Optionality in Practice

This article describes how Optionality can be used in practice, as opposed to interpretations of Optionality as a theory, ideal or ideology.

Different Interpretations

Many people aks for a definition of what optionality is. Problem with such requests is that optionality by nature (not by definition) defies such definition: Inherent to the concept optionality is a rejection of the use of definitions to put things in boxes, to determine exactly what it is and what it's not.

The magazine Optionality is a good source of inspiration to find out more about optionality as a concept. But, as Don Paragon once said, any such magazine by its format tends to favor the written word and all that it stands for. This debate points at different interpretations of the concept optionality by Edwin Thor, editor of Optionality, and Don Paragon, who uses the concept optionality in the lyrics of his songs. For Don Paragon, optionality is an ideology, it is something he believes in, something he will not compromise on. An article describing Don's vision is included in this special issue [editor's note: November 1995 issue of Optionality Magazine].

For some, optionality is merely a perspective, perhaps one's favourite perspective, but that very perspective implies that one doesn't preach it. When working with, say, a client, one may have to accept the client's approach and work out a policy strategy that achieves certain goals. One will of course make the client aware of the views one has, but one does not impose one's personal view upon others.

These are three somewhat different interpretations of the concept optionality. For Edwin Thor, optionality is what is expressed in this magazine. For Don Paragon, optionality is a belief, an ideology and ideal that he expresses in his music. Both Edwin and Don have the drive to change the world, they feel the need to convince people. For Quintessence, optionality is merely a perspective, a perspective that offers the widest flexibility in thinking, the broadest understanding of matters and the best hope for the future.

Having a Perspective

So, optionality can be a perspective one prefers over other perspectives. In consultancy work, it is important to have a perspective, it is almost impossible not to advise clients without doing so from a specific perspective.

In socio-economic policy, many concepts are commonly used to describe a preferred situation. Some policy makers advocate competition, others consumer choice. Social moralists swear by equality, social justice and fairness. For some, it is freedom, for others it may be truth, progress, harmony, excellence or even perfection. But there always is a perspective, even if this is not articulated. Clients should know what perspective is taken by a consultant. It should be clear from the start that the preferred perspective is, in this case, optionality.

Optionality at Work

Perhaps the easiest way to show how the concept optionality can be used in practice, is by giving some examples of comparative analysis. In urban planning, e.g., what is the better policy, centralised development or decentralisation? From the perspective of optionality, the Government's central control is a burden. Thus, in this age of advanced electronic communications, decentralisation is the better approach. Of course, if we take optionality as an ideology, any planning by the Government must be rejected. But this example is a simplified choice only between centralised development and decentralisation.

Similarly, what is the better organisational structure, the traditional hierarchical control and command structure that is common almost everywhere or the so-called networking approach? From the perspective of optionality, networking is the better approach.

In both cases, two scenarios are compared with each other, while optionality is the perspective used in the analysis. This is what Quintessence calls the "Comparative Analysis" method, or .

In consultancy work, it is important to give clients a number of scenarios to work with, rather than a simple choice between the current situation and what the client regards as an improved situation. The client may focus on just one situation that is regarded as an improvement. But if an improvement can be made in one way, there are usually other ways to make improvements as well. To envisage such alternatives, one again needs a perspective that gives wide flexibility and broad understanding. For Quintessence, that perspective is optionality!

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