Random finds (2016, week 7) — On decision-making, certainty and business books

Two mindsets for decision-making

Indecisiveness is not something most executives want to be associated with. A rich body of research in social psychology and behavioral economics however, suggests that decisiveness is not an unequivocal good. Studies on mindset reveal that, when contemplating an important decision, prematurely focusing on execution can exacerbate decision-making biases and lead to overconfidence and excessive risk-taking.

  • Pre-decision: our thoughts are oriented toward evaluating options and choosing a path based on feasibility and desirability. We tend to weigh information relatively objectively and are open to new facts about the choices before us.
  • Post-decision: deliberation is often set aside and we focus intently on the specifics of execution. New information is ignored or skewed, we may see our current course of action in a more favorable light, and we downplay the attendant risks.

A healthy dose of doubt can be an asset

Certainty is another thing that blinds us to the truth. During a television debate, Bill Nye and the creationist Ken Ham were both asked what would change their minds about what is true. Ham said nothing, while Nye said evidence, accepting that we will always be wrong about something, and that the answer is to follow what looks most like truth and change our minds when we see evidence to the contrary.

A framework that fights consensus

From mindsets, doubt and cognitive biases to consensus, which I have always thought of as highly overrated. Reaching consensus takes far too much time — time that simply isn’t there — and the result almost always leads to mediocrity and ‘more of the same’. Furthermore, it kills creativity, innovation and, speaking from experience, ‘corporate careers’ and even entire organisations.

  • Don’t use consensus. Agreement does not equate ownership.
  • Clarify the ‘why’. It’s essential to understand the purpose and context for making the decision to optimize for it.
  • Ensure that the decision maker is both responsible and accountable for the final choice. Don’t be that company where decisions are handed off to be implemented without previous involvement.
  • Consult maximally. More people want to be involved than you think do.
  • Get feedback privately, but document and get support publicly.

On business books and aspiring management gurus

“We’ve all been there,” says Freek Vermeulen (Associate Professor of Strategic and International Management at London Business School) in Fallen for a management guru? You can do beter. “It’s so easy to succumb to the charms of a sexy theory. The best ones take all your insecurities, uncertainties and doubts and explode them in the first chapter of a book you bought in the business section of an airport bookshop.” And indeed, when talking to leaders there’s always at least one who refers to a book he or she recently bought while killing time in transit.

A bit more…

On Edge a fascinating talk by Ed Boyden, a professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute. He leeds MIT’s Synthetic Neurobiology Group in search for answers to the question “how we can truly understand how the brain is computing the mind?”

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Mark Storm

Mark Storm

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Helping people in leadership positions make sense — one conversation at the time