Morton’s Fork: The folly of having two options

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

DECISION-MAKING is God’s gift to people. This is how we express rationality. That’s how we distinguish ourselves from animals. We decide whenever the situation demands for it. We decide because we have to, and we come to rely on our experience and ability to arrive at the best possible solution. But what if we are faced with two unpleasant possible results?

Call it “damn if you do, damn if you don’t.” Do you think President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd is in that situation on the issue of Fallen 44? Let’s be more specific. Between two options of abrogating or pursuing the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which do you think is the best decision to appease all parties?

Indeed, it is a dilemma for President Aquino. He is in a fork, or more specifically the Morton’s Fork. It is any form of logic in which both arguments (abrogating or pursuing the BBL) can lead to a disastrous situation. It came from John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 15th century on the issue of tax collection.

Morton theorized that a man living within his means must have enough savings for him to afford paying taxes. On the other hand, Morton claimed that if a man is living extravagantly, then he must be rich and could afford paying taxes. Whichever way, you must pay the right taxes.

There are many derivatives of the Morton’s Fork. They include catch 22, false dilemma, black and white thinking, bifurcation, and many more. With Morton’s Fork, you are reduced to saying to people: “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” no matter how it is oversimplifying the issue.

In the first place, why reduce the options to only two—pursuing or abrogating the BBL?

Let’s take the concept of Morton’s Fork one step further. Imagine you’re tasked to hire one top corporate executive. Your boss asks you to figure out whom, among the two job applicants on the shortlist who are most likely to meet the organization’s two expectations—productive and loyal.

You’ve examined their credentials and analyzed the applicant’s track records to see who has the clear manifestation of productivity and loyalty to a prospective employer. Aside from the credentials, the other option you have decided to consider is how they treat their workers. If you’re a people management advocate like me, we’ll choose someone who has zero or almost close to zero of turnover rate.

The premise is simple: If the workers stay longer with the company, then they are presumed to be happy with the boss’ management style. In that case, they want to protect their jobs to become productive and loyal, which would ultimately redound to corporate profitability.

In “The Progress Principle” (2011), co-authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer say that the best corporate manager is one who can build and maintain an army of workers “who have great inner work lives—consistently positive emotions; strong motivation; and favorable perceptions of the organization, their work, and their colleagues. The worst managers undermine inner work life, often unwittingly.”

If you believe in me, then you set another interview with the two applicants to discover their people strategies. You give them several theoretical situations on how they manage people. If you have the sense that one usually talks down to people in the name of productivity and profitability, and that he is not a good listener, then this person should be stricken off the shortlist.

Now, how many of you have considered this as a parameter? A manager who can take in and comprehend all that is happening around him is said to have “people sense.” In the military, brilliant generals are said to possess the gift of “coup d’ oeil”— French word to describe someone who with a quick look can assess situations.

In chess, the best player is one who has the “center sense” to control the center of the 64-board squares. That’s the winning proposition.

And so, how do you beat the Morton’s Fork? In the case of President Aquino, he has to go beyond exploring many options —other than pursuing or abrogating the BBL. But more than generating many options, the President must do “thin-slicing” to borrow the words of Malcom Gladwell. He has to weigh the pros and cons of each option.

To get the best possible result, the decision must necessarily redound to the interests of the majority and not to satisfy the one who has cried out loud.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.

1 Comment

  1. Here’s an option, he should buy a small nuclear bomb from Israel and drop it on the heads of the MILF. Make sure the quislings in the negotiating panel are with them.Problem solved.