Monday, July 20, 2015

Be a Decision Architect: Structure Your Mind, Your Processes

The basis of bad decision-making is human behavior.  But behavior is often simply reinforced by current decision-making processes. In order to break through, one needs to redesign the environment, and be the architect of the context and conditions.

That's a strong statement, but it's what John Beshears and Francesco Gino have asserted in their article, "Leaders as Decision Architects" which appeared in the May 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review. 
For Beshears and Gino, the most important elements for making sound decisions and doing it in a timely fashion is to create a framework that facilitates good decision-making. The most critical elements are the following:

1.  Motivation:  All members of decision-making team must feel motivated. After all, decisions involve risk and a sense of vulnerability. To overcome the inner resistances that may arise, it's important to make sure there are rewards, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Without good motivation strategies, and ones which are flexible and meet the needs of individuals, it's unlikely that the project will be carried through to fruition.

2.  Cognitive Bias:  Daniel Kahnemann and others have long demonstrated that what makes cognitive bias so insidious is the fact that it's invisible to us. So the first step is to recognize that there is bias. This often requires the view of a neutral outsider, since those within the organization are often afflicted with the highly contagious (but often useful) groupthink, or worse, folie a deux.  So, a neutral outsider can identify the presence of cognitive bias. Then, the challenge of further determining what kind of bias it may be, and then the underlying assumptions that allow it to exist (and which make it hard to resist or eliminate). We all have our pet ideas about reality and about identity -- and, they can be quite destructive. One of the most useful tactics is to gather evidence that denies / fails to confirm the preconceived notion. Disconfirming evidence needs to be plentiful and reviewed often, because those who suffer from cognitive bias tend to reject or discount evidence that does not align with what they want to see.

3.  Align with Decision-Makers' Best Interests:  Cognitive dissonance is one of the surest ways to paralysis, and yet it's surprising how many times people are asked to do things that are not in their best interests.  Often, too, individuals try to force themselves to do things that go against their own best interests as well. It's amazing how often we may be unaware that we're either asking individuals, team members, partners, even loved ones to do things that are not in their best interests, and then we exhibit surprise when there is resistance to the idea.

4.  Positive Emotions: Caring About the Outcome. It's hard to do something when you don't care. It's even harder if you feel aversion. So, whatever the decision is, the issue needs to be something that the decision makers care about, and their feelings must be positive.

5.  Redesign the Context.  This is where the concept of being an architect can really be useful. If you can change the structural environment in which you're making your decision, then you have a chance of seeing it in a new light. If not, you're likely to be impeded by resistance, bias, emotional blockage.

Finally, once the steps have been taken, it's important to focus on solutions. Instead of trying to implement or evaluate numerous solutions, the key is to find one and then try one's best to implement it. There will be variations in the ways in which the solution can be implemented, and it can be modified while in the process.

Beshears, J. and Gino, F. (2015) "Leaders as decision architects." Harvard Business Review. May 2015: 51-62.
susan smith nash, ph.d.
Leadership / decision-making are mission critical.

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