Connecting Phenomenology to Decision Making

6 Oct

The last article used the Sartre protagonist, Roquentin, as a means to illustrate how important an appreciation of phenomenology can be when designing and evaluating a strategy. Roquentin, a character in the Sartre play Nausea, sees the world around him as being composed of only objects. The world, to Roquentin, contains only things and no meaning. As the play progresses, Roquintin has a realisation that unless he gives objects meaning he will remain outside of life, alienated. So, that’s what happens when you don’t define objects as good\bad, exciting, dangerous, risky or beautiful; you end up alienated. And it would be incredibly difficult to make decisions and sift through options; a lack of meaning would prevent someone from making trade offs, prioritizing tasks, and deploying resources. In other words, to move forward, you have to give objects meaning.

I used the above to make the point that because the vast majority of unique human beings place meaning on objects there is potentially many different meanings for single objects. These meanings can be very personal, cultural, pathological, and experiential or a combination of many things, but this is the fascination of phenomenology. There is a potential array of meanings, and this diversity in how people make sense of things helps to explain how seemingly simple strategic directions take on multiple interpretations and give rise to multiple unintended consequences.

The everyday process of generating and creating meaning happens without us knowing it. It is a subconscious process most of the time. But our phenomenological interpretations are what frequently defines outcomes; and because they define outcomes, these interpretations are worth knowing. This is one of the reasons I place so much emphasis on decision making in my research and evaluation work. Examining and discussing a decision, is an examination and discussion of how someone phenomenologically experienced something (a strategic task) and the choices this led to. It’s an archaeology of choices. Start with the decision and backtrack the phenomenology, what sense was made of objectives, specific words, why was X considered so important, and why was Z considered almost irrelevant? Sartre acknowledges something similar in Nausea. Roquentin realized he was free to create meaning. The moment Roquentin took responsibility and created meaning he would be making a choice, a decision. It’s the decision which can help us explore the phenomenology, it allows us to understand how people construct meaning.


Sartre, J.P. Nausea (1949) Penguin

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