Tag Archives: natural decision making

The Effect of Culture on Decision Making

16 May

In my early days researching organisations, culture was never high on my list of priorities. I was mostly focused on behaviour, cognition and decision making. This meant I was investigating how people make sense of their environment, use their environment as a resource, make choices and update choices (or not) based on environmental feedback. As much as this research tells you, it plays out on a stage which influences both behaviour and cognition. And this stage could be described as culture. In other words, culture, as part of an environment, enables, influences and loads both behaviour and reasoning within an organisation.

I consider culture a vital part of the environment people interact with, use and are influenced by in their decision making in organisational settings.

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Movement Is Life

13 Jan

The above title is a line from the film World War Z. Set during a zombie apocalypse, the protagonist, played by Brad Pitt, has sought refuge with his family in the apartment of another family. Brad Pitt’s character, an experienced UN crisis investigator, explains to his fellow survivors that they can’t just stand still, they have to move; in his experience those people who survive hostile situations are the people who move. And so, movement is life.

Many years ago I was climbing a mountain with friends in Hawaii, totally unprepared and with hardly any gear. As we got higher I found myself on a rock face and noticed the clouds around me; and I froze, I was literally stuck to the rock like a gecko. My friend’s girlfriend was above me and saw that I wasn’t moving; she effortlessly made her way down to me and simply said “you got to move man, there’s no other option”. It was all I needed and quickly started climbing again, she told me what Brad Pitt’s character had explained to his fellow survivors- movement is life.

On that rock face all I wanted to do was stay still, be safe, block out the world. It’s a pattern I’ve come to see over and over again in my research on decision making and risk. Staying still, sticking with the plan, convincing yourself that perceived stability is the best option is very appealing. It is so appealing that human beings are inclined to explain away contradictory information which might suggest that the situation has changed or that a plan is going wrong, until it’s too late. The longer a static position is defended the more brittle it becomes, so that when an unavoidable obstacle is encountered the more pieces it shatters into. When organisations and the people within them dig in and defend positions against all contrary information then the results can be quite catastrophic.

Weick (2009) has suggested adopting a more mindful approach to organizing, which, crudely summarized, calls for sensitivity to small changes and the constant adaption of plans in light of these changes. In other words, Weick also suggests that movement is life, stay aware of changes and keep adapting, keep moving. Klein (2012) and Crandall et al (2006) argue similarly when discussing the difference between experts and novices. Experts know the risks inherent in plans far more intimately and so remain more vigilant and prepared to adapt quickly. Novices on the other hand tend to place too much faith in procedures and expect events to go to plan. My own field work has produced similar results across areas as diverse as clinical decision making and construction site management. The experts and those considered “the best” in these areas were the people who adopted a “dynamic mind-set” meaning they saw initial plans as only starting points which most likely wouldn’t survive in detail as situations progressed. In contrast, people who did not perform to such a high level were those who stuck with the initial plan, defended it against contradictions, and consequently encountered errors far more frequently; they stayed stuck in that apartment.

So let’s move back to World War Z and our protagonist persuading his fellow survivors that though the apartment seemed a safe refuge, this was only a temporary condition at best, that movement is life. Although nobody will ever have to survive a zombie apocalypse (touch wood), movement is life applies to any situation which involves change-people, weather, business, anything else. It’s only possible to dig in and rely on a plan for so long, a plan is like that apartment from World War Z, it’s a static temporary base which seems to offer a safe haven, but it’s an illusion; sooner or later the world will coming crashing in and so it’s far better to stay ahead of the curve by staying in motion, adapting and preparing- movement is life.


Weick, K.E. 2009, Making Sense of the Organization (Volume 2) The Impermanent Organization, Blackwell

Klein, G., Phillips, J. K., Rall, E., & Peluso, D. A. (2007). A data/frame theory of sensemaking, In R. R. Hoffman (Ed.) Expertise out of Context. Erlbaum: Mahweh, NJ

Crandall, B. Klein, G. Hoffman, R. (2006)Working Minds: A Practitioner’s Guide to Cognitive Task Analysis” Cambridge, MA: A Bradford Book


Echo Breaker-Innovation

7 Oct

Echo Breaker Innovation is about a single question-how does an academic idea add value to a business? It’s a question that’s tried to be answered with big ticket sales, marketing, networking events all with limited to no results. It’s a tough question to answer and Nassim Taleb (2013) has empirically demonstrated that no university, anywhere, has ever produced anything new or productive. However, we’re going to try and answer the question by a) taking on the risk commercially b) reframing the question as a problem which has already been answered before.

Ok, a) taking on the risk commercially- we’ve formed an R & D company, Echo Breaker Research and Analysis Ltd, whose future is going to be dependent on answering this question effectively; this site will chart the progress. B) Reframing the question- getting an academic idea to add value into a business isn’t a sales\ marketing issue, it’s a knowledge acquisition issue.

The field of natural decision making faces a central challenge- how does an expert perform so effortlessly yet finds it so hard to articulate how they do it? The reason is tacit and semi tacit knowledge-things people do without even thinking about, and things people do which they feel is barely worth mentioning. This knowledge is the ingredients of expert sense making but incredibly difficult to get at. Traditional methods like interviews and questionnaires can extract limited amounts of data, but don’t allow complete access to how experts make sense of situations-especially challenging, non-routine events.

You can imagine how this issue has caused a lot of headaches for software developers, products on which success can literally be life or death. As a result, a range of methods have been developed to illicit this knowledge from experts (see Crandell et al, 2006, Rugg et al, 2013).
Getting ideas from one domain effectively to another is innovation; I think Taleb’s (2012) example of wheels on suit cases is an excellent example. To achieve this, the structure of one domain must become transparent so cross links can be identified with the structure of another domain. The structure of a domain is culturally constructed meaning its messy and tacit\ semi tacit. Discovering the structure of a domain is essentially the same problem as trying to elicit tacit and semi tacit knowledge from an expert.

So, you have two domains, the domain of the academic idea (it’s creator, the institution, the subject discipline for example) and the domain of a potential commercial sector (it’s risks, culture, and how value gets added for example). To get the idea from the one domain to the other domain means identifying the relative structures and then making the cross links-literally, effectively translating the idea. This may change the idea significantly, but the change is aimed at adding genuine value not maintaining an abstract integrity.

This is the challenge- to apply knowledge acquisition research to solve innovation problems because they are essentially the problem. We’ll post our case studies here.



Taleb, N.N. (2013) Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. Penguin

Crandall, B. Klein, G. Hoffman, B. (2006) Working Minds: A Practitioner’s Guide to Cognitive Task Analysis. Bradford Books

Rugg, G. (2013) Blind Spot: Why We Fail to See the Solution Right in Front of Us: How Finding a Solution to One of the World’s Greatest Mysteries. Harperone


Making Decisions under Pressure

12 Mar

Pressure has a tendency to narrow focus and fixate your view. When your ancestors felt pressure from being hungry or cold then the narrowing of focus and the related physiological responses, the motivation to action, was a good thing. When this natural response kicks in at the office, pressure can tunnel your vision on a particular narrative, data set or belief. However, unlike your ancestors this focus may not be as simple as getting food and warmth. It could involve where to invest, which product to back, who to promote or where to start drilling. When faced with pressure in a complex domain it’s vital to maintain a broad awareness of the situation, if not, then pressure can leave you fixated and making poor decisions; a form of cognitive bias.

When you are faced with organisational pressure to “get something done” it pushes you to find an answer quickly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; great things can happen under pressure. However, awareness of the risks in your domain is crucial to reacting positively – you shouldn’t trade risk for speed, but you can learn to speed up your ability to identify and manage risk.

Pressure will speed up your pattern recognition, the desire to find and justify an answer\ solution. If you are dealing with a lot of data and\ or uncertainty (for example) then you are operating at a greater risk of finding a pattern to deal with the pressure, as opposed to using the pressure to find a superior option; and consequently, the potential to be taking on board hidden risks. With this in mind, how can you improve decision making under pressure? Below are a couple of methods

Klien’s (2003) prospective forecasting is a method where once you’ve completed your plan, or reached your decision, imagine its 12 months (or 10 minutes) into the future and your plan\ decision has been a complete catastrophe, then, in no more than 5 minutes jot down the history of that failure. This works because it’s far easier to anticipate problems when the outcome is known. It insures against the desire to prove yourself right and explain away contradictions.

The shock method (can be used after prospective hindsight) is when you imagine your decision or plan has run into immediate trouble and you analyse the fire doors you have available to contain the risk and adapt the decision- how fast can you react and adapt? How quickly can you communicate to the necessary people or rehash the data? In other words, how aware are you of the ability of your domain to cope the risks your decision could bring. If you can’t adapt the decision and contain the risk, you need to start your revising your plans.

Using these methods when making decisions or constructing plans under pressure can enable you to have some degree of mitigation over the cognitive biases pressures can bring. Experienced high performers (within certain professional domains) can intuitively analyse risk by having a very strong sense of what could go wrong, and they can do it fast. To develop greater sense making skills when it comes to risk, practice (using case scenarios) your pressurised decision making using the above methods and you’ll improve your ability to naturally detect errors- crucial when deciding under pressure.

Loss Aversion and Horizon

3 Mar

Like a lot of people I watched Horizon’s report on decision making last week, and really enjoyed it. The research was presented in a skewed but entertaining way and it’s motivated me to write down my thoughts on loss aversion as a cognitive bias as it provides a great illustration of the tension between a bias and a heuristic in decision making. For the purposes of this article I’ll define loss aversion quite crudely as people’s strong preference for avoiding losses over achieving gains. This preference can result in people turning down options or risks which would yield gains but end up being declined if the risk\ option is framed in terms of losses- you stand a 10% chance of losing 70% of what you have for example.

Cognitive bias itself is a systematic error, which is reliably predictable, when a decision is made (and if the decision maker lacks the necessary information to frame the question appropriately). A heuristic is more or less its opposite, a rule of thumb, an imperfect but good enough short cut which works well most of the time in a particular domain. In a very simple form we can think of bias as a mistake and a heuristic as a rule of thumb. Loss aversion, I would argue, is something which has become a bias. The reason for this, I think, is that loss aversion began life as a heuristic which became a bias as a result of changes in the human risk domain.

And this is why –

Way back in our history survival was dependent upon meeting our most basic needs- food, shelter, warmth. If you were able to secure yourself a cave (for example) with some furs and fire for warmth, and some food, you were more likely to survive, at least in the short term. The subtraction of these items meant that you were far less likely to survive. So, once these items were secured, holding onto them was essential, it paid to be loss averse. If you were able to hold onto these items it would also allow you to minimise future risk taking, further increasing your survival chances since the risk consequences were very often life and death. In a domain defined by scarce recourses and securing these recourses carries great risk, then loss aversion operates as a heuristic.

Back to today, when you have a surplus of warmth, shelter and food (in some economies and only in sections within them) you can probably afford to take a few well thought out risks to try and get a little extra due to changes in the risk domain. But the old heuristic operates as a bias because when you are faced with a loss, or a perceived loss, even from a relative position of strength or security (your risk domain) you’ll still short cut default to avoid losing anything- unless you know the risk domain which enables you to frame decisions more appropriately and reverse the bias. So, why is it important to point out that bias used to be a heuristic? I think it’s important because the role of information and environment in shaping perception is crucial. Knowing the boundary conditions for when a heuristic can become a bias and vice versa is essential to making a decision involving different or changing domains; and especially when seeking to transfer expertise from one domain to another. In short, knowledge of the risk domain is crucial to framing decisions appropriately, if you don’t remain sensitive to changes in risk a heuristic could easily become a bias, and sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Decision Making and Odysseus

24 Feb

All strategies ultimately fail. They fail because of the complex dynamic environment which people and organisations operate in never behave in ways which mirror plans. This tension between the plan and behaviours actually encountered creates a constantly eroding grind on the goals; Clausewitz called it “friction”. Strategies are a great cause of optimism, cognitive bridges into the future, and this is often strategies worst enemy- a focus on the goal while explaining away the complexities of the process, they place too little focus on inevitable “friction”. Many theorists have tried to mathematically model strategy and strategic outcomes to improve decisions, the game theory mini max outcomes immediately spring to mind (Freedman provides an excellent introduction to Schelling and game theory in his book Strategy, 2013), but despite some thought provoking insight, game theory can struggle to get a grip on escalation and escalation as a result of friction-unexpected motives, behaviours, events and goals. Nothing seems to add and subtract its way past friction. So, I’ll go back to mythology for some strategic decision making tips in the face of friction. And Odysseus provides the perfect example (a story I’ll borrow from Freedman, 2013), if you can stomach his ethics.

I would interpret the interaction between people, strategy and friction as situational awareness. This the ability to maintain a focus on a goal; the relevance of cues, patterns and actions to that goal; the ability to make trade-offs between competing sub goals and vitally, when to adjust the goal in light of circumstances. In other words, the ability to work with and adapt to friction, as oppose to drive against it. The role of Odysseus in the myth of Philoctetes provides an example of the ability to maintain situational awareness in the face of friction.

Philoctetes had been gifted the bow and arrow of Hercules which he was taking with him to fight in the Trojan War. On the way he was bitten by a snake on the isle of Lemnos and the wound became very painful and infected. Odysseus, who was a member of the party on Lemnos, grew tired of Philoctetes suffering and so ordered him abandoned on the isle, while everyone else left to fight in the Trojan War. During the war, a seer foretold that the Greeks would need the bow and arrow of Hercules to defeat Troy. So, Odysseus set off to recover the bow from the man he had abandoned. In this version of the myth Odysseus takes with him the son of Achilles, Neoptolemus.

When Odysseus and Neoptolemus arrive back on Lemnos they find Philoctetes alive. Obviously, Philoctetes was not going to be very happy to see Odysseus and hand over the bow of a god, so Odysseus sent in Neoptolemus to handle the negation with a simple brief- get the bow by any means, trickery if needed. The problem was that Neoptolemus was the model of his father Achilles, no victory was worth having unless it was done with honour. In Odysseus’s mind this was not a good approach, it would reduce the sub goal of getting the bow and arrow down to emotional bargaining which could easily go either way. Neoptolemus was prepared to leave the bow if it meant achieving the mission without honour, but Odysseus was applying situational awareness-
• The goal was to win the Trojan War
• Information revealed the Trojan War could not be won without the bow and arrows of Hercules
• The sub goal became- retrieve the bow and arrow, this would take precedence over Odysseus’s previous history with Philoctetes (winning the war was easy to trade off with a difficulty history)
• With Philoctetes alive Odysseus now needed a negotiator to achieve the sub goal- Neoptolemus
• Neoptolemus was not prepared to sacrifice his sense of honour so his personal ethics now put the main goal at risk-winning the Trojan War.

It’s possible to argue that Odysseus was able to maintain sight of the bigger goal and trade off his own feelings accordingly, especially when facing the grind of friction. If the bow was not recovered then the Trojan War would not be won and instead rage on, resulting in further loss of life, kingdoms being left without their leaders for increasing length of time and the welfare of the people being put at risk. Neoptolemus on the other hand lost sight of the bigger goal; his own sense of honour came first, even if it meant sacrificing the war effort.

Naturally there come situations where a Neoptolemus is very much needed. Odysseus though, throughout Greek legend, is a picture of situational awareness-frequently putting aside sub goals which may have been personally advantageous to stay fixed on the bigger picture. The role of Greek legends however are not to provide us perfect examples of decision making, they tell us far more about the conflict between ethics, values and identity in the face of much bigger events. Odysseus is no role model of pure virtue but he does provide a good example of someone who gets things done by remaining situationally aware in the face of friction and the many unexpected events it throws at you.
The lesson here is to develop situational awareness to a degree which alerts you when your personal agenda is putting the higher goal at risk- this is the ability to make trade-offs. Situational awareness is essential for guiding trade-offs in resources, competing goals, values and conflicting arguments amongst people within groups; it will also tell you when it’s time to adapt the higher goals in light of friction. There is also a flip side- it will allow you to locate when the higher goals are compromising ethics to a point people are being put at risk and values are being compromised. The tale of Philoctetes may have suggested to Neoptolemus that it was time to work with people who shared his ethics.

Epilogue- Philoctetes was cured of his snake bite, went to fight in the Trojan War and became a Greek hero, killing Paris at the fall of Troy- with his bow.

Taking Orders versus Making Decisions

10 Feb

What are the differences between taking orders and making decisions? To be honest that’s just the introduction, a far more important question is- what are the effects on organisations where people in leadership roles prioritise taking instruction over making decisions?

When someone waits for orders they are naturally passive, and this defines what they do between receiving orders. Frequently we see those that wait for instruction focused on procedures, processes and basically the operation of people, teams and departments. So this is what gets grown culturally- a focus on keeping things ticking over and waiting. The cognitive experience could be likened to waiting at an airport departure lounge-indefinitely. There is food, shelter, warmth, people to talk to, places to eat and shop and the promise of soon flying off to an exciting destination. However, the anxiety and apathy sets in as everyone starts to wonder-will that plane ever arrive? This is how I would describe a culture based on leaders taking orders.

The natural by product of this environment is uncertainty- people are not quite sure whether their actions are moving in the right or wrong direction. So, the only thing which remains a certainty is to keep things ticking over, keep working those procedures and processes; at least everyone knows that is a not a wrong thing to do in this environment. Of course this has a major effect on creativity and innovation; no one is quite sure where to locate new ideas, what frame to assess them by.

Decision making by contrast requires leadership. It is cognitively opposite to taking orders as it requires constructing sense from uncertainty, focusing on the cues and patterns which count, anticipating there ( the cues and patterns) relevance to the future and then acting\ planning to act. The mental model this produces is the vision- an expectancy of how the future will play out, what could affect that future playing out and how to mitigate it, and of course how to actually get there. When this is communicated across people, teams and groups it effectively announces the plane arrival time, people can start making their own plans toward the departure desk- they can act with initiative and full knowledge of what are productive or inappropriate courses of action.

A rule of thumb- if a decision creates widespread uncertainty without the accompanying means and distributed vision as to how to manage that uncertainty, it is a decision made too soon. A thorough analysis of risk, applying methods such as prospective hindsight, will assist the location of potentially toxic uncertainty; but this analysis is essential for providing people with a frame of reference to make sense of actions. This frame could be as simple as what to look out for, but it generates initiative, allows people to problem solve within boundaries, and innovate.

Decision Making Deconstructed- The South African Martial Artist and Coach, Rodney King

31 Jan

Rodney King is a pioneer in combat sports. Acting in response to the ultimately self-destructive “sink or swim” attitudes of most boxing and mixed martial arts gyms, where only the toughest and fittest survive, Rodney King reassessed the role of combat as sport in modern society. Rodney decided to look into our human past to rediscover the role martial arts and trained combat played in ancient societies. Perhaps counter intuitively for most, this took the coach into a mental first approach to fighting which had originally built the fighting arts, but had long since been forgotten.

As a decision making researcher and former boxer I was particularly interested in interviewing Rodney King. He had made the decision to do things differently in a sport which seeks to maximise the trappings of testosterone. This is what I wanted to find out- what were the reasoning strategies the coach employed? What did he notice which others ignore? What information does Rodney pay particular attention to and how does he use it? These questions underpin the structure behind any decision, so they would provide me with insight on Rodney and add another layer to my experience as a researcher. But beyond that, because a different innovative path had been chosen, there would be insight present in both decision making and innovation which anybody, operating in any domain, could benefit from. In this article I’ll be outlining the insights I got from speaking to the man himself and how his thinking has cross domain relevance.

Growing up Rodney lived in a tough part of South Africa where violence and fear of violence were a constant factor. As a fighter, despite a winning record and the all-important reputation, he lamented he still didn’t feel any more confident than he did back surviving a tough neighbourhood growing up. The anxiety of attending a tough gym and maintaining both his status and performance went way beyond what a sport should feel like. Rugby is a tough, tough sport for example but the training environment, despite the occasional flare up, doesn’t generate the same thought processes- faced with another man in a confined space, am I going to make a mistake and get knocked out, with everybody watching, and my reputation lost.

Rodney attacked this problem with a focus on fundamental human behaviours, what do people naturally do as oppose to what do we expect them to do and what lessons can history teach us on the subject. Following this thinking through, he built a new system of boxing by asking questions such as- how do humans naturally behave when they are being attacked? The answer to this was the foetal position, a form of instinctive covering up. If this instinct could be threaded into a structure of defence, then a means of staying safe and calm under fire would come naturally, and if you can find a way of staying safe and calm then it’s far easier to learn and enjoy yourself. This was a foundation of Rodney’s Crazy Monkey Defence style- an easy to pick up, but highly effective form of boxing built on natural responses and defence.

One of the most interesting aspects for me of Crazy Monkey has been Rodney’s re-examination of the martial artist, a counter cultural aspect of his training system which is the reverse of combat sport’s prime focus on winning. When we talked Rodney discussed the samurai culture at length and its impact on his system.

The samurai were not just a fighting force of highly skilled warriors; they used martial arts to hone all aspects of their life. The patience and structure of the tea ceremony were as integral to their identity as the katana. The tea ceremony teaches the practitioner patience, focus and a form of situational awareness essential in combat.

Rodney explained how he now seeks to bring back the notion of the martial artist, the antithesis of the current perception of a fighter. For Rodney the fighting arts should be able to improve every aspect of a person’s life, not leave a person sat at their desk terrified at the thought of the night’s training session- that kind of stress diminishes a person’s life. In the same way that the samurai culture through its associated practices (such as the tea ceremony) prepared a warrior for both life and battle, Rodney’s coaching now focuses on building better people through the concept of the martial artist or embodied warrior.

On this subject Rodney talked of how important a form of mindfulness was in sparring-staying in the present and not getting caught in negative and distracting events from the past or predictions from the future. This lesson, he observed, benefits his students as much in their professions as it does in their training. Focusing techniques, such as calligraphy and the tea ceremony had been the foundation of eastern martial arts centuries ago, a means of maintaining flow and staying in the present. These techniques would seamlessly flow into all aspects of a samurai’s life and this is now a cornerstone of the Crazy Monkey system- a continuum of mental and physical training designed to impact positively and instinctively on a life.

So, what decision making lessons can we pull from Rodney King?

Firstly, analogues are a highly effective problem solver and innovation generator. Rodney paid attention to the fact that despite success martially, there was a mental shortfall in the type of training he was using. To fix the problem Rodney looked around for examples of where this issue had been resolved before. An avid scholar, he had access to many analogues he could draw from to adapt a solution- a return to the roots and practices of martial arts where combat was designed to enhance all areas of life, not just martial skills. The take away here is that when you encounter a problem look for analogues from across other domains or eras and adapt it to your own domain\ time and problem. This is the key to true innovation- identifying cross links between domains.

Secondly, focus on what people do naturally. One of the drivers behind Rodney creating new techniques was to examine what humans naturally do when physically attacked and then aim to support them. Instead of imposing techniques, procedures and processes onto people, support their natural decision making by examining what works well naturally- what good practices are instinctive and tacit and how can these be supported, developed and shared?

Thirdly, situational awareness is crucial. Maintaining a mindful state which leads to flow (an instinctive carryout of a task to high level which is absorbing but requiring almost no thought) lies at the centre of Rodney’s teaching. Situational awareness, the ability to intuitively spot cues and patterns and apply them to actions and consequences is a cornerstone of decision making. Practice your decision making through scenarios derived from real life incidents (this is the equivalent of sparring) to improve your ability to spot the subtle cues and patterns. These are essential to gathering understanding from, and staying focused on, the present.

With thanks to Rodney King, a true pioneer and renaissance man http://www.crazymonkeydefense.com/

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.

Tough Decisions Deconstructed- Deciding what Gift to Buy this Christmas

4 Dec

I got chatting to the person serving me at the bank the other day, they asked what I do and when I explained they immediately said-I’m terrible at making decisions! The fault line in the person’s decision making was easily identified, they struggled to choose between options, and at this time of year this is something which affects the majority- choosing between options or rather what should I buy or get bought for me by (insert name)? In this post I’ll try and provide a little insight into why choosing between options can be so difficult and how to deal with it. And because it’s my last post, I’ll do it quick too.

The frustration which comes from choosing between options is commonly caused by the cognitive strain of trying to make a single option more favourable than the others. The stress of producing a winner and using mental criteria you know you don’t really believe in simply ends up frustrating and exhausting you. Gary Klien identifies this as “the zone of indifference” and it basically means all the options are as good as each other but you refuse to accept it and embark on a pointless quest to find the winning option.

So, all that trouble is because of refusing to face up to indifference. When you start to feel like this the best way through it is to just flip a coin. Flipping coins means you’ll make the decision quicker, spend less time setting up criteria you have no faith in and you’ll feel better about your choice. You’ll feel better because if you try and force one option to look better and select that way you’ll continue to feel frustrated after the decision as you to start to question the basis of your choice.

A tip for assessing whether you’ve entered into legitimate coin flipping territory- ask yourself what the consequences of the decision are. If the consequence is severe, such as I’ll lose my business or my wife will leave me, then you are not at the decision making stage, you are at the problem solving stage. In this territory you need to work on solving the problems associated with each option not choosing between them. If the consequence is less severe- they can always take it back if they don’t like it, then flip that coin!

Merry Christmas to anyone and everyone who’s read these posts in 2013 and thanks!!