In America, an individual's freedom to make and live by a decision is at the core of our identify and success as a nation and society. Columnist George Will spoke of this at a seminar last spring. (Bolded italics are mine.):
"We began in 1945 an astonishingly clear social experiment: We divided
the city of Berlin, the country of Germany, the continent of Europe,
indeed the whole world, and we had a test. On one side was the
socialist model that says that society is best run by edicts, issued
from a coterie of experts from above. The American model, on the other
hand, called for a maximum dispersal of decision-making and information
markets allocating wealth and opportunity. The results are clear: We
are here, they are not. The Soviet Union tried for 70 years to plant
Marxism with bayonets in Eastern Europe. Today there are more Marxists
on the Harvard faculty than there are in Eastern Europe." Link
permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest
of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu.
Has this ever happened to you? You are reading the first paragraph of a really interesting article on how to solve a big problem you are having. The phone rings, you look at the caller ID, and decide to let the voice mail pick up. You get halfway through the second paragraph when your email service announces you have new mail. You try to ignore that, too, but by now that pesky gremlin in the back of your mind is fully awake. What do they want? Do they have critical information that will change my life? Is there some sort of emergency?
The gremlin will not rest until you get your messages. You do so, then return 20 minutes later to your reading. This repeats over and over. It is like being awoken every hour from a deep sleep and drifing off again. It is torture. We allow this to happen. The gadgets that are supposed to help us actually conspire against us. They seem smarter than we are.
Many of us are living in a continuous state of interruption. Even our interruptions get interrupted: think about Call Waiting.
Short of unplugging from our prescious connected networks, how can we ever thoughtfully make choices, do the right things, feel rewarded for making the right decisions?
I thought the idea was to reduce the size and influence of the federal government, and rely more on state and local authorities? Here is an excerpt from yesterday's Washington Times:
"President Bush yesterday sought to federalize hurricane-relief efforts, removing governors from the decision-making process.
"It wouldn't be necessary to get a request from the governor or
take other action," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said
yesterday. "This would be," he added, "more of an automatic trigger."
Mr. McClellan was referring to a new, direct line of authority
that would allow the president to place the Pentagon in charge of
responding to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and outbreaks of
disease. "It may require change of law," Mr. Bush said yesterday."
Do any of you remember when corporations bought the first PCs? They went to executive desktops, where they became expensive ($5000-6,000) desk art. Executives couldn't figure out how to use them, and they weren't connected to the mainframe. Staff who really needed PCs to make spreadsheets or to circumvent the typing pool had to wait a couple years for their equipment. Now, look at this 9/19/05 press release from Palm, Inc.:
"...up to 200 Schwan executives will be
using smart-device technology to accelerate decision-making and better
serve customers while away from the office....Schwan executives were so pleased with the
solution, and believed the productivity increase was so obvious, a
formal ROI analysis was not required."
What about all the non-executives who need to make better decisions? Link
Gary Jones at his Muck and Mystery blog has this to say about improving group decision making:
We can rely on group decision making to nudge things in the right
direction - as in the market example above for commodity pricing - but
that mechanism can be ignored or ruined by political intervention. Our
policies can be self defeating. They are often so. The policies
themselves are subject to the same natural processes - bad ones give
way to better ones over time - but it degrades things significantly and
sometimes prevents dealing with issues. Societies do collapse.
Knowing that we may be wrong on any given assessment should give us
pause. How do we help ourselves be open to unknown but beneficial
discoveries? Diversify. Adopt an attitude that everything is pragmatic
and provisional. At some level we know that this is true, this too
shall pass, but we don't always act appropriately. In the heat of
conflict, especially political conflict, we harden and narrow our
minds, in effect reducing our intellect and degrading the quality of
our decisions and policies. Though not always true it is more
productive to assume that your competitors and opponents are making
good points, that they are reasoning in good faith and see something
useful that we may have missed. Even those who have intellectually
ossified, become believers rather than knowers, all their ideas
fossilized into ideology, may have a point worth your attention. Though
their specific arguments may be trivial political speech, there is an
insight buried beneath that behavior worth investigating. Sometimes
it's a useful insight, sometimes not, but you need to consider it in
your holistic systems thinking, even if just to account for the
wreckers in society, those who are not making a net positive
contribution. They are part of the system too, if nothing else they may
be the gritty irritant around which a pearl can form in self defense. Link
The Abilene Paradox is often used to help explain extremely poor business decisions. The name comes from an anecdote professor and author Jerry B. Harvey created to explain it:
On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene, Texas (53 miles away) for dinner. The wife says, "Sounds like a great idea."
Although he has reservations because the drive is long and hot,
thinking that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group the
husband says, "Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go."
The mother-in-law then says, "Of course I want to go. I haven't been to
Abilene in a long time."
The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.
One of them dishonestly says, "It was a great trip, wasn't it." The
mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home,
but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband
says, "I wasn't delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went
to satisfy the rest of you." The wife says, "I just went along to keep
you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat
like that." The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it
because he thought the others might be bored.
The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a
trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit
comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy
Harvey is Professor Emeritus of Management Science at George Washington University. Link to his book.
"Almost every decision you make should be temporary.... If you ever make a decision that you can’t change, you've
probably made the wrong decision... Always make decisions just-in-time, when you have the information you need."
Jason is on to something here. For big and costly decisions such as new product development, entering a new market, or even changing jobs, we tend to invest a great deal of time into ensuring the decision process is well-informed, is defensible, and will result in long-term success. The reality is that "stuff" happens, the environment changes, and mistakes are inevitable. We end up living with the results of a big decision because there is too much momentum to change course.
Jason has other interesting things to say. The four themes of his talk are:
Reduce mass (e.g., overhead, long-term contracts)
Embrace constraints--turn constraints into opportunities
Get real (e.g. build the customer experience first, not last)
What prompts us to end deliberation and finally decide? It is
often caused because we “run out of runway.” Time’s up. The alarm has sounded.
The deadline has arrived. At other times, the prompt is unrelated to time.
Consider this story:
A man pursues and is offered a job with a small company.
The new position is challenging and offers better pay, but the small size of
the company is risky. His current job with a large company is stable, interesting,
and nearly risk free. Upon thinking it over, the man decides to keep his
current position, and offers it to a friend and business associate who would be
a perfect fit. The friend expresses enthusiasm for learning more about the
opening. A mere four hours later, the man reverses his earlier decision, and
accepts the new position with the small company.
Martin Leith has a large and interesting collection of idea generation methods that "...have been drawn not just from the worlds of creative problem solving and innovation, but also from other worlds such as organisational change, strategic planning, psychotherapy, the new sciences and the creative arts."