Monday, 15 October 2012

Decision making

One of the most interesting things we did at Boyd and Beyond was a very quick tactical decision game (TDGs) run by a Marine Gunnery Sergeant whose name is on my notes somewhere, and will get credit when I can find them. Based on the real world, it was a surprisingly challenging experience, but not for the reasons you might think. As a civilian it's hard to know how to respond when someone goes "Where do you put your MRAPs?", however, it's a lot harder when you've only got seconds to think about it.

Interestingly my instinctive answer to the question was close to the "optimal" (in this sense meaning it was close to the reality which the game was based on). It wasnt right on the money by any stretch, but it was in the ballpark. It left me thinking about how we make decisions and dwelling on Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

I can't claim Blink is a favourite book by any stretch. I find Gladwell's stuff difficult because so much of it could be an awesome essay, but instead it becomes a torturously long book. The conclusions about decision making however are very good, essentially, we make decisions extremely fast then trip ourselves up rationalising them or reconsidering them, usually ending up right back where we started with the decision we made right at the start.

Decision making is something I've never encountered in workplace training. The closest thing you find is time management training, which is not disimiliar in places but certainly not the same thing. The more I think about it the more surprising and fascinating that fact is. A huge chunk of what we do as consultants is make decisions, dozens of them a day, and yet no one is minding the shop so to speak and ensuring we're trained and prepared to make decisions.

TDGs are a tool I'd love to see used a lot more to try and start bridging this gap. In my head the ideal situation would be to bring people together to do scenario planning around something they're not at all familiar with (as many of us weren't in our training). It forces the mind to stretch to unconventional topics, encourages swifter decision making and demands collaboration at speed (something anyone who has sat through an hour long meeting would view favourably).

The goal would be to give people familiarity with the idea of making decisions, and being comfortable with it, even if the outcome isnt perfect. Something we discussed at Boyd and Beyond was the idea that the civilian workplace focusses entirely too much on ensuring there are zero mistakes. Military culture "allows you to learn from mistakes if no one dies from them" (paraphrased). I think this speaks to the fact many civilian organisations contain a culture which rewards those who weaken others, even if this is not overtly stated. Being better than average is more easily achieved by lowering the average than raising it after all.

This leads to a situation in which people aren't and don't want to be the owner of their decisions. Meetings are often held, in my experience, it make it hard to identify a decision maker. That way if something goes wrong it's no one's fault. In order to implement good decision making this needs to be fixed as much as training does.

It's time to adopt some of the values of the inter war German army. No perfect solutions, just swiftly made effective decisions we can all learn from to become better as a group.

1 comment:

  1. If you're interested in applying TDGs to other types of work, Gary Klein describes something similar in his book "The Power of Intuition". Lots of good stuff in that book.