What are the most effective approaches to decision making?
Sometimes decisions defy purely step-by-step logic. Rather than always “thinking first", what are the advantages of “seeing first” and "doing first"?
How should decisions be made? Easy, right? Define the problem, diagnose the causes, design solutions, and finally choose our plan of action. But, do people always make decisions that way?
What are the limits of “thinking first”?
Rational decision making has a clear process: define + diagnose + design + decide. However, the rational approach turns out to be relatively uncommon.
Consider an example: The decision process for building a new plant was typical. The process kept cycling back, interrupted by new events, delivered by opportunities and so on, going round and round until finally a solution emerged. The final action was clear as a wave breaking on the shore, but explaining how it came to be is as hard as tracing the origin of that wave back into the ocean.
It has been suggested by recent psychological researchers that much of the messy, intuitive decisions we make on a daily basis come from a more complex process than we might expect. In fact, the information we use to make decisions lie in detailed and fragmented pieces of data based on experiences that are so plentiful they can be stored only at the subconscious level.
For example, if you are standing in a long line-up for gelato, you must quickly choose a flavour and will likely gravitate towards a few choices. Your final choice, although made in under a few seconds after scanning the tubs of various flavours, came from subconscious data that includes memories of the time you got sick on amaretto, that terrible night of sleep you had after a mocha chocolate cake, that you used to get rashes as a kid from strawberries, and finally that your mother always made cinnamon apple tarts on Christmas day.
Many people believe it’s unwise to make a decision based on how one “feels” about a matter. However, in cases of patients with brain injuries involving the parts of the brain responsible for emotion, the ability to make decisions is gravely impaired. In some cases, they become unable to make the smallest decisions in everything from what to eat to how to prioritize their tasks at work. They literally would sit there starving to death at their desk at work if not helped by others.
These are true life examples of how closely emotions are linked to and responsible for our ability to function in the world and make decisions.
A theory in Gestalt psychology identifies four steps in creative discovery: preparation + incubation + illumination + verification.
As Louise Pasteur put it, “Chance favours only the prepared mind.” Have you ever woken up with the solution to a problem that has been troubling you for weeks? Or woken up in the middle of the night with some great new idea? This is because in sleep, the rational mind is turned off and the subconscious is set free to explore with flow and creativity. The conscious mind returns later to present obstacles to our idea and to flesh out the details.
Educating yourself constantly on the changes in your industry, on what your competitors are doing, and on what is happening around you will provide the mental incubation necessary for great ideas.
The theory of “Doing First”, popularized by Organizational-Behaviour Professor Karl Weick, is summarized this way: enactment + selection + retention.
Some of the greatest advancements made in history were only accomplished through trial and error, test and measure, a process we call “experimentation”. When you are stuck without a practical solution, sometimes the best thing to do is simply to get on with it. That means doing various things, finding out which of them works best, and narrowing down your systems and processes to include only the best solutions to be repeated in the future.
When does each decision making approach works best?
• The issue is clear
• The data is reliable
• The context is structured
• Thoughts can be pinned down
• Discipline can be applied as in an established production process
• Many elements have to be combined into creative solutions
• Commitment to those solutions is key
• Communication across boundaries is essential as in new-product development
• The situation is novel and confusing
• Complicated specifications would get in the way
• A few simple relationship rules can help people move forward; for example: a company is facing a disruptive technology
If you found this article interesting and want to learn more about effective decision making strategies, call Jenaya Carol for more information at #(604)315-3417.
Information based on an article by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 2001 and is taken from reprint 4238 by Henry Mintzberg and Frances Westley.