Category Archives: Decision Making

Computers Do Not Make Decisions

Decisions are made on a continuum from fact-based to gut-response.

The advantage to fact-based is, the alternatives are well-considered, analytical, defensible. The disadvantage is the decision may be made too late.

The advantage to gut-response is speed, intuition, it feels right. The disadvantage is the decision may be wrong.

The best decisions are made in the middle. The more data you have, the more likely your intuition is to be accurate.

Decisions are always made with incomplete data. There is always uncertainty. If there were no uncertainty, it would not be a decision, it would be a calculation. Computers do not make decisions, they run algorithms, calculations. In the face of ambiguity, it is only people who can make decisions.

So, why all the fuss about artificial intelligence?

For some decisions, computers can gather enough data, quickly enough, to make a calculation, run an algorithm, to remove uncertainty, while a human is still gathering data, faced with ambiguity. That is why, in some circumstances, a computer can make a faster, more accurate diagnosis than a human.

What Else Do You Need to Know?

Before you make any decision, before you solve any problem –

  • What do you need to know, to more clearly understand the problem?
  • Does what you know point to the symptom of the problem, or point to the cause the problem?
  • If you gave the cause of the problem a name, what would be its name?
  • What else do you need to know, to more clearly understand the cause of this problem you named?
  • Do you know enough about the cause of the problem to generate a plausible solution, or do you need to know more?
  • How would you explain the cause of the problem to someone else?
  • If you were someone else, how would you understand the cause of the problem differently?
  • If you were someone else, what other alternatives would you suggest?
  • As you consider these alternatives, could some be combined? Could you take the front end of one idea and patch it to the back end of another?
  • What would happen if you ran an alternative backward or upside-down?

Sometimes, solving a problem has more to do with questions than answers.

In the Gap

Humans possess the unique quality of awareness. Not only can we hold a thought, but we can simultaneously be aware we are holding that thought. Awareness allows us to change.

The first level of Emotional Intelligence (EI) is awareness. Self-awareness creates the platform for self-management.

The second level of Emotional Intelligence is social awareness. Social awareness creates the platform for relationship management.

For difficulties in either level, ask yourself – What am I not aware of?

This requires you to be quiet and observe – What am I not clearly seeing, clearly hearing, clearly feeling?

This requires defined periods of focused introspection – What is the cause of my response to the events around me? What is the influence to my behavior?

Awareness is that gap between stimulus and response, between what is coming at us and how we respond to it. In that gap is our choice. In that gap is awareness.

We have the unique ability to be aware. Awareness can have a powerful impact on the problems we solve and the decisions we make.

What to Mitigate, What to Prevent?

Four ways to look at risk.

  • Risk with low probability and minimal damage
  • Risk with high probability and minimal damage
  • Risk with low probability and catastrophic damage
  • Risk with high probability and catastrophic damage

Risk with low probability and minimal damage can be self-insured, meaning I am willing to accept the risk and endure the consequences.

Risk with high probability and minimal damage will depend on my threshold and tolerance for pain. Even a splinter in a finger can be annoying.

Risk with low probability and catastrophic damage creates mitigation behavior. I may be willing to accept the risk, but in the event the risk occurs, I want to mitigate the damage. I may seek outside protection, an insurance product. Insurance rates depend on low probability to calculate the premium.

Risk with high probability and catastrophic damage creates prevention behavior. To protect my best prevention behavior that inevitably fails, I may seek outside protection, an insurance policy. Insurance rates consider the high probability to calculate the premium and often, actively participate in the prevention behavior.

What risks come with your business model? How do you manage that risk?

Your Skinny Point of View

When you seek advice and counsel from others, you must reveal the whole story, not just the part that will yield advice you want to hear. Truly seeking advice and counsel from others means you have not made your decision and are interested in other perspectives and outside analysis.

If you seek only to locate opinions that support your skinny point of view, you violate the 11th commandment, “Thou shalt not kid thyself.”

Legacy Thinking

The landscape is littered with technology initiatives that died. Some wimpered, some imploded, collecting significant collateral damage.

We know what happened and why it happened. The question – how to create technology initiatives that deliver on the promise?

What got you here, won’t get you there. – Marshall Goldsmith

The solution to a problem will not be found by the same thinking that created the problem in the first place. – Albert Einstein

Many technology initiatives fail in an attempt to preserve existing methods and processes. Adopting a piece of software supplants existing work. Technology changes the decision making and problem solving of humans. Human work changes.

Impact of Time on a Decision

If I make this decision, what will happen?

  • If I make this decision, what will happen immediately, what will be the initial response or change in circumstance?
  • If I make this decision today, what will be different in a day’s time, when the dust has settled?
  • If I make this decision today, what will change in a week’s time, a month’s time?
  • If I make this decision today, what will we have learned in the next year, how will our path be different?

If I make this decision, what if?

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Before I make a decision, I ask this question – What else do I need to know?

  • What else do I need to know, before I make this decision?
  • What else do I need to know, that if I don’t know, may come back to destroy the decision?
  • What else do I need to know, that would cause me to make a different decision?
  • What else do I need to know, that would cause someone else to make a different decision?
  • What else do I need to know, that I don’t know I need to know?

I am not looking for analysis paralysis, but I am looking for a gut-check on my intuition.

Discretionary Judgment

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about work as making decisions and solving problems. You talk about discretionary judgment. When I tell a team member about their role (in a role description), it seems more like a list of tasks that have to be completed. How do I talk about discretionary judgment in a role description?

Response:
Most role descriptions are as you describe, a disorganized list of tasks and activities. But, when we hire a team member, we are not paying for their tasks and activities, we are paying for their discretionary judgment. If we were just paying for task completion, we would hire robots. And, every role has decisions to make and problems to solve. Every role requires discretionary judgment.

A typical supervisor task is to post a work schedule for the team for the following week. But that is just the outcome. Here is the discretionary judgment part.

This task requires the supervisor to look ahead on a rolling 4-6 week basis, to anticipate changes due to team member vacations or other circumstances that will affect the team member’s attendance. And to look ahead on a rolling 4-6 week basis, to anticipate changes due to production fluctuations which may require a reduction in shift personnel or overtime. The supervisor will use discretionary judgment to create the schedule based on those circumstances.

This Business of Judgement

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
From Monday’s post A More Accurate Judgement of Capability, the question came – So how does one get into the judgement business?

Response:
Become a manager. Don’t give me politically correct rhetoric that we shouldn’t judge. Management is all about judgement. Work is making decisions and solving problems. Making decisions is all about judgement. Elliott called it discretionary judgement.

The Time Span of Discretion is the length of time (target completion time of a task) that a person has, in which to make judgements that move the task to completion (the goal). We make judgements about –

  • What is the goal?
  • What has to be done now?
  • What has to be done next?
  • Who, on the team, would be the most effective at completing this task or that task?
  • How effective was the team member, completing this task or that task?

Management is about making decisions. For better or worse, good judgement, poor judgement. -Tom Foster