A Role for Vision in Decision Making

22 Jan

I had the pleasure of speaking at a clinical reasoning conference yesterday and a question from one of the delegates really stood out- how much is decision making affected when an organisations vision isn’t shared by senior managers and executives? The delegate was referring to how decision making by non managerial professionals is affected but the answer is relevant across all domains- it affects it significantly and with potentially catastrophic results.

Quite often we hear that for a job or career to be rewarding two things need to be in place- a level of autonomy and a sense of meaning. You can have a level of autonomy in your work but without a sense of meaning, of being part of a bigger purpose, then it’s possible to feel what the philosopher Michelle Foucault observed- certain types of freedom can themselves be oppressive. Being able to answer the question, at least to some degree, what’s the point of all this, is essential to a sense of satisfaction in work. It’s also essential to decision making and innovation.

I’ve pointed out frequently in previous articles that a key difference between an expert and a novice in their decision making is the ability to assess risk, to identify what could go wrong. This could be simply expressed as anti goals, things you don’t want to happen. And sometimes focusing solely on anti goals is all that’s required to plan positive outcomes. The ability to develop a keen sense of anti goals only comes with a deep understanding of the domain in which you operate and what success or good outcomes look like, then you can identify what you want to avoid.

To understand what a good outcome\ success looks like you need to visualise it when faced with a challenging situation. You need to be able to draw from experience and see what this situation needs to become, how to get there and most importantly things to avoid on the way. This simple process allows you to adapt previous methods to the current situation, spot leverage points and innovate, and keep a plan on track in the face of distractions. However, none of this is possible without vision.

It’s vision which provides the background of meaning; it allows people to understand the consequences of their actions in relation to achieving higher level goals. It also provides them with a strong sense of what to avoid. When an organisation tries to cope without vision quite often people turn to routine, customs and practices and\ or bureaucracy as the default mode of avoiding blame sets in. What goes out the window is the ability of people to make decisions swiftly by sizing up a situation or opportunity in relation to the organisational vision, along with the ability to spot leverage points and innovate. It happens because everyone is fumbling about in the dark and so tries to simply stay safe. Everyone could feel autonomous in this situation but it would feel like straight jacket with no one certain what to do with it.

It’s far better to just turn the lights on.

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