Tuesday, 18 February 2014

mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive

Or MECE, pronounced me-see, which is interesting in itself, if that's the way you want to twist it...Ok, let's face it, I want it to be relevant that 'me see' is the pronunciation for an approach which helps us sort through ideas and problems in an objective, almost cut throat way so that: 'I see' is the end result of the process and you have an answer to whatever conundrum life has posed and you feel happy and retire to your garden to pick lavender and pretend you are in France. No wait, that's my gig...

Yes, I understand that 'me see' would be the pidgin way of saying that you understood something, but look, I don't make these acronyms or their pronunciation up, I'm just working with what I have. And if you're going to have such a fancy pants title as mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, which I have to say completely grabbed my attention and blew my mind, then who am I to quibble over grammatically incorrect outcomes?

So, what is this amazing principle I had never heard of before today and yet now want to embrace in all parts of my life?

In situations where there are hundreds of potential options, MECE allows for working through each option and answering with a yes or no to each question. So to apply it, we need to come up with all the possible solutions to a problem (CE) by coming up with a list of solutions that never overlap (ME).

Two events are mutually exclusive if they can't occur at the same time. An example is tossing a coin once, which can result in either heads or tails, but not both.
When you toss a coin, both outcomes are also collectively exhaustive, because at least one of the outcomes must happen, so these two possibilities together exhaust all the possibilities. However, not all mutually exclusive events are collectively exhaustive. For example, the outcomes 1 and 4 of a single roll of a six-sided die are mutually exclusive (cannot both happen) but not collectively exhaustive (there are other possible outcomes; 2,3,5,6).

Mutually exclusive means concentrating on the detail, the individual tree; every element is different from the others and you have no overlap. On the other hand, collectively exhaustive means bigger picture thinking, seeing the whole forest, all the possibilities, with no gaps.

The brick wall above is both mutually exclusive as there is no overlapping of bricks or bricks stacked up on top of one another and there are also no gaps. The entire area is covered.

In order to live the MECE way, which in reality I think could be quite tiring, the key is to take decisions you would normally just make intuitively and attempt to structure them by asking why and how and then following this down the line of mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive pathways.

So, for a situation where we might wonder what-if, it is possible to turn this question into a scenario of if-then. Meaning if x criteria is met, then do this, if not then do something else. The key is to limit the options to only two. If you have multiple options, you need to prioritise which question should be asked first. Working out which question to ask is the challenge.

MECE sounds ACE, absolutely and certifiably excellent, for a computer system, which can be automated to analyse the data and eliminate options. And, for strategy consultants, the efficiency and elegance of this method is perfect.

In the end, I think if I am going to be deciding which restaurant I am going to eat in or which pathway to strike out on next, I might just go with intuition and in the case of the restaurant, well, gut instinct.

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