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Posts tagged ‘Decision Making’

Provocative Leadership: Beyond “Best Practices” to “Next Practices”

Here is an excerpt from a longer article:

Have you thrown out your strategic plan yet? If you made one several months ago, I’m willing to guess that you have. The landscape of reality has already changed … . So now what? Here’s a story-poem, “Brief Thoughts on Maps,” to consider:

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who knew a lot about maps
according to which life is on its way somewhere or other,
told us this story from the war
due to which history is on its way somewhere or other:

The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out into the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
immediately, snowed for two days and the unit
did not return. The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched
his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back.
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.

The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees.

Goodbye now. 1

When faced with an unfamiliar situation, the soldiers discovered that “any map” can be useful. Why? A map leads to confidence and action. You take steps forward, re-check the map, learn, make adjustments, and take more steps. As you re-check the map, you look around, surveying the environment. You re-orient to the reality that is. You learn, assess, and consider options. You make decisions about what to try next. You embrace error and uncertainty; yet you still chose to take the next step.

Provocative leadership is not about authority. Provocative leadership is about …

Click here to read more about Provocative Leadership

What are your ideas about “best practices” vs. “next practices?”

Imagining New Maps

1Holub, M. (1977) ‘Brief Thoughts on Maps’, Times Literary Supplement, 4 February 4, p. 118.

decide: to cut off

Decision-making can be one of the most challenging parts of leading and managing. The root of the word decide comes from the Latin decidere, literally, to cut off, from de- + caedere to cut. When I make a decision I “cut off” other options. Perhaps that is why it is sometimes easier to put off decisions until tomorrow.

Organizations teach and use decision-making methods from facilitation strategies to formal Six-Sigma processes. There are personal methods like pro/con lists. I’ve recently been reading about and experimenting with the Cynefin Framework.

The Cynefin Framework (pronounced “key-nevin”) asks decision makers to assess context patterns and ask ourselves how we learn and what we know in five different domains. With the domain identified, we can choose questions, analyze the issue, and create an action plan. It enables us to include linear decision-making processes and expand beyond them when the context demands it.  It asks us to integrate what we know about our expertise, management theory, psychology, and complex adaptive systems.

Here is a short summary of the five domains:

  • Simple, where the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense – Categorise – Respond and we can apply best practice.
  • Complicated, where the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense – Analyze – Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex, where the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic, where there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act – Sense – Respond and we can discover novel practice.
  • Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. (1)

And, from Snowden and Boone, developers of the Cynefin process:

In the complex environment of the current business world, leaders often will be called upon to act against their instincts. They will need to know when to share power and when to wield it alone, when to look to the wisdom of the group and when to take their own counsel. A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in a time of increasing uncertainty. (2)

What methods do you use when making decisions? What questions would you find most useful in each of these domains?

Cognitive-Edge Methods (free)
Harvard Business Review: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making

(1) Cynefin retrieved from on January 28, 2013.
(2) Snowden, D. J. & Boone, M. E. (2007) “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making.” Harvard Business Review, 85(11), p. 69-76.

Return on Luck

I continue to be intrigued by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen’s ideas on “Return on Luck.” Now comes a longer piece in the New York Times: What’s Luck Got to Do With It? If you haven’t already begun reading their new book, Great by Choice,  you can read further about their idea in the article.

My summary in a earlier post focused on the importance of the “who” in luck. I continue to value my trusted advisors who have helped me make important decisions.

What is your perception on what luck has to do with it? Is luck important or do other factors weigh more heavily? Do you make the most of the chances you’ve been given?

Things we know well

According to NHTSA, 52% of vehicle accidents happen within one mile of home; 99% happen within 50 miles of home. I would argue that it is due to the quality of our attention. Whether we’re driving, typing on the computer, or playing an instrument, our skills learned through repetition become automatic.

When I see a niece or nephew for the first time in a year, I’m surprised at the changes they’re making. I say, “Wow, you’re growing up!” But with kids I see on a daily basis, growth is more easily measured at birthdays or when suddenly the kid is as tall as I am. Whether watching kids grow or noticing whether we’re clicking “Yes” or “Ok,” a familiar environment diminishes our awareness of change.

When skills become automatic and awareness diminishes, it is easier to make mistakes. Accidents happen. We have a fender bender. We delete the wrong file. How can we decrease the amount of unintentional mistakes and accidents?

One method is to create a checklist and use it. If you can, build in “undo” options  that allow you to go back a step or two. If you can’t go back, build additional options into the decision tree that allow either correction or lessened impact of the error. Encourage a buddy system, where coworkers or friends double-check decisions as you go through the checklist. Be present as you perform skills and as you run to the grocery store.

What other strategies do you use to increase your present moment awareness?

P.S. The photo is of the sky reflecting on the hood of the truck.

Excellence is a habit

Organizational antiques

An interesting conversation thread from the current Friends graduate cohort began with the statement, “I’m reflecting on the buzzphrase ‘historical perspective’ (something I hear a LOT and use often myself) and wondering if a bias toward “from this point forward” is more relevant. [sic] ” The discussion has proceeded to consider motives for using the phrase and how it influences outcomes.

I added my own questions: Is the phrase being used to stifle new ideas? Or, is it a preface to telling a story that spurs action? Further discussion questions motives in using the phrase: Is the motive to protect or justify a position? Continue the status quo? Is it a fear of change?

What are your organization’s antiques?

What are the processes that don’t support your goals? What are the decision-making methods that repeatedly lead to the dead-end road? What are the reports that no one has read in years? What equipment needs to be retired?

Which antiques are so valuable that you’ll pass them down to the next generation?

Light in the darkness

December is often refered to as the “season of light.” There is no small irony in this as we in the northern hemisphere live through the shortest days of the year. It is a time when many organizations stop to re-vision. As goals and roles are reviewed and renewed, here are some questions to jumpstart the process:

  • Why are these goals important for our organization? For you as a team member?
  • What is included in our vision for success?
  • What about these goals inspires you to give your best?
  • How will you and your team take the first steps toward embracing and realizing our vision and supporting goals?

One of the organizations I’ve associated with this year has an internal tagline (I paraphrase), “We act as if our vision were already reality.” Each of us must choose to act, even with imperfect knowledge, exercising good judgment and believing in the possibilities as we re-vision and enter into 2011. May light shine in the darkness.

Perfection paralysis

During our last two adventures to Quivera National Wildlife Refuge, I’ve taken many photographs of reeds and marginal plants. My goal is to seek the best representation of the plant and wait for the best light to highlight the subject.

It’s easy to do the same thing in organizations: to seek the best opportunity and the best time to act. Paralysis can set in while endless analysis and evaluation are done. Meetings without outcomes support the paralysis. Inertia takes over. It becomes simplest to do nothing.

Some might like to put the focus on “leadership”, expecting them to create movement. Yet each person in the system has a responsibility to act and contribute. Nor am I suggesting that we settle for marginal, neither the best or the worst.

But perfection paralysis leads directly to average and the “do nothing” doldrums. Today, choose to act and make decisions, to finalize processes or project steps – even when somewhat less than perfect. Encounter the freedom of good enough, the joy of letting go, and the power of moving forward.

Goldberg’s Rule

In Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, Neustadt and May* tell about their encounter with Avram Goldberg, CEO of Stop and Shop in New England. He told them that his approach to problem solving is, “When a manager comes to me, I don’t ask him, ‘What’s the problem?’ I say, ‘Tell me the story.’ That way I find out what the problem really is.”

Once the story is told, it’s time for the conversation participants to use critical thinking skills:

  • Use the reporter’s checklist for inquiries: who, what, why, when, where, how, with what effect?
  • What is the story advocating and assuming?
  • What is the central concern or challenge and the corresponding opportunity?
  • What is the history of the situation? Who are the key players? How have they interacted through time?
  • What new facts, if presented, would cause you to change your assumptions, direction, or decision?

Beginning with a story and following with these clarifying questions works can develop a deeper awareness of the factors influencing the situation at hand. Collaborative conversations that look deeply at a situation allow for learning and good decision-making. And, beyond improving performance, research by Dr. Richard Boyatzis* from Case Western Reserve University demonstrates that leaders who spend time coaching and mentoring others reduce their own stress levels.

*Neustadt and May, p. 106.
*Boyatzis, R. E., Smith, M. L., Blaize, N. J. (2006). Developing Sustainable Leaders through Coaching and Compassion (pp. 8-24). Academy of Management Learning and Education.

Idea for reflection – 14

On the National Mall

My countrymen, … think calmly  and well upon this whole subject.

Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.

If there be an object to hurry any of you, in hot haste,
to a step which you would never take deliberately,
that object will be frustrated by taking time;
but no good object can be frustrated by it.
– A. Lincoln, from first inaugural address

Idea for reflection – 13

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