The hidden traps in decision making

Analysis over action

Analysis is safe, action is risky. But analysis often throws up more challenges and more problems, which require more analysis. Slowly, the problem-solving exercise take on a life of its own. No one can see through the thicket of challenges and problems that the analysis is throwing up. Paralysis through analysis becomes an unwelcome reality.

Seeking perfection over practicality

Faced with small problems, shortcuts seem acceptable. But bigger problems deserve better solutions, and the biggest problems deserve perfect solutions. The perfect solution must also be the least risky solution. Except that, in the messy world of management, there is no perfect solution. Any solution tends to be trade-off between two unacceptable alternatives. No good solution exists on paper: good solution exists only in reality.

Hiding behind other people

It is far better to be wrong collectively than it is to be wrong individually. No one wants to run the risk of being asked to don the corporate equivalent of the dunce’s cap. In some organisations, it is better to be wrong collectively than right individually: being right against the grain is seen to be disruptive to the team. Whistle blowers normally are vilified, not praised. The search for collective responsibility is natural risk avoidance.

Collective responsibility requires consensus, which rarely represents the best solution. The consensus solution represents the least unacceptable solution to each constituency: it is political fix. The purpose of involving other people should not be to achieve a consensus; it should be to gain insight. Ultimately, one person needs to own both the problem and the solution. You should use other people to gain insight and drive action, not to hide behind in case things go wrong later.

Shedding responsibility

Responsibility for large problems, and their solutions, is often shared among several departments. This can lead to an unseemly game of pass the blame: on one really wants to be associated with causing the problem. Analysis of the problem becomes bogged down in an autopsy about what went wrong, rather than what the solution should be.

Owen, J., 2006. How to manage. Pearson Education.

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