MindShift

INSIGHT – TRANSFORMATION – LEADERSHIP


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Black Box: How do we make decisions?

With the amount of decisions that we make every day, it is astonishing that the process of making decisions is not well understood. So how do we make the best choice?

The very act of deciding seems a bit like the proverbial piece of soap in the bathtub: the more you want to get a grip on it the more it slips away. Much is written today about VUCA conditions, and decision making in complex adaptive spaces with highly uncertain outcomes, volatile ingredients and complex relationships are a different animal all together to deal with. We run an Adaptive Leadership training some time ago with top level leaders from the wider UNO network. We wanted to test if their complexity of thinking was matching the complexity of their jobs and run a Decision Making Assessment (LDMA; from Lectica). These leaders were presented with an ill-structured dilemma (no right or wrong solution) to which they had to come up with ways of responding and deciding and their reasoning. When asked about to portrait decision making process in a way that it could be followed or repeated by others, much to our surprise most came up with a list of action rather than some decision making process. That made us even more curious. We ventured more into this terrain.

The weird thing is that even in ‘normal’ conditions people are not aware of how they make choices. Some people pose their questions attentively, gather relevant information superbly and then “wing” it with the actual act of deciding. And then come up with a perfect explanation in hindsight.

So, starting to establish a baseline around decision making, let’s consider basic steps, drawing on the Lectical Decision Making Assessment and Russo & Schoemaker (Winning Decisions):

  1. Framing: the general goal of the decision maker including the way they think about the knowledge upon which they base their decision
  2. A realistic approach to gathering intelligence
  3. Coming to Conclusions: organising and analysing the information and a way to coordinate different perspectives (weighing)
  4. An approach to communicating and implementing the decision made
  5. Learning from Experience, including a way to measure the decision’s effectiveness so adjustments can be made

In the next blog snippet, I will elaborate a bit more on the single steps, each provides rich ground for further exploration.

Outlook: In some next blogs I intend to bring in more and more layers of decision making, exploring input from different topics, authors, influenzers  and frameworks: Dave Snowden, Gary Klein, Bonnitta Roy, Gerd Gigerenzer, Andy Clarke; Lectica.org; concepts/models/ methods: Framing, Cognitive Biases; Intuition; Sensemaking; Cynefin Framework, OODA Loop, Risk vs. Uncertainty, Heuristics, Constraints, Learning, Failure, Innovation, Theory of Change


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Driving development vs scaling change

Group transformation processes, much like individual transformative processes, follow different phase with distinctly recognizable stages. According to these patterns, a skilled coach/facilitator can keep the individual or the group in the process. The main task is to counteract the conscious or unconscious attempts to escape or to sabotage the process because of phenomena that are considered uncomfortable, irritating or even painful (e.g. Scott M. Peck’s “Groan Zone/Authentic Chaos”/ R. Kegan’s “Immunity to Change”).   

Individual processes can take the form of individual coaching, intensive retreats in self-leadership with awareness based technologies. They are geared towards reintegrating disassociated parts of the self-system or the dis-identification with mapping errors in the meaning making system of the individual.Group processes can have different intentions that go from more coherence in teams, integrating pathologies, towards more authentic participation, innovation and other emergent properties. Most of the time they are not automatic and require facilitated and committed process work with the respective team or group. In an ideal case, group facilitation requires only those minimum elegant structures that keep the group in process while resisting the temptation to go with any of the easy solutions that inevitably pop up along the way, while constantly scanning the quality of presence that is arising in the group and mirror that back. This would ideally also require a kind of ‘process literacy’ of the participants; the ability to distinguish between the self and the (power) moves of identity. The phases and stages of these processes along with the phenomena normally showing up are pictured above. For further reading on the dynamics of group processes see Bonnitta Roy’s article in Kosmos Magazine or this chapter published on group processes. The process traps and the tools and method to counteract escape mechanisms are pictured in Slides below. Please note that the representation with the U-Figure is oversimplified, these processes are non-linear and can’t be followed as a recipe (e.g. “step 5: find deeper meaning and purpose”.) Each phase is emergent from the prior one and can’t be planned, forced, constructed, or jumped. The figure U makes only sense as a coherent view in hindsight and thus differs from the majority of Theory U applications.

While both individual and group/team processes require time, place, effort, training, personal commitment, nurture, practice and guidance, they have a place in adult – , leadership – and team development as well as innovation training, but not for scaling and shifting larger collectives or organisations. Pictures 4 and 5 show  how working with large scale differs in its approach. Complexity thinking and cognitive science deliver the design principles for sensemaking approaches (see Prof. D. Snowden’s work/Cognitive Edge). Here, we work with triggering people into paying attention (cognitive activation) while they volunteer to deliver real, self-signified, and real time data about what is actually happening as opposed to what should be happening. The shift of the whole collective (change) is an effect of the sum total of all micro-shifts of everyday behaviours and attitudes in a more generative direction, toward an ‘adjacent possible’.

Team training, group processes and leadership development as well as internal capacity building might still be desirable in specific instances to complement this process. However, the beauty of this approach to change is at least twofold:

a) with this approach no one has to go a developmental growth process and are allowed to be who they are and have the values they have, while at the same time shifts and change are possible, and they can chose how. 
Thus, sensemaking is complementing adult development while counteracting the developmental bias seen in many (integral) change initiatives, where larger scale change is seen almost exclusively through the lens of growth to higher levels of consciousness as the only way to solve complex problems. This attitude has a built-in arrogance that, sure enough, creates pushback and resistance to change.

b) it scales, with immediate impact, in real time. This is exactly what we need.

This blog was previously published here.