Posts Tagged ‘decision making’

Last week we discussed Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger and “The Miracle on the Hudson.” In resilience engineering there is a constant search for the character traits one must possess to be successful when dealing with complex socio-technical interfaces, which are increasingly becoming the norm. In line with the speed with which decisions have to be made in foggy situations it seems appropriate to have a checklist. I love checklists. When done correctly they serve two functions simultaneously: setting the right frame of mind and helping establish a focus on successful behaviors.

A checklist can also help during more mundane times such as trying to get back to sleep (or maybe just GET to sleep) at 2 AM when your head is spinning because of a challenging project.  Below are two checklists that may help in terms of those specific behaviors and attitudes.

What Makes For a Good Pilot?

The civil aviation authority in France has published a list of capabilities pilots feel are essential for effective execution in complex situations:

  1. Be able to construct and maintain an adequate distributed mental representation of the situation.
  2. Be able to assess risk and threats as relevant for the flight.
  3. Assess one’s self-proficiency envelope, know the boundaries, and adapt one’s tactics and strategies accordingly.
  4. Be able to switch from a situation under control, to a crisis situation.
  5. Be able to construct and maintain a relevant level of confidence towards self, others, and the technology involved.
  6. Be able to learn, implement and maintain routines and skills associated with basic flight functions (fly, navigate, communicate).
  7. Be able to contribute to decision-making in complex, uncertain environments.
  8. Manage interactions with aircraft automated systems.
  9. Know, understand, and be able to speak aviation jargon.
  10. Manage interactions with, and cooperate with, crewmembers and other staff.
  11. Make intelligent usage of procedures.
  12. Use available technical and human resources, and reconfigure as needed.
  13. Be aware of time and time pressure.
  14. Properly transfer acquired knowledge and know-how from specific context to a different one.
  15. Properly use and maintain information and communication technology equipment.

Another way to look at this from a purely psychological perspective is to have the following traits:

  1. When under pressure acknowledge your feelings and then focus on the work at hand. Emotionality leads to out of control behavior of simply freezing up.
  2. See through the situation to success. Stay focused on the long haul.
  3. Look. Let go of projections. Simply see what is there and understand the trends.
  4. Decide how much you believe in yourself and whether or not that is sufficient to maintain your leadership position.
  5. Practice humility. This means knowing what you can and can’t do…which leads to the next point.
  6. Learn how to ask for help. The goal is to get the job done rather than being Superman or Wonder Woman.
  7. Let people know you see them and need their help. Practice empathy and address people as they are. If it’s details they like then give them details. If there is a need for the overall picture then paint the picture (time permitting).
  8. Stay positive while admitting difficulties are present. To paraphrase Andy Groves when asked if all could be lost if the next generation chip failed, “Yes. Keep moving. We can make it.”

Again, these are checklists — mirrors. When having a hard time go through and see where you are working well and where things could improve. Use the results to drive the next day’s agenda. This is probably preaching to the choir but bears repeating: by having the right attitude, knowing where to focus, asking the right questions, and risking action leadership emerges.

Flexible Focus #16: The decision trap

by William Reed on August 26, 2010

Ambiguity causes anxiety in those who are inflexible, and creates possibilities in the minds of the people who have flexible focus.

But tolerance for ambiguity drops when you have to make a decision. Urgency adds pressure, and when the decision affects the core areas of your life, you can feel as if you are lost in a labyrinth of choices.

However, a labyrinth is only a mystery to those trapped within its walls. The way to free yourself from the trap is to gain a bird’s eye perspective, which helps you see where you are now, and how to find your way out.

Decision is a strong word, a choice, a judgment, a commitment to a purpose. Decisiveness is a quality of successful people, who make decisions quickly and change their minds slowly. This enables them to take advantage of opportunities that are missed or go unnoticed by those who take a long time to make a decision, and then easily change their minds.

Your decision sets the wheels in motion, whereas with indecision the wheel turns without you. This insight is the origin behind such sayings as, he who hesitates is lost, and strike while the iron is hot. As long as you are in motion you can steer the vehicle. The moment you stop moving you start to drift, and are at the mercy of the elements.

Opportunities come in critical moments

So says Roger Hamilton, author of Your Life Your Legacy, who compares decision making with what you do the moment the soccer ball is passed to you. Depending on your position on the pitch and who is around you, you may pass, run with, or kick the ball. If you hesitate then the ball, and the opportunity, will be taken away from you.

Roger also recommends Six Criteria for Decision Making, which can keep you moving in the right direction.

  1. Fits Passion and Purpose
  2. Allows Value Creation
  3. Allows Leverage
  4. Failure steers not sinks
  5. Downside learning motivates
  6. Upside learning inspires

When faced with an important decision in your career, the alternatives usually contain some attractive elements mixed in with other elements that make you hesitate. The temptation is to compromise and take what you can get, rationalizing that no option will be perfect. However, if you disregard an important element now, it will eventually come back and cause you to regret or revise your decision.

If you can align all six of the decision criteria, then you are already out of the labyrinth.

Learn from others with a better perspective

A great way to gain perspective is to gather quotes from people who have wisdom and experience with decisions. You can search famous quotes online using key words such as decisions, dilemma, choices, or whatever word works best for you.

Here are some quotes that I searched and selected using the word decisions.

  • Pressure is nothing more than the shadow of great opportunity. (~Michael Jordan)
  • It is never to late to be what you might have been. (~George Eliot)
  • You will always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. (~Wayne Gretsky)
  • It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are. (~Roy Disney)
  • Life is the sum of all of your choices. (~Albert Camus)
  • Indecision becomes decision with time. (~Unknown)
  • Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
  • Fortune favors the prepared mind. (~Louis Pasteur)

When you face an important decision that does not easily yield to logical choices, place your favorite quotes on a Mandala Chart and use them as a tool for accessing the best perspective on your decision. You can download a PDF featuring the quotes above as a DECISION MANDALA for practice, and then create your own.

This is quick way to create a roundtable of advisors to help you with your decision, a portable mastermind that costs nothing and transcends time and space. The process of collecting the quotes helps you refine your criteria, and the time spent looking at the quotes in the Mandala Chart format brings things into sharper focus.

You can apply the same process working with decision criteria. Eight criteria should be enough for most situations. The Mandala Chart can be useful as a self-coaching tool, or to organize your thoughts before seeking outside advice. It can sort through the insignificant many, and give you a field of focus for the significant few.

Making better decisions

How do you make good decisions when the choice is not easy?

Do you list the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative? A good beginning, but it is often hard to weigh emotions and intangibles.

Do you consult with your friends? Nice to have moral support, but friendly advice can end up making you more confused than ever. Advice is cheap, and none of people you ask are likely to have as much invested in the outcome as you do.

Do you gather more information? Worthwhile to a point, but too much analysis leads to decision paralysis.

Do you flip a coin? Consult an oracle? Ultimately the decision will be back to you.

The only way to get clarity on a decision is to reflect on it with a calm mind and a broad perspective. The Mandala Chart can help you do this.

The quality of your decisions determines whether they become traps or opportunities.

Ever been attracted to someone who will save the day? You know, the White Knight that will save the situation? What about the flip side? Someone showing up in your life you absolutely can’t stand? A leader must pay very close attention to feelings that accompany these situations. Are you aware both situations can have a great deal in common? They can have what I call large “blind spots” associated with them, blind spots into which organizations can fall and disappear.

There’s a curious component to these blind spots since they can have as much or more to do with the leader’s character as the exterior reality. The dynamics of these blind spots and how to deal with them fall under the category of projection. So what is projection? How can one deal with it?


Projection is shady. It creates false feelings of well being around potentially disastrous decisions. At the core projection deals with the desire to take a shortcut to avoid going to dark places, especially within.


Previous blogs mention we all have portions of our psyche that are quite strong and other parts that are weak. Over time, we tend to build our lives around the stronger components and gradually develop a fear of those weaker ones. The primary reasons for the fear are imagined and real instabilities from which we believe we may not recover. Simply put, our reputation, business, etc., are at stake. We are staring at uncertainty.

The shortcut attempted is trying to find someone, the Other, who will deal with those dark spaces for us. We become infatuated with the Other. The Other is taken hostage. Conversely, the shortcut with the detested person is to simply get rid of him or her. This way the scary work can, again, be avoided. In both cases the leader stays myopic, loses vision, and is unable to see the consequences of decisions. A boss hiring someone to do the more difficult parts of the boss’s responsibilities (read: dirty work) is a good example of projection. It tears the team apart.

So Which is Which?

How does one know if the desired decision is wise and simple or blind and chaotic? In one word, “Options.” In two words, “Risk management.” In another two words, “Assumption analysis.” Let me explain.

Projection is sly and takes several forms. It is a narcotic that puts discernment to sleep. It is a demolition expert wiring explosives to all that has been built. It puts the trigger in the leader’s hand. It intensifies emotionality making pulling the trigger feel oh so sweet. (“Just fire him! Just hire her! Start without a contract! Requirements gathering will slow us down! Cash flow! Everything will be okay.”) Then it waits for the blind decision that irreversibly pulls the trigger and destroys healthy power, assets, and people.

By asking questions around options, risk management, and assumption analysis the door to healthier decision-making opens. Vision returns. Now, all this means going into those dark spaces. It’s hard work, rewarding work. It’s also the simplest work. (There’s never enough time to do it right the first time but there’s always time to fix it.) Keep in mind that just like Hades in Greek mythology, that’s where the real gold not the fool’s gold is!

The Entrepreneurial Switch

by Guy Ralfe on December 23, 2009

do-not-sit-on-the-fenceFor many entrepreneurship is scary, I found it that way for a long time until I found myself in the right environment. Initially I envisaged entrepreneurship as finding the right idea, quitting your job and following your nose with your new idea. For the longest time I just seemed to miss the idea.

In a way it is a bit like approaching getting married. You love your girlfriend and want to spend the rest of your life together, you see your friends and family getting married one by one around you and they all seem happy. However, I was still apprehensive about what was going to happen after I got married. Were all my married friends suddenly engulfed by the “married spirits” and sworn to secrecy. What was the world like after taking those vows? Were they just waiting for me to fall into the same trap?

Of course not! What was I thinking looking back now? The reality was that I just did not have the knowledge or experience of what were the standards and criteria for operating as a married couple. I didn’t even know where to look to find the answers. Yes I saw my parents with 30+ years of experience but it did not occur to me that that would be the same for me. In fact what I didn’t realize was that the actual answer to this mystery was actually my parents, as the background of what it is to be married is shaped by those around us, that we observe. Our interpretation of that is how we engage in a married relationship – of course your spouse also has her background of what marriage is and so the interaction of these two visions is what drives the resultant actions we hold in marriage as a couple. So far so good and in many ways our actions seem to be exactly how our parents acted with us.

There are no magical entrepreneurial spirits out there but there are different ways of overcoming the apprehension. Many entrepreneurs just find themselves in the situation and their story is just how they dealt with the situation. A bit like a couple after a steamy and risky night, suddenly find themselves dealing with the situation of becoming parents, they just have to deal with the situation.

The remaining entrepreneurs are in two camps: those waiting / planning and those executing on fulfilling their ambition. Those waiting for the right moment, big idea, perfect plan etc will remain that way unless something around them changes. I was in this group for a long time, I know what it is like. For me the ambition was there but the desire was just not strong enough to quit and start out on my own. I recognized that I still had many knowledge gaps and a lack of capacity to act, which all compounded the risk to start executing. For me I needed the organization, to help me cover these knowledge gaps and with the team at Active Garage I have been able to execute on an entrepreneurial venture I could not have imagined on my own.

From me this is a thank you to the Active Garage team for making this venture possible. To those of you on the fence, waiting for the right something. Stop waiting and seek out the help in the areas that you have apprehension – those are the knowledge gaps you have to close before you can move forward. Happy Holidays!

Producing Good Decisions… consistently!

by Thomas Frasher on August 11, 2009

decision making cartoonDecision making for entrepreneurs/business owners can be difficult, time consuming, arduous, fractious and distracting.  This article discusses a method for clarifying decisions and streamlining decision making.

There are four parties to every business decision:

– The facilitator

– The approver

– The contributors

– The informed parties

1. The facilitator – this person pushes everything, keeps the schedule, facilitates meetings, and makes sure the lines of communication stay open. There can only be one of these at a time.

2. The approver – There is only one of these for any decision. This is the final authority for the decision, they have the responsibility for the delivery of the business outcome of the decision. In some very rare cases you can have more than one approver, this requires a high degree of trust between the approvers and they need to have a single vision of the desired outcome. The approver needs to be designated pre-decision.

3. The Contributors – These are the individuals that execute the decision. The contributors have the technical expertise to provide input to the decision. It is very important to understand that the contributors do not need to agree with the decision, however, after the decision is made the facilitator and the contributors must support the decision. There should be 5 or less contributors.

4. The informed parties – The fourth group are those that are informed of the decision. They have no vote and no say. The facilitator is responsible for communicating the decision and the business outcome of the decision to those affected by the decision.

It is also important to understand that this process can also be used to drive efforts to produce business outcomes, not just decisions. with the contributors being the architects of the design, the facilitator keeping the schedule and coordinating actions among the contributors and informed (often implementers), the approver having the final say over the outcome quality.

Paying careful attention to the make-up of the decision team will greatly influence the quality and speed of the decision. Good teams produce good decisions… consistently!

Can’t Sell? Maybe its in your head

by Robert Driscoll on July 30, 2009

In-your-headIn 2009, many salespeople feel that with the economy struggling to recover and with constant news of the unemployment rate rising every month, it is impossible to make a sale.  They feel like their company does not care for them anymore and that they will be replaced and therefore the drive to succeed has been replaced by the fear of losing. 

If you look at the unemployment rate from January 1998 thru June 2009, the figures are frightening.


This is how a company’s sales should look, not the unemployment rate.

The reality is that in order to survive in today’s marketplace, companies still need to make sales.  Sales are what allow a company to pay for its expenses and to continue to innovate by creating new offers in the marketplace.

So how do you succeed in today’s marketplace?  Here are some “thinking” points:

1. Cash Flow: Your customer’s cash flow has most likely decreased in 2009. In today’s sales environment, don’t focus on the features of your product or services. Every department within a company today is competing for scarce funding resources. Focus on how your offer will decrease their expenses and/or increase their revenue. You need to be able to show your customer how your product or service will address their concerns in turn helping them get the internal approval to fund your project

2. More Decision Makers: Every dollar being spent within an organization is being scrutinized today. When presenting your offer to your customer, always make the assumption that a financial decision-maker is in the meeting, regardless if they are present or not. Sooner or later they will be

3. Help your customers fight the fear: Most customers today are taking longer to make a decision. Recessions create a tremendous sense of uncertainty. This fear of uncertainty not only freezes your client’s decision-making, but their budgets as well. Understanding your clients concerns and articulating to them how investing in your product or service will help them succeed in today’s marketplace will help them in their decision-making process

Every organization needs a sales strategy to not only help increase their sales but overtake their competitors who are in a recession paralysis. Show your customers how your offer will help them in their plan to success and in turn you too will succeed, but it all starts in your head.