John R. Brandt, of the MPI Group, wrote an amusing piece in the recent Industry Week: Leadership in Manufacturing. The gist of it, and my comment, follow. Does any of this ring a bell?
"Many people say to me: John, how can the decision-making in my company be so screwed up? Were my bosses born stupid, they ask, or did they somehow evolve backwards into vicious, tiny-brained reptiles? Is there any way, they lament, that we can make it better?
...my friend Andy...and
his colleagues compiled a massive amount of practical research in bad decision-making...into one brilliant graphic on a cocktail napkin. This image -- an inverted cone with increasingly compressed, dense layers -- perfectly summarizes how decisions are made at almost every corporation."
John also implied that CEOs do goofy things like ask their grandchildren for business advice. My comments on John's story:
"...Knowing that the best humor has a grain of truth, I went digging through your friend Andy's Gravity Fed Decision cone. Tell him it would be a pretty good model for improvement if it started with Stage 2, BENCHMARKING, focused on Stage 3, PANIC, and zipped through Stages 1 and 4. On the cocktail napkin, it would look like a diamond with a fat middle.
Benchmarking is a good place to start because it means middle managers and others are asking questions about what they do and comparing themselves to competitors and peers. They are validating their processes while picking up a few ideas for improvement. These are good things to do, even if they take some time.
In Stage 3, rather than shaming executives for deferring actual decisions to workers closest to the customer, this is actually quite smart. This is the level where good operational decisions do happen,
and where many strategic decisions--with the CFO--should happen.
As for the stages of FEAR and ENDLESS REVIEW, I have come to appreciate that the best executives have learned that any front-line insights they ever had are either too narrow or obsolete. They also have learned to lead by wisely serving those at the heart of the business, rather than by being served like royalty. Unfortunately, many people in lower levels have not learned this and behave like serfs; many executives have not either. They are puzzled and somewhat embarrassed by the gap between what they give and what they get from the organization.
Talking to their grandkids is one way to work that out."
The choices we make are “alive.” They are born of our needs and the lessons we have learned. They are sustained by faith and courage. Never certain the choices we make are right, we live or die by them just the same. After we are gone, they inspire the stories--and story-tellers, of our
One year ago today the body of my 63-year-old brother Gil was discovered in the hallway of his house in suburban Connecticut. An episodic recluse, he had been dead for several weeks. Every day, I think about him and some of the choices he made, and what they mean to us story-tellers.
Gil decided not to accept the offer to attend Harvard Medical School because he wanted the type of
practical, hands-on medical education he could get at Rochester Medical School.
He could not see himself in a white coat.
From all the options open to him, he chose to specialize in emergency care, to toil in the brief moments between life and death. He chose to help people in critical pain--poor souls hanging on immediately after auto crashes, fire fights in Vietnam, domestic shootings and stabbings, and suicide attempts.
At the funeral service for our Aunt Ellen, Gil saw an elderly woman succumb at her seat in the church. He went over and found her with no breath or pulse, resuscitated her as someone called 911, and went outside to leave. Only later did we appreciate what he had done so quietly and thoughtlessly. Only after sharing this story with others did we learn it was one of many like it.
Lisa Haneberg says this about Luda Kopeikina's ideas:
A correct decision occurs when the decision maker is totally congruent with the decision. Luda chose not to measure whether a decision is correct by the outcome because we can’t control the consequences, we can only control how well we look at the problem or opportunity. She found that mature leaders, those who made more successful decisions, wholeheartedly agreed with her definition. Less experienced leaders tended to define decisions by their outcomes.
Witnesses to crimes are notoriously unreliable during investigations. Was it
a man or a woman? What time was it? Can you identify the accused man in the police
Large numbers of individuals who witness the same event often tell widely
different stories. We are highly selective in what we experience; selective again in what we remember. Research also shows that we are strongly
influenced by subtle cues and feedback from others. (This is sometimes known as
‘leading the witness.’)
Isn’t it likely that witnesses to the decision making process are just as unreliable?
Did we consider the important factors? Were we biased or prejudiced in any way?
Was the process open and fair?
Recently, an executive described to me a governing council whose seven
members voted six-to-one in a decision process that impacts thousands of workers.
The chairperson announced the minority view as the final decision, leaving the
other six members scratching their heads, wondering what had happened.
I told the executive that either the process was rigged from the start (I
wasn’t so direct), or that the rules were poorly defined (the council talked, but never formally voted).
Last night I thought of a third explanation: the chairperson
had honestly announced what she saw and heard during the council’s deliberations.
I wrote in my last post about typeface designer Matthew Carter. His linear splitting of possibilities during the design process makes a good story: split a billion possibilities in half, split them again, then again and again.... Only 29 "splitting" decisions should get you down to two, discrete options, and hopefully, a decision.
The reality is we follow a far more devious course to an answer. We never start with a billion possibilities: it only feels that way. But look at how steep the slope is early on. Very encouraging.
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)
In the 18th century, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, marquis de Condorcet developed his combinatory theory of
decision making. The theory shows that comparing individual decisions
with each other not only allows for detection of circular triads (the
circular orders of preferences), but is also superior to the decision-making
model where the outcome is decided by a simple majority count. Source