Hunted-Decision Making on the Run

6 Nov

The Channel 4 TV show Hunted pitted 14 members of the public against a team of highly experienced intelligence experts. The task of the 14 was to go on the run for 28 days, making their way to an escape point. Only four people escaped capture. I caught up with two of the winners, Steve Hardiker and Martin Cole, to find out more about the decision making which led to their success. In this article, I’ll take a brief look at the strategy which successfully evaded a well-equipped and resourced team of intelligence experts for 28 days.

Going on the run isn’t what it used to be. High levels of surveillance, number plate and facial recognition, access to data are just a few of the methods and technologies which make disappearing a very difficult task. If you try to disappear you’re up against a complex network of machine\human interfaces, combining search and data technology with human expertise and sense making. So, how would someone manage to successfully jump over this wall of complexity, and, disappear? The answer is with an incredibly simple solution. Before I get to this simple solution, I’ll lay out some brief back ground research on the subject of complexity and simplicity.

In most areas of our lives we would all like a simple solution to a complex problem. Or at least we think we would. Researchers such as Nassim Taleb (2013) and Gerd Gigerenzer (2014) point out that part of the human condition is the longing for simplicity but always losing to the tug of complexity. This means human beings seem driven to make life complicated. So, if there is a complex problem, then it’s all hands on deck to create an even more complicated solution. A lot of this drive is only natural. Generally people place more faith in complexity, numbers and detail. And complexity certainly has its place. Simplicity by comparison can look lazy, easy, and not rigorous. But simplicity has its place too, and its power is frequently over looked. Both Taleb and Gigerenzer have demonstrated the power of heuristics, simple rules of thumb constructed from experience, which, although imperfect, are sufficient most of the time to answer complex challenges. For example-

**Gigerenzer and his colleague entered a stock picking contest in 2000 organized by the magazine, Capital. The editor chose 50 internet equities and over a period of six weeks, each contestant could buy, sell or hold any of these equities to produce a profit. To pick their portfolio, Gigerenzer et al, asked 50 Berlin men and women with no professional knowledge of equities which stock names they recognised out the 50 equities. Choosing the 10 stocks most frequently recognised, the Gigerenzer portfolio was held for the six week tournament; no changes were made. The competition benchmark was the performance of the editor, at the end of the six weeks the Gigerenzer portfolio was up by 2.5% whilst the benchmark editor portfolio was down 18.5% (see Gigerenzer, 2007 for a full account). Gigerenzer went on to put his money where his research is, using the recognition heuristic to pick a portfolio he invested thousands in.

What does this have to do with going on the run? To escape capture Steve and Martin produced four rules of thumb. No complex strategy, just a series of heuristics which underpinned their decision making. These are the four rules

Do not contact home directly

Do not go to city centres

Never go back to the same place twice

Always keep moving

The four heuristics, evidently successful, are incredibly similar to strategies and techniques used to promote thinking and behaviours in the very best of decision makers. For example, the first heuristic, do not contact home directly, does not involve strictly banning an action, in this case, contacting home. Contacting home DIRECTLY is banned, but that opens up the route to thinking and acting creatively to contact home INDIRECTLY.  It reminds me of Weick and Sutcliffe’s (2009) research into High Reliability Organisations (HROs). An HRO is an organisation which consistently avoids catastrophe despite operating in a high risk environment. An example is NASA. HRO’s share five common traits in their strategy and decision making. One of these traits is a reluctance to simplify. The trait means that high reliability decision making does not choose the simple option (contacting home directly) but explores options and alternatives (ways of contacting home indirectly). As a result, Steve and Martin came up with some innovative methods of getting messages to family.

The heuristic which stood out to me was always keep moving. I’ve written many times on this blog of the fragility of failing to adapt a strategy, out of false comfort, apathy or lack of feedback. It is easy to imagine being on the run, short of money and resources, along with the extreme psychological pressures and then finding a seemingly safe place to hide. As with any strategy, unforeseen change will dislodge that place of seeming safety, sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically. Nothing remains stable indefinitely, it is simply a matter of time. Applying a heuristic of constant movement, builds adaption into a strategy, removing a reliance on stability.

This has been a brief introduction to four simple rules of thumb which effectively evaded intelligence experts for 28 days. The complexities of being on the run, coupled with the psychological exhaustion, mean that constructing a complex plan would most likely increase mental fatigue. Although the four rules of thumb are simple to understand, and relatively easy to apply, they tap into a pedigree of effective decision making. This pedigree is experienced based simplicity-heuristics.

Reading

Weick, K.E. (2009) Making Sense of the Organisation: The Impermanent Organization. Volume Two. Wiley

Taleb, N.N (2013) Anti Fragile- Things which gain from disorder. Penguin

Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2007). Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in and Age of Uncertainty, Second Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Gigerenzer, G (2008) Gut Feelings: Shorts Cuts to Better Decision Making. Penguin

Gigerenzer, G. (2014) Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions. Allen Lane

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