Decision making for a new Decade

Every year millions of people around the world make New Year’s resolutions. Given that we are currently starting the 2020’s, we have the exciting opportunity to make resolutions for a whole new decade!

I decided to make mine around decision making. The reason for this was the fact that I had the opportunity to read ‘Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps – How to thrive in complexity’ by Jennifer Garvey Berger during the Christmas vacation.

One of the key notions in this book is that the world has become much more interconnected and therefore more complex. Unfortunately, our decision-making skills are ‘brilliantly designed – for an older, less connected, and more predictable version of the world’. In this context, Jennifer Garvey Berger mentions five mind traps we can find ourselves in, one of them being trapped in ‘Simple stories.

Stories are just that: stories

As human beings we like to explain developments in our lives by simple stories, with a beginning, a middle part and an end, populated with heroes and villains. Based on the outcome of our stories in the past, we decide how our stories in the future will play out.

Here is an example of a story we might create for ourselves: ‘Against all the market research, and the advice of the product manager, I decided to exclude an important feature from the first release of a new app, and the introduction became a big success!’. Based on this story, our inclination will be to follow the same bold approach for the next app we are responsible for.

This is very dangerous, because the reality is often much more complex. When creating our own stories, we choose the moments when our stories start and finish, as well as the relevant variables. Furthermore, like all good storytellers, we prefer the characters in our stories to be heroes on white horses or pitch-black villains.  

Therefore, we should be careful with believing in our own stories. The next time we ignore the market, or go against the advice of the product manager, we could be making a big mistake. In the next product introduction, the market research and advice of the product manager could be correct, the feature might turn out to have been an integral part of the Minimum Viable Product, and the launch a huge failure.

The value of complexity

To quote an interviewee in ‘Immunity to change’ by Kegan & Lahey: ‘If you oversimplify in the face of complexity, you do enormous damage. You bring a sledgehammer to bear in circumstances where what’s needed is a scalpel or whatever’. Additionally, as Reeves et al argue in ‘Taming complexity’, complexity is not necessarily bad, and can have a number of advantages for organizations. These advantages include:

  • Resilience – Ability to react to unforeseen opportunities and threads, buffering and fallback options
  • Adaptability – Ability to adapt to changes in the environment
  • Coordination – Complex systems are often interconnected
  • Inimitability – Interrelationships between different elements might be hard to copy for competitors

A real eye-opener in this context was a conversation I once had with a business leader who worked for one of the largest corporations in the world. Reflecting on a corporate scandal that send shockwaves through the stock market a number of years ago, he wondered whether the simplification of the corporate governance the company implemented before the scandal (from dual reporting lines through Business Units and Geography, to single reporting line through Business Units only), had been such a great idea…

My resolutions for the new decade

My resolution for the new decade? Use more data and less intuition when making decisions, or, to follow the advice of Leroy, one of the fictional characters in Jennifer Garvey Berger’s book: ‘There are ways that our internal wiring tells us to do one thing, when the smart leadership move is to something total opposite’.

Wishing you a great 2020!

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