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.

Slide Food Under the Door

“Why, do you think the company made you a manager, last week?” I asked.

“I am not really sure,” Maggie replied. “Many, on my team, have been here longer than me. They are smarter than me. They are older than me. And most of them are men.”

“All true,” I smiled. “So, why you?”

“My manager told me, things run better when I am around.”

“And, why do you think that happens?”

Maggie paused. “These guys are really smart. Engineers, you know. But, they don’t seem to work together very well. It’s not like they fight, they just focus on their own work, without thinking of what is going on around them.”

“And, you?”

“I knock,” Maggie laughed. “I knock and slide food under the door. Not really. I pull them out of their shell, get them to talk to each other. In that instant, they can be quite helpful to each other. Doesn’t seem like a big thing, but, bigger problems get solved when that happens.”

“So, why do you think the company made you a manager, last week?”

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’s the Benchmark?

“So, what do you think?” asked Lenny. “How do you think my team is doing?”

“I don’t know. How do you measure how you are doing?” I replied.

“That’s the thing. We aren’t sure what to measure against. We got some studies of companies that are sort of like us, but the benchmarks they use seem so different. They just don’t make sense.”

“Two things,” I said. “Pick what you think is important. Start measuring now.”

“But, what do we measure against? How do we know if we are doing okay or not?”

“Measure against yourself. So many companies chase each other’s tail around and end up back where they started. Figure out what is important to your customer and measure that. That’s all your customer cares about. What else matters? Measure the second day against the first day. Measure the third day against the second day. Pretty soon, you will see a trend. Before you know it, you will have one year’s worth of data. Start measuring now.”

Land of Tangible, Land of Conceptual

Time frame sets the context. Near term target completion time requires the elements of the project to be concrete, tangible and known. The project due tomorrow afternoon has a team and we can call each member by name. The materials are quantified, we know how much. We know the vendor, we know the price point. We know the delivery time, we know the schedule. Every element is concrete, tangible and known. Why?

Because the project is due tomorrow afternoon.

A long term target completion is more conceptual. If the project will not be complete for five years, we know we will have a project team, but over the term of the project, some may quit, retire, get picked off by a competitor. We have an idea about materials, but over the term of the project, a new material might become available (better, faster, stronger) and we might have to adapt. Our supplier may not be in business in five years’ time or may no longer be serving our needs. We might need an alternate vendor.

We need both tactical thinking and strategic thinking. Our five year conceptual plan, in four years, must transform into a one year tactical plan.

Some people think short term. Some think long term. Some think both.

The Possibility of Wrong

Open minded people can hold on to their own way of thinking, while, at the same time, considering alternate points of view.

There is always the possibility that you are wrong, if you are open to that possibility. It is also possible the other viewpoint is wrong, if you are open to that possibility.

If you are not open to the possibility, then you can only solve the problem one way. And, if that doesn’t work, you are hopelessly stuck.

The possibility of wrong opens other alternatives, that just may contain the idea that saves the day. But, only if it’s possible that you are wrong.

Two Armed Octopus

Chase left our conversation abruptly. Across the plant floor, he had spotted a problem and rushed to make a correction. He was apologetic on his return. “Sorry, but that is why I called you today. I feel like a two armed octopus. There are eight things that need to happen, but I can only work on two problems at a time. Things get out of control about fifteen minutes into the day. And they never stop. At the end of the day, I look at my boss’ list of projects and the important things never seem to get worked on. There is always a crisis.”

“Not really,” I said. “To me, your system is working exactly the way it was designed to work.”

Chase was puzzled. “What do you mean? It’s not working at all.”

“No, it is working exactly the way it is designed to work. The design of your day’s work is to drink coffee for the first fifteen minutes, then run around the floor solving urgent problems. At the end of each day, you check the list to make sure you didn’t do anything important.”

I paused. “Not a bad design. How’s that working for you?” Chase didn’t like what he was hearing.

“If you want to change your day, you have to change your design for the day. I see about four major design changes you might want to consider, but let’s start with just one. Don’t let anyone work during the first fifteen minutes of the day. Instead have a huddle meeting around the boss’ list of important projects. That one design change will be a good start.”

How is your day designed?

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?

High Potential

They are called hi-po’s. High potential individuals. We often have a hiring need NOW, but we really want a candidate with the potential to grow, grow and grow some more. These individuals, sought by every company, have the potential to make or break the organization.

We want candidates with potential. How do we spot potential?

  • Oh, I know ’em when I see ’em.
  • Reminds me of me, when I was young.
  • Fast talker, fast tracker.
  • Sometimes, I can just see it in their eyes.

I will never make a hiring decision, or a promotion decision based on anything other than evidence. No assumptions, no hunches, no hopes.

Some might say then, I will pass over those with high potential, because potential is always on the come. Potential is only a future possibility.

I will never make a hiring decision based on anything other than evidence. If I am looking for someone with potential, I look for evidence of potential. Two things – error rate and deadlines.

Low error rate and always meets deadlines, potential.

High error rate, frequently late, next candidate, please.