‘What makes good decision-making?’

14 November 2016 – The Super-Lunar21 Debate!

As the audience gathered, a Super-moon, the biggest and brightest moon for nearly 70 years, was viewed through the tall windows of the Silk Mill in Derby, marking the 16th Lunar21 debate.

The evening began with three very different speakers presenting their thoughts on ‘What makes good decision-making?’

Lizzie Paish, Director of Change from Within, spoke about how we, as individuals, make decisions about our lives and relationships; she drew on her experience of working with people struggling with a wide range of issues in their lives and helping them transform their view of the world.

Lizzie observed that we are constantly thinking. Some people believe that more thinking is better. Lizzie disagrees.

We are constantly being bombarded with huge quantities of information: if we consciously perceived everything, we would suffer massive overload. Through evolution our brain has developed the ability to ignore what is not needed but, nonetheless, our brain is constantly trying to make sense of everything.

When we make decisions, we create the power of thought, a reality based on our own experiences. We are imaging futures and make our choices based on that. It all seems completely real and convincing. But our interpretations are based on what must be limited and often inaccurate information.

We weigh up options. Go over and over things in our head, hoping to make the right decision. However, reality is not quite as we think it is. Everyone’s version of reality is different. We all have our own reality.

But, in a crisis situation, we have a capacity that gives us insights and wisdom. This is always there, not only in a crisis. Because we are always thinking, we often block this insight. Lizzie believes this insight provides us with a greater resource for decision-making. Access to innate insight or intuition, is much more powerful than our habitual thinking, making better use of our human potential and producing wiser decision making.

Iain Standen, currently CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust, spent nearly 30 years in the British Army, was involved in two Strategic Defence Reviews at the Ministry of Defence and served on the staff of General David Petraeus in the Multi-National Headquarters in Iraq. Iain’s personal experience gave him a variety of opportunities to examine national and strategic decision-making close up.
Iain suggested that there are two different basic forms of national and strategic decision-making, requiring different skills and approaches: ‘Normal Time Decision-Making’ and ‘Crisis Decision-Making’.

‘Normal Time Decision-Making’ ideally explores and tests possibilities, options, and their consequences. Problems identified and researched give decision-makers detailed information and options. Working well, correct solutions are balanced with factors such as cost and time e.g. the Olympic Stadium delivered a memorable and highly effective Olympic Games.

However, certain factors result in less than ideal Normal Time Decision-Making:
‘Wicked problems’ is the term often used to describe problems that may be difficult or even impossible to solve e.g. Pension reform; NHS reform; the replacement, or not, of our nuclear deterrent. Resolving such problems often requires co-operation of many parties and marshalling vast resources.
‘Procrastination’ – some problems are hard to solve e.g. Hinckley Point C and Heathrow Airport’s third runway, and delay increases difficulty.
‘Group Think’ – poor decisions attribute to the failure to fully explore issues, question assumptions, stand up to the boss. Consensus is deemed good, but if achieved too easily, is suspect – such as the decision to go to war in Iraq.
‘Protectionism’ e.g. in the desire to protect Britain’s aircraft industry and jobs, the cost of the Apache Helicopter is more expensive than buying off-the-shelf helicopters.
‘Individual agendas’. Sometimes individuals get into a position of power, where they can drive through their own agenda contrary to where evidence might lead.
‘Crisis Decision-Making’ is where the imperative is to take action immediately, which is a very different beast. The key to crisis decision-making is decisiveness.
Iain considered one of the best models for crisis decision-making is the ‘OODA Loop’ postulated by Colonel John Boyd, an air combat instructor with the US Air Force:

  • Observation – watch, act and gather information
  • Orientation – synthesise, gather information and filter training, experience and culture
  • Decision-making
  • Action

Iain believes good leadership is needed for decisive and timely decision-making. However, individuals people can have a disproportionate influence, and can unduly influence or even derail the best decision-making processes.

Christine Cawthorne, Chief scribbler at Crocstar, then spoke, having worked on the web since 2004 in journalism, copywriting, social media and training and with governments, the UN, household brand names and micro-business.

Christine provided examples of how social media contributes both positively and negatively to decision-making.

The use of social media can provide individuals with a voice but can expose them to unexpected consequences;

malicious information put onto social media cannot be removed, and this can be problematic for thoughtless senders as well as for the recipients. A picture put onto the internet, taken of someone without their permission, may contravene privacy law.

People assume they can act with anonymity on social media and hide behind this and, with the fast pace of social media, things can escalate. Controlling and bullying can happen quickly and at large scale.

Large organisations can also experience problems if they are perceived as going against socially acceptable standards in managing information gathered through social media.

Christine spoke about how social media is being used to tailor internet services to suit the needs or interests of the individual. Complex algorithms which power search engines, are used to determine the content we see, as individuals, on our computers – we will not necessarily see what others see on theirs. Christine believes this can be bad for decision-making, as social media can provide fewer opportunities for us to see things outside of ‘our own’ filter bubble, which may protect us from opposing views.

Having heard such a diverse range of thoughts and ideas from the speakers, the audience convened for an ‘In-the-round conversation’ on ‘What Makes Good Decision-Making?’.

If you would like to add your thoughts to the debate follow up on Twitter here or email us at marketing@lunar21.com