Decision-making

Depends

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How many lug nuts on a car wheel are you willing to travel without?  How many gears on a road bike are you willing to ride without?  How many times are your willing to let your shoelaces break before replacing them?

The best answer; it depends on the journey and circumstance.  In a perfect world, we would purchase, fix, or replace any of these items immediately.  However, we tend to drive, ride and walk a little way before addressing the problem.  In extenuating circumstances, we travel great distances and endure long periods of time if our survival outranks the pending maintenance issue.

There are no perfect top ten lists or flow charts.  If these things existed we could replace most committees, task forces, board, and leadership teams with algorithms.  Instead, we need the human element to wrestle with the questions that matter.  Great decision-makers are capable of altering the course of a cause more than the accumulation of resources.

Never forget to think about the human element.  Otherwise, we are collecting badges and experience points as we try to advance from level to level without an understanding of how it impacts the overall mission.

Better Decisions

Insightful and applicable blog post by Eric Barker. Here is the summary if you need encouragement to read further:

Here’s how to make good decisions:

  • You don’t need more info, you need the right info: Clarify the problem and get relevant data, not all the data.
  • Feelings are not the enemy: For simple choices, use raw brainpower. For complex choices, trust intuition.
  • If you’re an expert in the area, trust your gut: Not sure if you’re an expert? Keep a decision diary.
  • “Good enough is almost always good enough”: Trying to be perfect makes your brain miserable.

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Detailed Procedures Are Great for Surgeons and Pilots

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Procedures with a step-by-step checklist are essential when we have a known destination and specific route planned.  Explorers working on the edge of charted territories do not have maps with all the details, therefore detours and retracing steps are necessary tactics.  Making decisions without reference points becomes part art and part science.

I recently finished, In the Kingdom of Ice, an arctic tale that puts the Shackleton tale of survival on the second tier.  The crew of the USS Jeanette searched for the rumored open waters at the North Pole.  Committed to confirming the existence of ice-free waters at the most northern latitude they purposely sail thru the Bering Straight and into the arctic ice pack.

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The USS Jeannette’s committed crew of explorers balanced naval protocol, 1800’s science, and explorer’s intuition to decide their fate.  They navigated haphazardly from vaguely detailed maps, celestial reference points, and the individual talents of the crew.  Big decisions had to be made throughout their quest.  There were no right answer, only an unflagging commitment to a journey that mattered.

After finishing the Kingdom of Ice, I read an article in Powder magazine about the human element as a cause of snow avalanches.  A case was made about the decision-making process necessary to decide when to proceed with skiing a slope and when to retreat.  The following decision-making paradigm was presented:

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What I like about this model is that it provides a role for individual people to channel.  Much like de Bono‘s Thinking Hats there is a perspective for each member of the team.

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Checklists and procedures are critical.  I want airline pilots and surgeons not to skip steps because they have a hunch that everything is going to be all right.  I want explorers and those working on the edges to use the wisdom of their team when they commit to a course of action but also have clarity under what circumstances they will re-evaluate their decisions.

We are all working on projects that matter.  Our enterprises require us to make decisions that have significant impact.  How we decide is often as important as what we decide.

Two Roads Diverged and I Took the Third

Dan and Chip Heath have written some of my favorite books.  I lean heavily on their book Decisive when making significant decisions.  A daily decision-making experience we encounter involves either-or decisions which confront us daily in subtle ways.  Today, Election Day decision-making is far more public.  When only one candidate runs for office we are left with a choice to vote or pass onto another contest on the ballot (classic either-or scenario).   When two or more candidates are on the ballot we engaging in more sophisticated decision making strategies.

Michael Hyatt framed the decision-making challenges as follows:

  1. We have too narrow of focus. We are guilty of “spotlight thinking.” We focus on the obvious and visible. We miss important facts outside our immediate view.
  2. We fall into confirmation bias. We develop a quick belief about something and then seek out information that confirms that belief.
  3. We get caught in short-term emotion. We are too emotionally connected to the decision and struggle with being appropriately detached.
  4. We are guilty of overconfidence. We assume that we know more than we actually do know and jump to conclusions, thinking we can accurately predict the future.

So what is the Heath Brother’s better strategy for decision-making?  The WRAP Process articulates a simple by profound approach.

  1. Widen Your Options.  Avoid narrow framing and look for alternatives.
  2. Reality-Test Your Assumptions.  As disconfirming questions and zoom out in our focus.
  3. Attain Distance Before Deciding. Create distance by changing perspectives and avoiding short-term emotions.
  4. Prepare To Be Wrong.  Acknowledge our overconfidence and set trip wires to alert us when we are off-course.