Teaching your Kid to Drive

 

Helpful tips on Driving

It is truly amazing the we can move from point A to point B – at speeds up to 70 MPH, in 2,000 lb capsules, on sometimes very crowded roads – and mostly without bumping into one another.

It is truly amazing we can do that.  (To bad we cannot do the same with our personal lives. Our lives would be immeasurably better if we put the same intensity, focus, and attention to our cars and the way we drive as we do to our personal relationships.)

And what is most interesting about this ability to move around in cars without crashing into one another, is that we can do it in a semi stupor.  We think about everything else but our driving most of the time.  Yet, we still manage to dance with everyone else in relative harmony.  We see someone come up behind us we move aside.  We come up fast behind someone we go around.

Experience is the Best Teacher

When my son was learning to drive he made a mistake.  I said to him, “this is where experience would have helped you!”  ‘

His response surprised me.  “Dad,” he replied, “I’m smart! I don’t need experience.”

Of course this makes perfect sense coming from someone with no experience.  Of course a 15 year old would discount experience.  Yet, no matter how much he suggested that experience was of little value, I knew he was wrong.  When it comes to driving, experience is everything.

The problem with experience though is that the test comes before the lesson.

So, as a parent what is actionable from this reality is that you have to give your young driver as much experience as possible.  That means they need to drive all the time.

Get them their learners permit as soon as possible and insist they drive whenever you are with them.  Make they drive in all kinds of weather and make they drive at all times of the day.

 

Communication is the key to successful Driving

Driving without crashing requires a lot of communication.  We need to signal our intentions with break lights and turn signals.  We also, use eye contact and hand signals to communicate with other drivers.  We also need to pay attention to your car’s health and fix it when it breaks and fill it up regularly with gas and oil.

And we all know people that pay way too much attention to their car and driving.  And we know others that don’t pay enough attention to their car or their driving.

But many of us can’t seem to make the same connections about our own health and our own relationships.  We don’t seem to get that, like a car, our relationships take as much regular maintenance and as much care.

We always check to see if the car has gas, but how often do we check to see if our relationships have gas?  We regularly bring our cars in for a check up to make sure everything is working well, but we rarely perform a check up on our relationships to make sure they are also working well.

I am sure some social scientist somewhere thinks they know the reason why some treat their cars better than they treat the people around them.  Perhaps it’s just because relationships are a lot harder to figure out than cars.  Once you know how to manage one car you can pretty much manage any other car.  And cars don’t change over time in unpredictable ways, like relationships.  It could be because every relation is different so what works in one situation does not work in another.  Or it could be that because we understand how a car works, but we don’t understand how relationships work so we know more what to do.  Perhaps, because it is easy to know how to fix a car, it is not so easy to know how to fix a relationship.

Sure there are a lot of people that tell you how to maintain a relationship.  Dr. Laura has written multiple books on the subject.  Her latest the care of feeding of a husband is the same as an auto maintenance book.  There are many that would say the bible is a great manual on how to maintain a relationship.

The key difference between maintaining a car and maintaining a relationship is that every car is same but no two people are the same.

When Ford writes the maintenance manual for a F250 Truck, they are sure it applies to every F250 that comes off the assembly line.  But people are different from each other.  Even siblings raised in the same family are different from each other.  There is not one operating manual that fits all situations.

And that like a car our relationships need fuel to work.

Of course there are those that don’t maintain their cars at all.  What happens to them?  Theynd the breaks down and they are stranded.

Let me say right up front that if you are one of those few and rare individuals that have never or will never own a car, you can put this down right now.  This is not for you.  I don’t know who you might be, but I assume that means you were born and bread in New York City, one of the few places in the US where it would be possible to live your entire life never having driven a car.  For you what I am about to describe will make no sense.

However, if you are like most others in the U.S., you either now own and drive a car or have in the past owned a car.  It is for these people that I am writing this.  I am writing this because I think there are a lot of analogies between living life well and the whole car driving experience.

When I think about how for the most part we, as a society, seem to manage very well the environment where tons of steel and glass are flying around at a minimum at crunching speeds and potentially killing speeds.  For the most part our cars stop when they are supposed to and go when they are supposed to.  When you drive around you don’t see a lot of cars on the side of the road, or even in the middle of the road broken down.  When you think about how many cars are on the road at any particular time it is amazing how few are actually causing problems for anyone.

How does this miraculous ballet of mechanical behemoths happen to function so well for us?  It happens because we pay attention to everything about driving.  We pay attention to the cars by keeping them functioning.  We pay attention to roads by keeping them maintained.  We pay attention to each other by following the basic rules of the road.

Yes there are cars that are nsafe and drivers that are unsafe on the road as we speak.  But I have every expectation that I will get to where I am going with no problems.  In fact, when you consider how many miles I have driven in my 45 years of driving and how few accidents I have gotten into in that time, you have to admit that the system works pretty well.

Cars and driving are ubiquitous.

Cars for me have been a huge part of my life.  I grew up in Los Angeles in the 50’s and 60’s, where cars and cruising were a vital part of most young men’s lives.  And I was no exception.

Making cars even more central in my life was that my dad was in the auto repair and auto salvage business.  He worked in the motor pool during WWII and always had jobs around cars.  When I was a teenager he even owned his own Auto Salvage Yard.  It was called A Auto Salvage.  I grew up around cars. I learned to drive and work on cars from a very young age.  I remember learning, at age 12, to drive a 3 speed manual transmission with he shifter on the steering column, what we called, “3 on the tree.”  My dad would tell me, if you can get it to run, you can drive it.  Every Saturday I would go to work with him and spend all day around cars.  And since this was a salvage yard, the cars were old and it didn’t matter what I did to them.

Adding to the car mania of the day were all the movies, like Rebel without a Cause and Brando’s Hells Angels and Rock and Roll songs from the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean  signing the praises of the car like, Little GTO, Dead Mans Curve, and Little Old Lady from Pasadena.

At my high school in the 60’s there were athletes, nerds, rockers, and greasers.  Greasers were those that worked on cars.  I was the greaser.

I’ve owned many different cars, trucks, and motorcycles in my life.

Cars even offered me some of my earliest jobs.  I worked garages and gas stations all through high school. And I worked as delivery driver on a number of occasions.  Three of my favorite delivery jobs were delivering liquor to the rich and famous in Hollywood, Bel Air, and Brentwood, delivering dentures to some of the most eminent dentists on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and as a truck driver in Germany for American Express, where I lived for awhile after I was stationed in Frankfurt in the Army.

So it’s no wonder that I often see things in terms cars and driving.  For me it’s natural to use driving and car ownership as a metaphor for many of life’s opportunities and challenges.

I use buying a car as a good example of management decision making.  I use owning and maintaining a car for good examples of operational efficiencies.  Driving has great examples of information processing.  And I use roads as good examples of social policy. For me, the process of buying, maintaining, and driving a car has within it all the elements of life’s important lessons.

Chapter 1 The Beginning: Buying a car.

 

I think buying a car is one way to talk about decision making, because obviously it is a large purchase and one that will have long term affects.

Each of us has a different decision making style.  Some people make decisions quickly.  Others make decisions slowly.  Some people like to make decisions by themselves.  Others like to make decisions collaboratively.

Some people seem to make good decisions all the time.  Others not so much.  Some people blame others when their decisions do not pan out.  Others blame themselves no matter what the reason things didn’t work out.

A lot of people take decision making for granted.  These people don’t think they need tools to help them.  Others read everything they can on decision making so as to make sure they don’t make a bad decision.

I see decision making as a 5 step process:

  1. Decide on the goal
  2. Find the right information
  3. Reach a decision based on the right information
  4. Implement the decision.
  5. Evaluate the decision to determine if it achieved the goal. Identify next steps.  At a minimum one next step is to learn something.

I call this the TIDAL approach to decision making.

Target – Decide on the goal

Information – Find the right information

Decision – Reach a decision based on the information

Action – Implement the decision

Learning – Evaluate the decision to determine if it achieved the goal.  Identify next steps.  At a minimum one next step is to learn something.

While these steps seem obvious, it is surprising how few people actually follow them.  For many bright successful people the most important factor in making decisions is expediency.  Hence, decisions are often made on gut feelings based on personal past experiences.  Instinct is often the most relied upon process.  This often happens in buying a car.  And I am sure this is where the advertisers want you go be.

Furthermore, there is rarely any learning after the decision was made.  My experience is that the only time decisions are reviewed is if something goes wrong.  And then, the review is focused on finding someone to blame.

There are three basic reasons why people don’t use a formal process to make decisions and as a result often get decisions wrong.

1.      They believe there are time constraints where none actually exist.  They rush to make a decision and they don’t look for all the information they could.  They believe that our fast paced world demands fast decisions.  They believe they don’t have time to evaluate information objectively.  And they certainly believe they don’t have time to go back and review the decision after the fact.

2.      They don’t want to look at facts that could challenge their core beliefs.  Looking at information objectively and evaluating it honestly could force them to question some of their most dearly held paradigms.  In general most people don’t like change.  So they avoid information that might cause change.  Further they may have a huge investments in a particular paradigm and thus don’t want to risk losing those investments.

3.      They are more concerned with appearing decisive and in control than making good decisions.

When it comes to making decisions it seems that people simply react as best they can to the situation around them.  They often use instinct, common sense, and guesswork.  If they are lucky and they have some experience with the situation they might make a good decision.  However, the likelihood of success is usually more a matter of good fortune than the result of the process itself.  Thus, it is almost impossible to make good decisions in a consistent way and across the entire organization.

Put all these things together and we have a prescription for mass quantities of poor decisions.

The good news is that decision making can be improved by understanding how to make good decisions and implementing a formal process to help people learn to make better decisions.  Yes, it will be hard for many that don’t want to change or don’t want to give up control.  However, the benefits to both the individual and the organization far outweigh the costs.

Flexibility is the key

It is absolutely critical to note that while the TIDAL steps can be done in order – one step following the other, in most cases the steps SHOULD, be done concurrently.  The TIDAL process should not be seen as a rigid process that must be followed sequentially, rather it should be seen as a checklist of things that must be done at some point in the process.  For many, this will create tension.  Their personality requires that any activity follow a strict recipe, formula, and guideline.  For those individuals, deviation from the instructions could result in failure and hence must be avoided at all costs.

The problem with this linear approach to decision making is that it limits the ability to change course based on things learned by the process itself.

The best way to go through the TIDAL Approach is to jump back and forth between the steps.  For example, a target could be set but during the information gathering stage the target could be changed because of the information gathered.  Or as the target is being set, learning can take place which might force a change in target or a change in the information being gathered.

The actionable information from this discussion is that it is critical that people that demand order do not control the decision process.  People have to be flexible and realize that things could change half or three quarters the way through a project.

Personal Decision Making Style

Each of us has a style.  While not completely genetically hardwired like eye color or height, our decision making style does have a strong genetic component.  Each of us come into the world with a predisposition for a particular decision making style.  Of course our environment can influence our style, but that influence is limited to its impact.  Stephan Poulter described our individual styles In his Book “The Father Factor” as,” a software program installed a long, long time ago that undergoes constant updating.”

It is important for all of us to understand our own style for two reasons; first, to know are our strengths and weaknesses; and second, to fix any problems we have.

Here are some examples of our decision process style:

  • Quick or Slow
  • Individual or collaborative
  • Analytical or intuitive
  • Systematic or not systematic
  • Rigid or Flexible
  • Absolutist (there is Always a right answer) or Relativist (any answer may work)
  • Ends justify the means or the ends never justifies the means
  • Never challenge authority or always challenge authority
  • There are right ways to do something based on some moral teachings or there are no right ways to do something.  You should do whatever works.
  • Decisions are objective or decisions are subjective

Decision Making Universe

Decision making is like the layers of an onion

All decisions are layered one on top another.  As soon as you peel back one layer by making a decision, there is a whole series of decisions underneath.

Think about it this way.  What is the first decision you have to make in the day?  It is to get out of bed or stay in bed.  If you decide to go back to sleep, that will mean one set of subsequent decisions.  If you decide to get up, that will mean another set of subsequent decisions.  Some of those subsequent decisions will not change.  For example, you will at some point have to decide what to wear, whether you decided to go back to sleep or not.  No matter what you decide about sleeping longer you will still have to decide what to wear.  Here is the complication; while your decision to sleep longer or not will not change the fact that you will eventually have to decide what to wear, you decision to sleep longer or not could influence what you actually wear.  If you sleep until it gets warmer you might chose different clothes than if you got up when it was still cold out.

So as you are lying in bed trying to decide if you should get up or not you think about all the different ramifications of each decision.  I am reminded of a song that goes like this; “Should I stay or should I go?  If I stay there will be trouble.  If I go there will be double.”

Think of a Chess match.  Each move enjoins other moves.  The point I am trying to make in terms of decision making is that some people play chess one move at a time.  Others think many moves ahead.  Common wisdom says that the most successful chess players think many moves ahead.  It is hard to win in chess thinking only about the current decision.  The same should be the case with our personal and business decisions.  The people that think ahead have a better chance of making good decisions.

Going back to our sleeping example, I would say most of us have lain in bed in the morning and thought, perhaps I should just go back to sleep.  But then we think that if we go back to sleep we will be late for work.  And if I am late for work how can I keep my job?  And if we can’t keep our job how can I feed my family.  Or the decision process could go like this.  If I sleep for 20 more minutes I might be late for work but since my boss will not be there today, that is ok.  See where I am going with this.

Another key point here is the notion of making decisions “By the Book.”  One way to manage the decision making process is to follow a documented set of procedures.  Again going back to our sleeping example, perhaps you were raised that early to bed and early to rise was not negotiable.  You were raised that you have to get up at 6 am every morning.  You don’t question that rule.  You just do it.  That is the way you were taught and there is no reason to think beyond that decision.

The advantage of doing things “By the Book” is that it takes away the responsibility of decision making.  Someone else has decided for you.

When to make a decision?

One of the most critical steps in decision making is the decision about when a decision should be made.  Many bad decisions are made either because they are made too quickly or they are not made quickly enough.

So how does a decision maker know when is the right time to make a decision?  The answer is simple.  A decision should be made only when 1 of the following 2 conditions exist:

  1. All information is received and processed.
  2. There is no more time to wait and a decision must be made.

All information is received

It happens rarely but it is possible for a situation to exist that all the information available has been gathered and processed.  This does not guarantee that a correct decision will be made.  Selective perception, hidden agendas, or forces outside of the decision makers control, may result in a wrong decision.  But gathering more information will not change anything.

A critical point here is before a decision is made the decision maker should have an idea of what information they need to make a good decision.

There is no more time to wait

Most often in business a decision has to be made before all the information can be collected and analyzed.  In that case the time for a decision should arrive only when the result of a bad is decision is worse then the result of no decision.

Of course if you don’t have all the information it is likely that you will not know when that time arrives.  However, there must be a conscious understanding of the ramifications of the decision.

The way to look at this is to weigh the lack of a decision against the probability of making a wrong decision.  If the risk of making a wrong decision is low, and you believe you have enough information than go ahead and make the decision.  If the risk of making a wrong decision is high then the decision must be put off until the last possible moment.

I see this as the biggest mistake decision makers make.  I see that often in business the decision to make a decision is not related at all to the facts surrounding the decision.  I have heard many decision makers say that it is best to appear decisive.  Hence they make quick decisions, not because it is the right thing to do, but rather because it is the way they think they should act.

One of the most frequent arguments I hear in support of the decisive decision maker is that the alternative is analyzing things too much.  This is called “analysis paralysis.”  So in order to avoid analysis paralysis they over compensate and just make decisions for the sake of not appearing weak.

In many decisions it really does not matter what decision is chosen.  We often hear this as “6 to one, half dozen to another.”  Essentially we are saying there is no wrong decision.  In this case a decision can be made at any time.  I often use the example of going to the store for my wife to buy toilet paper.  Absent specific instructions on what kind to buy, it really does not matter what kind I buy.

Who makes the decision

A key element of making a good decision is deciding who makes the decision.

In broad terms the decision maker can either be an individual or a group.

Group decision making takes longer but decisions made by the group tend to be better

Deciding who makes the decision is one of the most overlooked parts of decision making.  The decision maker could be the highest ranking individual.  It could be the Subject Matter Expert (SME).  It could simply be the first person on the scene.  Or it could be the individual delegated to make the decision.

Unfortunately, deciding who makes the decisions is rarely part of the decision process.  But it should be.

Let’s take a look at a few of the people that should make decisions.

The Project Manager

Often times the decision maker is the manager.  In this case the manager gets input from the staff and makes a decision.  This often required mediation between the staff.  If for example, different staff members are recommending different decisions, then it is up to the manager to mediate between the staff members and make a decision.  It could require that the manager make a decision and then spend time trying to convince the staff member that did not have their decision chosen why they were wrong.

The Subject Matter Expert

Often we simply defer to the SME.  When I go to the doctor or the mechanic I defer to their decisions.  If the IT staff says that something has to be done a certain way we defer to them.  They are the experts and we defer to the experts.

Consensus

In some cases we look to everyone to make a decision.  Discussion is held until everyone can agree.

Majority

In some cases we vote and let the majority make the decision.

The First person on the Scene

There are some situations where we give the decision making authority to the first person on the scene.  Police, Fire, or medical situations often use this approach.

The most senior team member on the scene

Again, this is often used with Police, Fire, military, or medical situations.  When the most senior team member arrives they assume all decision making responsibilities.

The person most sure of the answer

There are situations where someone that is not the manager, not the most senior, not the first person on the scene, but never the less is sure of the answer.  Perhaps they have seen the situation before.  In any case, the bottom line is the person most sure of the decision should make the decision.  But that person must take responsibility for making a bad decision.

An example would be useful here.  My wife is a better cook than I.  So when it comes to cooking I do not criticize her decisions.  I know more about cars than her.  So when it comes to fixing the car she does not criticize my decisions.  This is not to say that I don’t tell her what I want to eat.  And it does not say that she does not tell me what she wants in terms of the car.  What this says is that there is a division of decision making based on who is most sure they know the answers.

This is about is taking responsibility for our actions.  If I make a decision on the car and it is a wrong decision, then I have to take responsibility for making a wrong decision.

The highest ranking member on the scene

This is different than the most senior team member making the decision.  Because it is possible that the highest ranking is not the most senior.

This is used very frequently and is by far the easiest.

How to make a decision

The 5 steps of decision making are:

  1. Target
  2. Information
  3. Decision
  4. Action
  5. Learning

It is important that this not be a serial process.  Steps 1 and 2 have to be worked together.

Step 1 – Deciding on the Target & Step 2 gathering information should be iterative.  A target should be set and information should be gathered.  However, it is possible that as information is gather the target might change.

The image here is water going down a drain.  The water spirals downward in ever smaller circles.  So to should the process of gathering information.  This is based on the scientific approach where a hypothesis is made and then information is gathered on that hypothesis.  Based on the information gathered the hypothesis is either changed or it extended.

The first step is deciding on the goal or target.  Deciding on what is it you want to accomplish.

At first glance this might appear easy.  However, in most decisions there are usually multiple targets.  Therefore it is critical that a way be found to prioritize and weight the targets.

Let’s say you look at your gas gauge and notice you are almost out of gas.  Now you have to make a decision – When and where to get gas.  Following the TIDAL approach the first step is to decide on the Target or goal.  One goal could be to get gas at the closest location.  Another goal might be to get gas at the cheapest place.  Another goal might be to get gas at a place where you could also get a lottery ticket.  Or you might want to get gas at a place that has a good cup of coffee.  It is possible that one gas station might meet all four targets.  In that case the decision is easy.  However, in most decisions no one answer hits all targets.  Usually one gas station is the closest, while another is cheapest, another might have a good cup of coffee, and still another has the lottery ticket.

Thus we have to modify the goals with information.  Let’s further expand our example of getting gas.  Let’s say we gather all the information and decide to get gas at the gas station with the best coffee.  Let’s further say that as you are driving to that gas station we hear on the radio that too much coffee is bad for you and you decide that you no longer want coffee.  Now you have to change your decision.  You see what happened.  Even though you made a decision, you are still gathering information.  You have the potential to change the decision up until the last moment before the decision is executed and implemented.

Step 1 – Setting Priorities

The answer you finally come up with could be different depending on which of your targets is the most important.  Hence it is critical that priorities be set.

The way to deal with this situation is to list all the potential targets or goals.  In our example of  the need to make a decision to get gas, the goals are to get gas within the next 50 miles, save money, get a cup of coffee, and get a lottery ticket.  Then once you have all the goals identified you figure out a way to characterize those goals.

There are many ways to do this.  One way is to use the table below.  Obviously the critical goals have to be addressed.  And the Easy goals are just that Easy.  I wish there is a way to teach people how to pick the right mix of goals.  I think that is what sets successful decision makers apart.

  1. Time frame
  2. Importance
  3. Difficulty making the right decision
  4. Difficulty implementing
Urgent Not Urgent
Important Get Gas Save Money
Not Important Get Coffee Get Lottery Ticket
Critical Not Critical
Hard Save Money
Easy
  1. Get Gas
  2. Get Lottery ticket

There are two ways you can pick which is the right mix of goals.  Have the team vote, or have one person pick.  My suggestion is to have one person pick.  That person should be the team leader.

The difficulty in correctly identifing the problem is the most significant obstacle to effective decision making.  Unfortunately there is no simple way to overcome this obstacle.

There are millions of examples.  And this is so very obvious.  Yet it is often difficult to do because we are often trying to solve multiple problems at the same time.

Decisions can be made in a group, or individually.  They can be made quickly or after careful study.  If the decision is to be made by a group, the group can use a very formal method like voting or informal like discussion.

The situation should dictate what method is used.

One way to address this is to create a Consequences Table.

Alternative 1 Alternative 2 Alternative N
Objective/Target 1 Consequence Consequence Consequence
Objective/Target 2 Consequence Consequence Consequence
Objective/Target N Consequence Consequence Consequence

Step 2 – Gathering Information

This is actually a pretty easy step.  The big risk is from distortions and biases.

Here you want to identify cause and effects.  You want to distinguish between “Facts” and “Conclusions”.  You can use observation, personal experience, expert advice, or empirical research.  I just remind everyone that an important factor is decision making is understanding the difference between cause and effect and correlation.

Part of the information stage is looking past the actual decision to the implementation of the decision.  Often times implementing a decision is more difficult than making the decision.  For example, let’s take a decision to go to college.  Making the decision to go to college is pretty easy.  However, actually going to college and getting a degree is very hard.

What this means is that you have to look at how hard a specific decision might be to implement.

Step 3 – Making the decision and implementing that decision

While this is the most important step, it actually could be pretty easy given a good job with steps 1 and 2.  Using the example of the gas station making the decision is hard part.  Implementing the decision is the easy part.  However, in most cases making the decision is the easy part, while implementing the decision is the hard part.

Learning after the decision

A critical element to decision making is to honestly evaluate the decision after the fact and learn from it.  There are two broad learning’s: 1) the outcome could not have been better and nothing needs to change, or 2) the outcome could have been better and something needs to change.

If the learning is that everything went as expected and nothing needs to change than great!  You can move on to the next decision with the confidence that you are doing what you need to do.

If, however, the learning is that the outcome could have been better then you should evaluate what could have been better and work to make it better.

Remember that you decision could have a positive outcome but still require changes.

Why there are bad decisions

Bad decisions come from “distortions and biases – a whole series of mental flaws – that sabotage our reasoning.” (HBR The Hidden Traps in Decision Making, John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa)

  • Anchoring – Giving disproportionate weight to the first information you receive.
  • Status quo – Favoring alternatives that perpetuate the existing situation
  • Sunk Costs – Making choices in a way that justifies past, flawed choices
  • Confirming evidence – Seeking information that supports your existing point of view
  • Framing – Structuring the situation in ways that favor one solution over another
  • Estimating and forecasting – Being overly influenced by vivid memories when estimating
  • Overconfidence – Not being honest about our abilities
  • Over Cautiousness – Too much prudence or too much fear of failure
  • Recallability – The risk of being influenced by what is top of mind or what is easily recalled.

There are 6 levels of Actions in any activity:

  1. Determining the objective
  2. Determining the strategy to achieve the objective
  3. Determining the tactics to achieve the strategy.
  4. Performing the actions that are established by the tactics.
  5. Evaluate the actions to see if the objective was achieved.
  6. Learning from the process to see if we could do it better next time.

While the first thing is to determine the objective, sometimes you determine the tactics and strategy based as much on the actions that you can perform.  I was watching the Angels play the Yankees on TV.  The announcer was saying that the Angels have a lot of injured players.  And that the Coach, Mike Sosia, was a good coach because he has been able to change his game plan (Game plan here means his strategy and tactics) to fit the team that he has on the field.  The announcers said that some coaches only have one game plan and use it no matter who is on the field, but the great coaches can change depending on what they have to work with.

A fundamental activity for all of us is Decision Making.  Think about all the decisions you make in a given day.

I think you can divide people up by how they make decisions.  Here are just a few types.  And to make it easier to describe them, let me use the first decision I make everyday as the talking point.  I am going to use the decision to get out of bed as the reference.

The first one is to decide to get out of bed.  Those of us who think the person that invented the snooze button should get a Nobel Prize can really appreciate how hard this decision is every morning.

Buying a Car

Obviously the first thing you have to do is buy a car.  This is often a major purchase.  I am actually going through the process right now.  My wife quit her job that came with a company car and so we have to replace it.

The TIDAL Approach to Decision Making

Introduction

Each of us has a different decision making style.  Some people make decisions quickly.  Others make decisions slowly.  Some people like to make decisions by themselves.  Others like to make decisions collaboratively.

Some people seem to make good decisions all the time.  Others not so much.  Some people blame others when their decisions do not pan out.  Others blame themselves no matter what the reason things didn’t work out.

A lot of people take decision making for granted.  These people don’t think they need tools to help them.  They are wrong.  Even the best athlete or artist uses tools to maximize their abilities.  So why shouldn’t business people use tools to help them make better decisions.

The following approach to decision making is a tool to improve our decision-making.

Overview of the TIDAL Process

Decision making is a 5 step process.

  1. Decide on the goal
  2. Find the right information
  3. Reach a decision based on the right information
  4. Implement the decision.
  5. Evaluate the decision to determine if it achieved the goal. Identify next steps.  At a minimum one next step is to learn something.

I call this the TIDAL approach to decision making.

Target – Decide on the goal

Information – Find the right information

Decision – Reach a decision based on the information

Action – Implement the decision

Learning – Evaluate the decision to determine if it achieved the goal.  Identify next steps.  At a minimum one next step is to learn something.

While these steps seem obvious, it is surprising how few people actually follow them.  For many bright successful people the most important factor in making decisions is expediency.  Hence, decisions are often made on gut feelings based on personal past experiences.  Instinct is often the most relied upon process.

Furthermore, there is rarely any learning after the decision was made.  My experience is that the only time decisions are reviewed is if something goes wrong.  And then, the review is focused on finding someone to blame.

There are three basic reasons why people don’t use a formal process to make decisions and as a result often get decisions wrong.

1.      They believe there are time constraints where none actually exist.  They rush to make a decision and they don’t look for all the information they could.  They believe that our fast paced world demands fast decisions.  They believe they don’t have time to evaluate information objectively.  And they certainly believe they don’t have time to go back and review the decision after the fact.

2.      They don’t want to look at facts that could challenge their core beliefs.  Looking at information objectively and evaluating it honestly could force them to question some of their most dearly held paradigms.  In general most people don’t like change.  So they avoid information that might cause change.  Further they may have a huge investments in a particular paradigm and thus don’t want to risk losing those investments.

3.      They are more concerned with appearing decisive and in control than making good decisions.

When it comes to making decisions it seems that people simply react as best they can to the situation around them.  They often use instinct, common sense, and guesswork.  If they are lucky and they have some experience with the situation they might make a good decision.  However, the likelihood of success is usually more a matter of good fortune than the result of the process itself.  Thus, it is almost impossible to make good decisions in a consistent way and across the entire organization.

Put all these things together and we have a prescription for mass quantities of poor decisions.

The good news is that decision making can be improved by understanding how to make good decisions and implementing a formal process to help people learn to make better decisions.  Yes, it will be hard for many that don’t want to change or don’t want to give up control.  However, the benefits to both the individual and the organization far outweigh the costs.

Flexibility is the key

It is absolutely critical to note that while the TIDAL steps can be done in order – one step following the other, in most cases the steps SHOULD, be done concurrently.  The TIDAL process should not be seen as a rigid process that must be followed sequentially, rather it should be seen as a checklist of things that must be done at some point in the process.  For many, this will create tension.  Their personality requires that any activity follow a strict recipe, formula, and guideline.  For those individuals, deviation from the instructions could result in failure and hence must be avoided at all costs.

The problem with this linear approach to decision making is that it limits the ability to change course based on things learned by the process itself.

The best way to go through the TIDAL Approach is to jump back and forth between the steps.  For example, a target could be set but during the information gathering stage the target could be changed because of the information gathered.  Or as the target is being set, learning can take place which might force a change in target or a change in the information being gathered.

The actionable information from this discussion is that it is critical that people that demand order do not control the decision process.  People have to be flexible and realize that things could change half or three quarters the way through a project.

Personal Decision Making Style

Each of us has a style.  While not completely genetically hardwired like eye color or height, our decision making style stems does have a strong genetic component.  Each of us come into the world with a predisposition for a particular decision making style.  Of course our environment can influence our style, but that influence is limited to its impact.  Stephan Poulter described our individual styles In his Book “The Father Factor” as,” a software program installed a long, long time ago that undergoes constant updating.”

It is important for all of us to understand our own style for two reasons; first, to know are our strengths and weaknesses; and second, to fix any problems we have.

Here are some examples of our decision process style:

  • Quick or Slow
  • Individual or collaborative
  • Analytical or intuitive
  • Systematic or not systematic
  • Rigid or Flexible
  • Absolutist (there is Always a right answer) or Relativist (any answer may work)
  • Ends justify the means or the ends never justifies the means
  • Never challenge authority or always challenge authority
  • There are right ways to do something based on some moral teachings or there are no right ways to do something.  You should do whatever works.
  • Decisions are objective or decisions are subjective

Decision Making Universe

Decision making is like the layers of an onion

All decisions are layered one on top another.  As soon as you peel back one layer there is a whole series of decisions underneath.

Think about it this way.  What is the first decision you have to make in the day?  It is to get out of bed or stay in bed.  If you decide to go back to sleep, that will mean one set of subsequent decisions.  If you decide to get up, that will mean another set of subsequent decisions.  Some of those subsequent decisions will not change.  For example, you will at some point have to decide what to wear, whether you decided to go back to sleep or not.  No matter what you decide about sleeping longer you will still have to decide what to wear.  Here is the complication; while your decision to sleep longer or not will not change the fact that you will eventually have to decide what to wear, you decision to sleep longer or not could influence what you actually wear.  If you sleep until it gets warmer you might chose different clothes than if you got up when it was still cold out.

So as you are laying in bed trying to decide if you should get up or not you think about all the different ramifications of each decision.  I am reminded of a song that goes like this; “Should I stay or should I go?  If I stay there will be trouble.  If I go there will be double.”

Think of a Chess match.  Each move enjoins other moves.  The point is some people play chess one move at a time.  Others think many moves ahead.  Common wisdom says that the most successful chess players think many moves ahead.  It is hard to win in chess thinking only about the current decision.  The same should be the case with our personal and business decisions.  The people that think ahead have a better chance of making good decisions.

Going back to our sleeping example, I would say most of us have lain in bed in the morning and thought, perhaps I should just go back to sleep.  But then we think that if we go back to sleep we will be late for work.  And if I am late for work how can I keep my job?  And if we can’t keep our job how can I feed my family.  Or the decision process could go like this.  If I sleep for 20 more minutes I might be late for work but since my boss will not be there today, that is ok.  See where I am going with this.

Another key point here is the notion of making decisions “By the Book.”  One way to manage the decision making process is to follow a documented set of procedures.  Again going back to our sleeping example, perhaps you were raised that early to bed and early to rise was not negotiable.  You were raised that you have to get up at 6 am every morning.  You don’t question that rule.  You just do it.  That is the way you were taught and there is no reason to think beyond that decision.

The advantage of doing things “By the Book” is that it takes away the responsibility of decision making.  Someone else has decided for you.

When to make a decision?

One of the most critical steps in decision making is the decision about when a decision should be made.  Many bad decisions are made either because they are made too quickly or they are not made quickly enough.

So how does a decision maker know when is the right time to make a decision?  The answer is simple.  A decision should be made only when 1 of the following 2 conditions exist:

  1. All information is received and processed.
  2. There is no more time to wait and a decision must be made.

All information is received

It happens rarely but it is possible for a situation to exist that all the information available has been gathered and processed.  This does not guarantee that a correct decision will be made.  Selective perception, hidden agendas, or forces outside of the decision makers control, may result in a wrong decision.  But gathering more information will not change anything.

A critical point here is before a decision is made the decision maker should have an idea of what information they need to make a good decision.

There is no more time to wait

Most often in business a decision has to be made before all the information can be collected and analyzed.  In that case the time for a decision should arrive only when the result of a bad is decision is worse then the result of no decision.

Of course if you don’t have all the information it is likely that you will not know when that time arrives.  However, there must be a conscious understanding of the ramifications of the decision.

The way to look at this is to weigh the lack of a decision against the probability of making a wrong decision.  If the risk of making a wrong decision is low, and you believe you have enough information than go ahead and make the decision.  If the risk of making a wrong decision is high then the decision must be put off until the last possible moment.

I see this as the biggest mistake decision makers make.  I see that often in business the decision to make a decision is not related at all to the facts surrounding the decision.  I have heard many decision makers say that it is best to appear decisive.  Hence they make quick decisions, not because it is the right thing to do, but rather because it is the way they think they should act.

One of the most frequent arguments I hear in support of the decisive decision maker is that the alternative is analyzing things too much.  This is called “analysis paralysis.”  So in order to avoid analysis paralysis they over compensate and just make decisions for the sake of not appearing weak.

In many decisions it really does not matter what decision is chosen.  We often hear this as “6 to one, half dozen to another.”  Essentially we are saying there is no wrong decision.  In this case a decision can be made at any time.  I often use the example of going to the store for my wife to buy toilet paper.  Absent specific instructions on what kind to buy, it really does not matter what kind I buy.

Who makes the decision

A key element of making a good decision is deciding who makes the decision.

In broad terms the decision maker can either be an individual or a group.

Group decision making takes longer but decisions made by the group tend to be better

Deciding who makes the decision is one of the most overlooked parts of decision making.  The decision maker could be the highest ranking individual.  It could be the Subject Matter Expert (SME).  It could simply be the first person on the scene.  Or it could be the individual delegated to make the decision.

Unfortunately, deciding who makes the decisions is rarely part of the decision process.  But it should be.

Let’s take a look at a few of the people that should make decisions.

The Project Manager

Often times the decision maker is the manager.  In this case the manager gets input from the staff and makes a decision.  This often required mediation between the staff.  If for example, different staff members are recommending different decisions, then it is up to the manager to mediate between the staff members and make a decision.  It could require that the manager make a decision and then spend time trying to convince the staff member that did not have their decision chosen why they were wrong.

The Subject Matter Expert

Often we simply defer to the SME.  When I go to the doctor or the mechanic I defer to their decisions.  If the IT staff says that something has to be done a certain way we defer to them.  They are the experts and we defer to the experts.

Consensus

In some cases we look to everyone to make a decision.  Discussion is held until everyone can agree.

Majority

In some cases we vote and let the majority make the decision.

The First person on the Scene

There are some situations where we give the decision making authority to the first person on the scene.  Police, Fire, or medical situations often use this approach.

The most senior team member on the scene

Again, this is often used with Police, Fire, military, or medical situations.  When the most senior team member arrives they assume all decision making responsibilities.

The person most sure of the answer

There are situations where someone that is not the manager, not the most senior, not the first person on the scene, but never the less is sure of the answer.  Perhaps they have seen the situation before.  In any case, the bottom line is the person most sure of the decision should make the decision.  But that person must take responsibility for making a bad decision.

An example would be useful here.  My wife is a better cook than I.  So when it comes to cooking I do not criticize her decisions.  I know more about cars than her.  So when it comes to fixing the car she does not criticize my decisions.  This is not to say that I don’t tell her what I want to eat.  And it does not say that she does not tell me what she wants in terms of the car.  What this says is that there is a division of decision making based on who is most sure they know the answers.

This is about is taking responsibility for our actions.  If I make a decision on the car and it is a wrong decision, then I have to take responsibility for making a wrong decision.

The highest ranking member on the scene

This is different than the most senior team member making the decision.  Because it is possible that the highest ranking is not the most senior.

This is used very frequently and is by far the easiest.

How to make a decision

The 5 steps of decision making are:

  1. Target
  2. Information
  3. Decision
  4. Action
  5. Learning

It is important that this not be a serial process.  Steps 1 and 2 have to be worked together.

Step 1 – Deciding on the Target & Step 2 gathering information should be iterative.  A target should be set and information should be gathered.  However, it is possible that as information is gather the target might change.

The image here is water going down a drain.  The water spirals downward in ever smaller circles.  So to should the process of gathering information.  This is based on the scientific approach where a hypothesis is made and then information is gathered on that hypothesis.  Based on the information gathered the hypothesis is either changed or it extended.

The first step is deciding on the goal or target.  Deciding on what is it you want to accomplish.

At first glance this might appear easy.  However, in most decisions there are usually multiple targets.  Therefore it is critical that a way be found to prioritize and weight the targets.

Let’s say you look at your gas gauge and notice you are almost out of gas.  Now you have to make a decision – When and where to get gas.  Following the TIDAL approach the first step is to decide on the Target or goal.  One goal could be to get gas at the closest location.  Another goal might be to get gas at the cheapest place.  Another goal might be to get gas at a place where you could also get a lottery ticket.  Or you might want to get gas at a place that has a good cup of coffee.  It is possible that one gas station might meet all four targets.  In that case the decision is easy.  However, in most decisions no one answer hits all targets.  Usually one gas station is the closest, while another is cheapest, another might have a good cup of coffee, and still another has the lottery ticket.

Thus we have to modify the goals with information.  Let’s further expand our example of getting gas.  Let’s say we gather all the information and decide to get gas at the gas station with the best coffee.  Let’s further say that as you are driving to that gas station we hear on the radio that too much coffee is bad for you and you decide that you no longer want coffee.  Now you have to change your decision.  You see what happened.  Even though you made a decision, you are still gathering information.  You have the potential to change the decision up until the last moment before the decision is executed and implemented.

Step 1 – Setting Priorities

The answer you finally come up with could be different depending on which of your targets is the most important.  Hence it is critical that priorities be set.

The way to deal with this situation is to list all the potential targets or goals.  In our example of  the need to make a decision to get gas, the goals are to get gas within the next 50 miles, save money, get a cup of coffee, and get a lottery ticket.  Then once you have all the goals identified you figure out a way to characterize those goals.

There are many ways to do this.  One way is to use the table below.  Obviously the critical goals have to be addressed.  And the Easy goals are just that Easy.  I wish there is a way to teach people how to pick the right mix of goals.  I think that is what sets successful decision makers apart.

  1. Time frame
  2. Importance
  3. Difficulty making the right decision
  4. Difficulty implementing
Urgent Not Urgent
Important Get Gas Save Money
Not Important Get Coffee Get Lottery Ticket
Critical Not Critical
Hard Save Money
Easy
  1. Get Gas
  2. Get Lottery ticket

There are two ways you can pick which is the right mix of goals.  Have the team vote, or have one person pick.  My suggestion is to have one person pick.  That person should be the team leader.

The difficulty in correctly identifing the problem is the most significant obstacle to effective decision making.  Unfortunately there is no simple way to overcome this obstacle.

There are millions of examples.  And this is so very obvious.  Yet it is often difficult to do because we are often trying to solve multiple problems at the same time.

Decisions can be made in a group, or individually.  They can be made quickly or after careful study.  If the decision is to be made by a group, the group can use a very formal method like voting or informal like discussion.

The situation should dictate what method is used.

One way to address this is to create a Consequences Table.

Alternative 1 Alternative 2 Alternative N
Objective/Target 1 Consequence Consequence Consequence
Objective/Target 2 Consequence Consequence Consequence
Objective/Target N Consequence Consequence Consequence

Step 2 – Gathering Information

This is actually a pretty easy step.  The big risk is from distortions and biases.

Here you want to identify cause and effects.  You want to distinguish between “Facts” and “Conclusions”.  You can use observation, personal experience, expert advice, or empirical research.  I just remind everyone that an important factor is decision making is understanding the difference between cause and effect and correlation.

Part of the information stage is looking past the actual decision to the implementation of the decision.  Often times implementing a decision is more difficult than making the decision.  For example, let’s take a decision to go to college.  Making the decision to go to college is pretty easy.  However, actually going to college and getting a degree is very hard.

What this means is that you have to look at how hard a specific decision might be to implement.

Step 3 – Making the decision and implementing that decision

While this is the most important step, it actually could be pretty easy given a good job with steps 1 and 2.  Using the example of the gas station making the decision is hard part.  Implementing the decision is the easy part.  However, in most cases making the decision is the easy part, while implementing the decision is the hard part.

Learning after the decision

A critical element to decision making is to honestly evaluate the decision after the fact and learn from it.  There are two broad learning’s: 1) the outcome could not have been better and nothing needs to change, or 2) the outcome could have been better and something needs to change.

If the learning is that everything went as expected and nothing needs to change than great!  You can move on to the next decision with the confidence that you are doing what you need to do.

If, however, the learning is that the outcome could have been better then you should evaluate what could have been better and work to make it better.

Remember that you decision could have a positive outcome but still require changes.

Why there are bad decisions

Bad decisions come from “distortions and biases – a whole series of mental flaws – that sabotage our reasoning.” (HBR The Hidden Traps in Decision Making, John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa)

  • Anchoring – Giving disproportionate weight to the first information you receive.
  • Status quo – Favoring alternatives that perpetuate the existing situation
  • Sunk Costs – Making choices in a way that justifies past, flawed choices
  • Confirming evidence – Seeking information that supports your existing point of view
  • Framing – Structuring the situation in ways that favor one solution over another
  • Estimating and forecasting – Being overly influenced by vivid memories when estimating
  • Overconfidence – Not being honest about our abilities
  • Over Cautiousness – Too much prudence or too much fear of failure
  • Recallability – The risk of being influenced by what is top of mind or what is easily recalled.

Buying

Objectives

Information

Criteria

Strategy/tactics

Team Work

As with all actions the first thing to do is determine your objective.  So what is your objective for buying a car?  Is it fun?  Is it utility?  Is it safety?  Is it gas mileage?  Whatever it is, you need to determine your objective.

The last car I bought was for me.  One of the things I wanted was a fun car.  My kids were grown and gone to college so I wanted something I could enjoy driving.  I decided on a convertible.

Chapter 2 – Driving

Paying attention to Pot Holes and Rattles

There are those that suggest that the key to success is positive thinking.  And while positive thinking is critical, you also have to pay attention to the pot holes and rattles.

As you drive down the road of life there will be pot holes.  They will be things that get in the way of a smooth drive.  Sometimes we can see a long way up the road ahead and we can clearly see the pot holes and avoid them.  Sometimes however, pot holes just appear in front of us and we cannot avoid them.  Sometimes a pot hole appears on a road that was previously clear.  You could have taken the same road for years and one day, a pot hole just appears.

No matter how hard we may try we will at some times hit a pot hole.  Hopefully there will be no damage and hitting the pot hole is simply a bump in the road.  However, sometimes a pot hole causes damage.  It could be as small as spilling you coffee, it could be that you get a flat time, or it could be a serious as breaking suspensions.

Thinking positive by itself will not help you avoid pot holes or help you deal with the negative results of a pot hole if you hit one.  It is one thing to think positive, it is another thing to pay attention to the road.

There are 2 ends of the thinking positive continuum.  At one end you have someone that gets in the car and thinks positive and thinks they will never hit a pot hole.  On the other end you have someone that thinks negatively and thinks that they will hit every pot hole.

Rattles are important too.  It is critical to pay attention to rattles.  In a car, rattles are often the first indication that something is wrong.  A well running car has few rattles.  When a new rattle occurs you need to pay attention to it immediately because it could be very serious.  Breaks, bearings, transmission, steering, & suspension are just a few of the things that could be very serious.  When you hear a rattle you have to stop and figure out if the rattle indicates something could break and could cause a breakdown or worse an accident or even worse an injury.

Thinking positive, that nothing bad is going to happen, is bad if it allows you to avoid listening for rattles.  You have to pay attention to rattles.  You should not ignore rattles.  Thinking positive that nothing bad is going to happen, is not the best course of action.

The important elements of driving are:

  1. Goal Setting
  2. Focus
  3. Practice
  4. Experience
  5. Distractions
  6. The Dashboard
  7. Controls

1.  Goal Setting

The first thing you have to do to drive is decide where you are going.  If you have more than one car, then where you are going might determine what car to take.  We have 4 cars, If I am going to work and it is a nice day I take the convertible.  If I have to take the dog to vet I take the Van.  If we are taking a trip to Florida with the whole family we take the Van.  If it is just my wife and I going to dinner we take the convertible.

Obviously if you only have one car you don’t have much of a choice what to take.  But never the less you might still decide not to take your car.

Deciding where to go can in most cases be easy.  I am going to work.  I am going to the airport.  I am going to visit my sister-in-law.  However, how you get there may not be that easy.  There could be multiple ways to get there and you have to decide which one

2. Focus.

After you have decided where to go and how to get there, you need to actually drive.

When you drive you focus on 4 distinct areas.

  • Long term – where are you going.  You don’t see this goal.  It is beyond your field of vision.  Whenever you start driving you have a specific long range goal in mind.  And you have a pretty good idea how to get there.  If you don’t you consult a map or use a PND.
  • the near term – the road up ahead.  You look at traffic lights, you look at congestion.  You make decisions based on these things.  You might speed up or slow down to make a light.
  • The very near term.  This is the road right in front of you.  Pot holes, pedestrians, other potential hazards.
  • The dashboard – gas, speed, temperature.

3. Practice

Experience

Interchanges

Dashboard

Information on the dashboard is focused on what is actionable.  In this case form follows function.  The designers ask, what information does the driver need and what is the best way to provide that information.

Controls

Controls are designed to be function.

Maintaining a car

Information

Paying attention

Team Work

OK you bought a car and you’ve learned to drive it, now you have to maintain it.  Maintaining a car well increases your enjoyment and reduces your cost.

But maintaining a car isn’t easy.  In the old days, people often maintained a car by themselves.  However, today, I find that cars are too complicated to maintain by myself for I have to rely on team work.  I rely on my mechanic to do much of the work.

Another important aspect of taking care of a car is paying attention.  And as with everything else paying attention is important in many things.

Roads

Stakeholders

Communication/Road Signs

Environment

Looking at roads can teach us a lot about life.

The first thing is communication in road signs.  Road Signs tell us what to expect.  They control our behavior.  And provide us with valuable actionable information.  Could you imigian roads with out road signs.

http://www.fastcompany.com/1603160/strategic-planning-is-dead-long-live-strategy-execution

Strategic Planning is Dead – Long Live Strategy Execution

BY FC Expert Blogger Norman WolfeWed Mar 31, 2010

In a recent blog post, I declared Strategic Planning was obsolete.  The current approach for defining where an organization is going and how it will get there – the ubiquitous Strategic Planning Offsite meeting – can no longer produce the desired result.   Why? In our dynamically changing world, the environment where we execute is not the same one we originally planned for.

However, the underlying objectives of the Strategy Planning process still remain as important today as ever.  It is still critical to establish and communicate the strategic direction for the firm.  And it is even more critical to align all the elements of the living corporate body to perform in ways that ensure the organization achieves its desired results.

Since the key objectives of setting strategic direction and organization alignment towards those goals remain critical, the process by which these objectives are achieved needs to change. To better understand why this is, let’s continue to explore the analogy of the corporate body operating in a similar fashion to the human body.

We know that over 90% of our behavioral responses to our environment occurs semi-autonomously.  The nervous system determines the body’s response to thousands upon thousands of simultaneous inputs received from our environment.  The brain (our body’s central decision processing function) has little say in how our body responds most of the time.   And this is a good thing.  Imagine what life would be like if all decisions had to first go to our brains for a decision before any action would occur.  There are thousands, perhaps millions of choices being made between the many functional parts of our bodies in one of the most coordinated and collaborative team efforts one can imagine.

Think about what happens when you drive.  When driving on the freeway at 65 mph, how much of your conscious thought is actually focused on driving?  What percentage of your brain is coordinating your foot that is pressing on the pedal, with your arm that is controlling the steering wheel, while taking in the data from your eyes as they scan the environment around you?  It is quite amazing to realize that we get to our destination while our conscious thoughts are focused on everything but our driving.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our organizations can get us to our destination with the same degree of semi-autonomous behavior; where the corporate body could respond to the rapidly changing environment with the speed and accuracy of decisions that ensure our ultimate success, much as the human body gets us to our destination?

Like our human bodies, corporate bodies are driven by their own version of the semi-autonomous nervous system. Directors and managers comprise the corporate nervous system that guides the day-to-day decisions made by the hundreds or thousands of people (the corporate body’s cells) as they respond to the myriad of data inputs coming from the corporation’s operating environment.

With this metaphor in mind, let’s return to the challenge of strategy execution and the role of setting the strategic direction and aligning the forces within the organization to the desired results.

In the traditional approach to strategic planning, the CEO and executive team participate in a offsite planning session, where they evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, (the classic SWOT analysis), set the future direction for the organization, and map out specific action plans to achieve the desired results.  They then go back and communicate these well thought-out plans to the rest of the organization with “marching orders” as to what the various functional departments will each carry out. So long as the environment remains pretty much as they understood it, this approach was likely to produce the desired results.

But herein lies the failing; the environment now changes at a rate faster than the planning horizon.  Said simply, the marketplace dynamics will have changed significantly before the organization has a chance to realize its planned results.

The current execution model relies too much on the executive team (the brain of the corporate body), being involved in the decision making.  Starting with the planning process and carrying over into the myriad day-to-day decisions, the executive team is the dominant decision makers.   When the environment moved slower this was acceptable, but at today’s rate of change this no longer works.  It is analogous to the brain guiding every movement while driving a car.  The driver would slow down to the same speed as that of a student driver trying to get everything coordinated.

The problem lies in the nature of decision making: every decision is made within a specific context.  This context holds the core reason for why we are here and what we are trying to do, and holds the core values against which we evaluate various alternative actions.  It also contains the framework which allows us to organize and make sense of the thousands of data inputs we collect.

In the current approach to strategic planning and execution, the Context of the organization resides with the Executive Team and little, if anything, is ever done to infuse this core Context throughout the organization.  Instead, what is usually communicated is only the “what and the how” of the plan, not the “where and why.”

Without the Context of Soulful Purpose, Values, and Desired Future and a framework for sorting and evaluating input, the corporate body will never be able to execute without continuous involvement from the executive.  Going back to our driving example, one could say that most organizations today operate like student drivers who are thinking about every move they make.

To operate at the speed of today’s business environment, organizations must have the corporate body operate in a semi-autonomous fashion, much like the human body.  This requires a different approach to strategic planning, with most planning focusing on establishing a strong Context; a Context which is not merely communicated but is infused throughout the corporate nervous system.  Additionally, a decision making process must be established that allows individuals (the cells of the corporate body) to quickly respond to the environment in a manner consistent with the Strategic Context.

To learn more about Context, the human body analogy to today’s corporation, and The Living Organization® model, please click here to download a free white paper.

Driving a Stick without a Tachometer

My daughter used one of our old cars when she was home on a visit.  I told her it wasn’t running great, but it should be ok.

After a couple of days she said to me, “You know dad, it’s funny that I don’t really need the tachometer anymore.”

“Oh Shoot!” I thought to myself. I forgot to tell her that the tachometer was one of the things wrong with the car.  But, her comment made perfect sense.

“Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it.”  I said.  “Once you get comfortable driving a stick shift, you don’t really need the Tach.”