Friday, November 1, 2013

The decision-making process

If science could go wrong [How science goes wrong, The Economist, 19th Oct 2013] despite the rigors we associate with it, what more of the decision-making process that goes on in every human endeavor? How we perceive, analyze and finally make up our minds is a fascinating journey. And three recent articles would speak to this preoccupation: (a) Why we make bad decisions, Noreena Hertz, The New York Times, 19th Oct; (b) The psychology of getting unstuck, Brain Pickings, 20th Oct; (c) Three cognitive traps that stifle global innovation, Harvard Business Review, 18th Oct 2013.

"I was struck down with a mystery illness . . . I saw doctors in London, New York, Minnesota and Chicago . . . [And] faced all these confusing and conflicting opinions . . . As an economist . . . I have spent most of my career helping others make big decisions – prime ministers, presidents and chief executives . . . But up until then I hadn't thought much about the process of decision-making . . . I dove into the . . . literature on decision-making . . . Not just in my field but also in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, information science, political science and history . . . Physicians do get things wrong, remarkably often . . . It is crucial to ask probing questions not only of the experts but of ourselves. This is because we bring into our decision-making process flaws and errors of our own. All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with the outcome that we want . . . We need to be aware of our natural born optimism, for that harms good decision making, too . . . We need to acknowledge our tendency to incorrectly process challenging news and actively push ourselves to hear the bad as well as the good . . . When we find data that support our hopes we appear to get a dopamine rush similar to the one that we get if we eat chocolate, have sex or fall in love . . ." [Why we make bad decisions, Noreena Hertz, The New York Times, 19th Oct]

"As a task becomes automated, the parts of the brain involved in conscious reasoning become less active and other parts of the brain take over. This is the "OK Plateau," the point at which you decide you're OK with how good you are at something, turn on autopilot, and stop improving. Early psychologists used to believe that the OK Plateau signified the upper limit of one's innate capacity – in other words, they thought the best we can do is the best we could do. But Florida State University's Anders Ericsson and his team of performance psychologists, who have studied the phenomenon closely, found that the single most important factor for overcoming the OK Plateau to become truly exceptional at a skill is the same thing that turned young Mozart into a genius and that drives successful authors to their rigorous routines. What separates experts from us is that they tend to engage in a very directed, very focused routine, which Ericsson has labeled "deliberate practice." [The psychology of getting unstuck, Brain Pickings, 20th Oct]

"How do you think people in another country live? Picture this to yourself. Then search "A typical day in the life of a (enter nationality here)," that country's World Bank Country Profile, and their leading local newspaper. Read the three top search results of each carefully. If the results are far removed from what you visualized earlier, you probably suffer from availability bias . . . When we hold a hypothesis passionately and are confronted with ambiguous information, we latch on to anything consistent with our original hypothesis . . . Can you remember the last time you were surprised by a piece of new information – and changed your mind as a result? If not, you might be trapped in confirmation bias . . . In the variance bias, we see fine-grained differences in groups we identify with, but underestimate variance in distant cultures. We've seen Americans who think that New Yorkers and Californians as dramatically different but then talk about Indians as if they can be seen as a unified whole." [Three cognitive traps the stifle global innovation, Harvard Business Review, 18th Oct]

Having lived and worked with different nationalities, I’ve concluded that while people are different, how we make up our minds is not at all that different. Our biases, comfort zones and assumptions would explain why we make up our minds the way we do. And that observation has been reinforced by the last ten years where I've lived and worked with my Eastern European friends. I anticipated that while they would not readily embrace the unfamiliar, they’d eventually come around to understand and accept things that were once foreign. The key was that there was a commonality in the way we both viewed their future: to attain a certain degree of sustainable success in the business they had chosen. And the leadership of the organization was their biggest inspiration. If Deng Xiaoping could lead a billion Chinese to embrace things that were once foreign, my friends in a once small enterprise in the middle of nowhere in Bulgaria could do it.

Very early in our association, they’d pump me for "the rules of free enterprise.” But instead I would get into discussing principles to keep in mind and lacing them with stories about Western companies and brands familiar to them. And soon the realization came . . . These principles must in fact be the pillars of the organization: vision-driven, transparent, focused and disciplined. But that said, people's biases, comfort zones and assumptions would keep revealing themselves. The good news is given how far the organization has progressed, the more my friends are better able to accept things that were once foreign. Ergo: the best is yet to come for these folks in a nation that was once a Soviet satellite state.

What about PHL, will we find a Deng Xiaoping among 100 million Pinoys? Will he or she be able to lead PHL to challenge our biases, comfort zones and assumptions? Will Francis inspire Juan de la Cruz and/or the PHL church hierarchy to challenge our hierarchical system and structure? It is at the root of the paternalism that we expect from our leaders, and thus together we’ve trampled transparency, pushing Juan de la Cruz to subservience while reinforcing our cacique, tyrannical and corrupt culture – and perpetuating our inward-looking and parochial bias? 

No comments:

Post a Comment