the idea by the team. No persuasion, No lobbying required to get the team behind any one idea. Designers or the team behind ideas would be open to criticism and suggestions on alternative solutions — No interpersonal friction, No blaming. There would be balanced arguments, well-mannered debates unlike the case of a single option.

To generate multiple ideas, you need the support of a multi-disciplinary team resulting in a healthy exchange of ideas, knowledge — It is a collaborative and open problem-solving process. Feedback — even minor negative views are encouraged, valued and explored. An old proverb says “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” — To learn from failure, you need to ‘Own’ the failure — In the collaborative problem-solving process, the team would be happy to share the collective ownership of failure, learn from it and move the organization forward.

To generate multiple ideas, designers are required to wear multiple hats and view the same solution from different perspectives. Example — Solution could be viewed from User’s perspective, managerial perspective, Workshop employee perspective, Maintenance personnel’s perspective, marketing guy’s perspective, retailer employee’s perspective — Wearing multiple hats provide more information, refine the concepts and make it better.

In 1990s P&G’s largest and best-known skin care brand “Oil of Olay” was struggling and the company needed domination in skin care to be a credible player in the beauty business. To gain the market share — The management team had three strategic choices in front of them(Instead of exploring just a single option) -Should they launch another new brand? or Buy an established Skin-Care leader? or Re-invent the Olay Brand? P&G team decided to re-invent the existing brand.

Similarly, they explored multiple options for their target segment customers — Olay’s existing customers were Older women aged fifty-plus — who used Olay Brand for fighting wrinkles. Olay explored another segment -women in mid-thirties are highly committed to skin care and are more willing to pay for quality and innovation.

P&G understood that they could not just focus on “Wrinkles” alone. Thirty-Five plus women had other concerns for the skin. In research, P&G team unraveled other needs — Dry Skin, Age Spots, Uneven skin tones, Appearance of skin — No brands were focusing on those needs. P&G launched “Olay Total Effects” as a masstige(between mass and prestige segment) product in 1999, targeting women in mid-thirties, redefined the market of what anti-aging products could do.

References: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, Influence by Robert Cialdini, Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, HBR’s 10 Best Reads on Making Smart Decisions.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or

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