Posts Tagged ‘Emotion’

Frequently in my work at Decision Lens, I am asked the following question in number of different ways by prospective clients and customers, so I’ll paraphrase it generally;

How can I measure the value of using your decision making methodology and how much will it improve my decision making?’

This is an absolutely loaded, or at a minimum a complex, question.    Have you thought about this question?  My immediate reaction, emotionally at least, triggers an internal dialog that goes something like this…

“Argh-Ughhh (or other guttural utterances) Are you freakin’ kidding me?!, how in the world do I answer this question!?? I mean c’mon, we’ve all seen Back to the Future or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, right? Who do I look like Doc Brown? Oh wait, where’s my Flux Capacitor? let me get the DeLorean and I’ll tell you… or we can wait a few months and we’ll get Sherman and Peabody, and hop in the Wayback machine and do a post morten.  I mean, what are we talking about??, are you worried about Godwin’s Law of Time Travel in the present moment? Do you want me to tell you if you’re Eckles stepping on a butterfly in Bradbury’s, “A Sound of Thunder“?  I mean, really!  Alternate futures and contradictory pasts!? You want me to solve that riddle!!?? Never mind the 19 social, 8 memory, 42 decision making and 35 probability biases that slightly complicate your question!!!…OK, breathe, snap out of it, SNAP OUT OF IT!

This all takes place in a fraction of a second or so upon hearing the question (each time), and then I calmly do the prudent thing, Jujitsu! Respond with a question!  “How do you measure your decision making today?” to which the typical response is – “Well, we don’t really…”

Resume internal dialog – “%@#*!”

At this point I usually need to excuse myself for a moment for a quick catharsis, that looks not at all unlike this…

All kidding aside, it’s a challenging question.  Let me illustrate why by way of an example.  Take the example of a company working to implement a collaborative, process based, decision making methodology back in 2005.  The members of the Board want to make better strategic decisions about which product development efforts to allocate funding to in their business planning process.  The agreed measure of portfolio value is based on a third year in market revenue projection for the proposed products.  The company has approximately a 12-18 month expected project cycle time to get new products to market.  That means the potential value created by those decisions in 2005 should be coming to fruition, oh, just about now! (Summer 2005 + 18 months development and launch + 3 year market penetration = ~2010).  So this is why I struggle with the question of how to show the “value” for improved decision making after a 3-6 month process change effort.   Not only that, but as time elapses post-decision, we usually find ourselves and our world in a very different place than the one we imagined.  Sometimes most (nearly all) of the members of that board will have moved on to other professional opportunities. The economy has been interesting, I hope they made good choices.  Neither of these things were remote considerations in the 2005 decision process.

This can’t help but remind me of the wisdom of the old story about the civil war farmer and his son.

One day while working the field, their only horse got spooked and ran off over the hill. The son said, what bad luck, what do we do now? to which his father replied “Good luck, bad luck, too soon to tell”.  A few days later their horse came back over the hill with another three horses!  They greeted him and his friends and the son said, “What good luck dad, now we have all the horses we need” to which his father replied, “Good luck, bad luck, too soon to tell”.  While breaking some of the new wild horses, the tables were turned and the son was thrown and broke his leg.  While complaining, “Dad, what bad luck, and now more burden on you!’  To which he replied, “Good luck, bad luck, too soon to tell”  The war broke out, and all the able body were called.   The severity of his broken leg left the son compromised and unable to serve.  The father was one of few farmers with help, and horses and he prospered – His son said, “What good luck we had dad”. The father wisely reflected “Good luck, bad luck, too soon to tell”…

Believe me, I understand the angst in our decision making, and experience it all the time myself.  Sometimes those snap decisions that shape the moment have a shorter feedback loop, but many of our decisions have this “good decision, bad decision, too soon to tell” element to them.  How about the family that was planning to move into their dream house in two days, only to have it consumed in fire while they wait.  How many scenarios can you think of where decisions could have been made that would have swung their occupancy date 48 hours sooner only to have them present when the fire broke out?  How about the numerous stories of people making decisions to cancel a flight to find that they somehow avoided an ill fated journey?  Nothing makes the message of our parable above clear more than the story of the woman who missed a tragic flight, only to be killed in a car crash a day later.  Good luck, bad luck, too soon to tell.

If you think about this stuff too much, it could make you mental.  So what was that question again?

Oh yeah, here is what I think.  Not I, nor anyone else can tell you if you are making better decisions, that’s too loaded a question and may be overrated anyway.  What we can do is ask ourselves what makes us uncomfortable about the run up to making decisions and how can we mitigate some of those factors.

Here are my three equilateral measures, uncomfortably soft as they may be.  Common sense (not all that common) as they may appear, I believe them very relevant.  Without getting all Peace, Love and Understanding on you, my inseparably linked triumvirate of good decision making are

  • Understanding, Trust and Commitment.
  1. Do I believe I/we have grown in our understanding of the issues?, and are they structured and/or organized in a way that helps me understand my priorities and values in this context?  Has the amount of asymmetric information been reduced?  If the answer is “no” (watch out), and if the process approach you are considering moves you closer to “yes”, then it is immensely valuable.
  2. Do I believe the decision process is transparent enough and provides a means of incentivizing those advising and consulting or providing options to be open, candid and forthcoming about the stakes and their motivations?  If the answer is “no” (it’s a problem) anything you can do that moves you along the continuum toward “yes” is hugely valuable.
  3. Do I believe the process of getting to the decision has engendered commitment from those impacted by or essential to following the decided course of action? Have we disarmed the pocket veto and passive aggressive behavior because voices were heard and the issues were drawn out and confronted head on?  If the answer is “no” (Danger), anything in a proposed process that moves you toward answering “yes” is immeasurably valuable.

I suggest using a survey technique posing questions related to these measures to establish a baseline of shared understanding, reciprocal trust and levels of commitment.  Take a risk on a process that you believe can move the needle toward more positive measures against this baseline.  If you do, you have made a very big difference in the process of getting to that jumping off point where we are all unfortunately required to let events unfold – good decision, bad decision, it’s too soon to tell.  It’s worth the risk, and it may turn out better than you think – especially given that hindsight bias is so insidious.  Please share any thought you might have on measuring good decision making, it’s a fascinating topic.


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Being a strategist, I have a fascination with chess, or at least the ideas of chess. It conjures images of fierce competition, intellectual rigor, intense strategic thinking and steely eyed focus.  It can also be surprisingly dramatic and controversial, with colorful characters.  I really want to be able to play well.  I can beat my six year old son fairly handily, his brain is not yet fully developed, so this should give you some insight into my skill level. I have several iPhone apps that are fun and instructive and provide a useful distraction and brain exercise to combat the monotony of tarmacs and airports.  I like to see me and my iPhone as my personal rendition of the legendary competition between undisputed World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue Chess computer, except in my melodrama the opponents both have less capacity and the skill gap is greater and skewed to the machine. My level of pure frustration with chess is very much on par with what my friends who play golf describe as their emotional relationship to that sport.  One good move or a flash of insight keeps me coming back to the chessboard like a good approach shot does them to the fairway.

Garry Kasparov is considered by many (especially in the post Fischer era) to be the greatest chess player in the world.  He wrote an interesting book called ”How Life Imitates Chess”, which in the end is very much a book about… decision making.

Some of my own progress as a chess novice has been stunted by analysis paralysis.  Determining options can be daunting, choosing which to pursue can be even more so.   After only three moves the number of possible positions on the board can be well over 60,000.  So how do we decide?  If this were a purely analytical process based on logic and analysis, it seems that when Garry Kasparov faced IBM’s Deep Blue computer in 1996 and 1997 that the ability of the computer to win these matches should have been a foregone conclusion as it is when I compete against my iPhone.  Yet Kasparov won the 1996 match 4-2, he lost the 1997 rematch narrowly 2-1/2 – 3-1/2.  He offered to play a third match during an appearance on Larry King Live with a number of conditions, including a willingness to concede Deep Blue as world champion if it won the match.  IBM chose not to take him up on the offer despite the computer’s ability to calculate 200,000,000 positions on the board per second!

There are four basic chess values that Deep Blue must consider before deciding on a move. They are material, position, King safety and tempo.

Material is easy. The rule of thumb is that if a pawn is considered to be worth a value of 1, pieces (knights and bishops) are worth 3 each, a rook is worth 5, and the Queen 9. The King, of course, is beyond value, since his loss means the end of the game. This varies slightly in certain situations — retaining the Bishop pair in the end game generally increases their value beyond 6, for example – but the laws of material are fairly constant.

Position is more complex. In the old days, it was thought that control of the center was all that mattered. Nearly all grandmaster games before the 20th century began with Pawn to King 4 or Pawn to Queen 4. Control of the center is still important, but certain grandmasters in this century found some effective “hypermodern” openings that delay development of the center, with the idea that the opponent will overextend his position and leave himself vulnerable for attack.

The simplest way to understand position is by looking at your pieces and counting the number of safe squares that they can attack. The more squares they control, the stronger the position. Thus, a seemingly quiet pawn move can be very strong if it opens many new squares for a more powerful piece behind it.

The defensive aspect of position is the safety of the King. This is self-explanatory. A computer must assign a value to the safety of the King’s position in order to know how to make a purely defensive move.

Tempo is related to position but focuses on the race to develop control of the board. A player is said to “lose a tempo” if he dillydallies while the opponent is making more productive advances.

The programmers have defined how Deep Blue’s program evaluates these factors. The computer then searches through all the legal moves and chooses the one that yields the highest value.

I don’t know about you, but this process is beyond my computational capacity in any meaningful and constrained time frame.

So let’s think about this.  It’s been estimated that through a process of elimination and prioritization of high potential moves, that human chess masters consider approximately three dozen serious options or so before making a move versus two hundred million per second by Deep Blue.  Then, we apply a mix of analysis, judgment, preference, creativity, experience, intuition and a dash of guts to form a decision cocktail and make a choice (or sometimes take a gamble), often resulting in a very good outcomes.

So, How do Garry Kasparovs work?

So is this yet another tale of man versus machine, like the folklore of John Henry versus the steam hammer? Is it better to have nearly limitless computational capacity with limited experience and intuition, or vast experience and intuition and less computational capacity? It seems to me that a Deep Blue Kasparov would be invincible. Maybe man versus machine is the wrong question?

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