Compared to What?

One of our favorite questions around the Praxis office is Compared to what?.
People often compare actual things with imagined, perfect, idealized alternatives. This is called the Nirvana Fallacy. This creates a false dichotomy that pits real options against ideal ones, even if the ideal option is completely implausible. Ideal options always seem better than the real alternatives, but they have one fatal flaw: They aren’t achievable. We can only choose between real world options.
Asking Compared to what? helps you frame your decisions in relation to the relevant alternatives and ground them in reality.
Here are some common examples we all face where asking Compared to what? provides much-needed clarity:

Job offers

“I’m not sure about this job offer…I’m not sure the culture is right.”
Compared to what?
Compared to an ideal culture at an ideal job? Compared to other offers you actually have on the table? Compared to where you are currently working? Is it good enough to leave your current position, or it is bad enough to prolong your job search in the face of uncertainty? Are you willing to accept a less than ideal culture for the certainty of being in the field you want to be in now?

College

“My four year degree in communications will be worth it.”
Compared to what?
What could you spend that same amount of money on? What could you do during those four years instead? Could you get the same entry-level position by spending three months reading books, watching videos, and trying out techniques? What non-credential benefits does college offer, and are those worth the tuition cost? Would you be better off learning on the job for four years?

Apartment hunting

“This apartment would be incredible.”
Compared to what?
How much more of our budget would this apartment take compared to the other apartments we’ve seen? What is more important to us, the size or location? How flexible is our budget? Would walking an extra mile each day to the train be worth the tradeoff in cost? Would having a smaller apartment be worth the increase in our savings?

Buying a car

“This car is the least expensive option.”
Compared to what?
Might other cars be more reliable, costing less in repairs over the next few years? How is the gas mileage compared to more expensive cars? If you are going to spend a lot of time in it, how do the interior features compare with other cars you’ve looked at?

Leaving a job you aren’t happy with

“I’m not in love with the work I’m doing. I think I want to leave.”
Compared to what?
Do you have other offers on the table for something you’d rather be doing? Do you have the savings to fund a 3–6 month job search? Would you rather start from scratch somewhere else, or spend the next 3 months working on a project after hours that will give you the skills to join another team at the same company?

Salary

“I think I deserve to get paid more.”
Compared to what?
Do you have other offers on the table offering you more than you currently make? What non-monetary benefits do you get at your current job that count toward total compensation? Is someone who is willing to accept an equal or lower salary than you able to produce the same value as you? Are you willing to take on the extra responsibility, hours, and value creation that come with the increase in pay?

Marketing

“I think X campaign would be awesome.”
Compared to what?
Is it cheaper or more expensive than our current campaigns? Do we have reason to believe it would perform better with our target demographic than current campaigns or other options? How much staff time will it take compared to other campaigns?
 
Never let a big decision slip by without answering Compared to what?.
 
Thank you to Isaac Morehouse for his edits on this post.