Enlightened Conflict

disconnected and decision making

August 8th, 2017

think courage work ideas question curious

 

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“Developing our abilities to think more clearly, richly, fully — individually and collectively — is absolutely crucial [to solving world problems].”

 

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Adrian West, research director at the Edward de Bono Foundation U.K.

 

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So.

 

I was asked the other day about what I believed the internet, and connectivity’s, brain connection peoplegreatest impact on business was.

 

After chuckling that there was no one thing and we didn’t have enough time to talk about all the aspects that have impacted us … I did suggest one thing we don’t talk about which has a larger ripple effect on the future of business – connectivity’s impact on decision making and how we teach decision making.

 

Simplistically, technological connectivity has killed maybe 90% of the delegation of critical thinking & decision making.

 

Yeah.

 

There are a couple of other sociological insidious things seeping into organizational culture – discouragement of risk taking, particularly among younger employees, ‘flat’ organizations which tend to only put the senior decision makers closer to actual tactical decisions and things like that.

But what connectivity has done is make the most experienced decision makers more available 24/7 and younger people more likely to “send them a quick text asking them what to do” or an email with the question at hand … so that the younger person doesn’t have to make the decision. This translates into less decision making experience, less real ‘outcome of decision experience’ as well as all the critical thinking that gets crammed into one’s head when forced to make some decision <which always takes on some extraordinary size & significance when younger and less experienced>.

 

I believe this is a real issue.

 

In fact … I believed it was so important I googled it to do some research for this post.

 

  • ‘how connectivity has killed decision making’0 results.

 

 

zero none zilch

  • how the internet has killed decision making’ … 0 results on the topic … most on ‘overthinking’ or ‘Information overload is killing our ability to make decisions’

 

 

I even tried ‘how the smartphone has killed decision making’ and got zilch other than some crap about how ‘smartphones are destroying a generation’ and shit like that.

 

Lets be clear.

 

This isn’t about ‘distractions’ or ‘short attention span’ this is about circumventing critical decision making skills through easy connectivity to someone who can make the decision <instead of you>.

 

And I found it extremely odd that there is nothing obvious in terms of the discussion online because society views technology through an extremely critical eye on perceptions of how it forms, or doesn’t form, critical thinking skills. And nowhere is the conflict more apparent than in the business world where in a seemingly non-stop 24/7 world where we deem “speed” as having some absurd value above anything else we force more and more decisions ‘up’ in an organization.

 

Let me tell you how it worked in a disconnected world.

 

As an old guy we had no smartphones and computers weren’t chugging out hundreds of emails between employees all the time.

 

My bosses sat with other bosses in some high falutin’ section of the office space <most often with doors and big desks> and I didn’t have easy access to my bosses because … well … they were not within shouting distance and they had their own shit to do.

 

I had team members, clients and other departments who always needed answers so they could do shit and make some progress <to meet deadlines that I had inevitably placed on them> and, when they needed a decision, 90+% of the time they didn’t want me hanging up the phone saying “I will get back to you after I speak to ‘x’ person.”

And many times I was out of town in meetings and … well … decisions had to be made.

 

In this disconnected world 25 year old Bruce had to make some decisions … the fuck question fucking stupidhopefully some good ones.

 

 

This didn’t mean that afterwards I didn’t sit there going … “fuck me, was that the right thing to do?” … because I did.

 

 

So in that disconnected world I would have to get up when I had a free minute and track down my boss and walk them through what was going to happen because I had made some decision.

 

I could go to Pat, who would sometimes be laying on his back under his desk looking at a world map he had taped under his desk thinking <claiming it gave him a different view of the world>, who would 99% of the time asking me why I thought it was the right decision, what other things we could have considered and start tearing apart the decision to better understand it.manager good

 

I could go to Charlie who would 99% of the time go ‘okay’ … and then in a burst of energy start talking about what we could do now, a kind of “what’s next attitude” now that the decision had been made.

 

I could go to Beth who would always, always, just listen … and then start talking about how we could follow up with some research, or data, or support so that <in her words> “the decision doesn’t get killed by someone else’s opinions.”

 

I could go to any number of other bosses throughout my younger years and discuss a decision that I had made after the fact.

 

In a disconnected world a less experienced person was demanded to assume some responsibility.

 

The bottom line it was my decision and I had to live with it. I didn’t have a shitload of bosses who tried to kill the decision but rather seemed to accept it, warts & all, and figure out how to move forward from it.

 

Now.

 

A shitload of people may argue that in a connected world better decisions are made <slightly> faster <assuming you can reach the decision maker in some timely fashion> therefore business has benefited.

 

They may be partially right.

 

But I would argue 3 things:

 

pivot-mistake-awkward-learn-manage<1> Most decisions made at a lower more tactical, or less strategically influential, level are not really business killers nor are they even ‘not fixable’,

 

<2> by delegating responsibility for a decision ‘upwards’ … someone never learns the critical thinking necessary, sometimes under time duress, nor the burden of responsibility,

 

<3> and ability to bear burden of responsibility is actually an indicator of future leadership skills.

 

I have gone on ad nausea over the years with regard to our short term paranoia within the business world and how it is killing us … and this ‘delegate decisions upwards because connectivity permits it’ is just one additional example.

 

Look.

 

The people who have the most confidence in their decision making skills, unless they are narcissistic asshats, are the ones with most experience in making decisions. And examining decisions made by someone else <which is what a younger person does if a more senior person makes a decision> is not even close to the actual experience of running the mental gauntlet of making the decision yourself … and understanding he burden of responsibility you assume by doing so.

 

By outsourcing our decisions to more experienced people, or even the false ‘certainty’ in data, we cheat ourselves.

We are left responding rather than thinking creatively, critically and autonomously.

And maybe worse we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to unlearn what we believe we have learned <which truly can only happen through trial & error>.

 

Gut feelings, and instincts, or even data … are not the best tools for an ignorance unlearn untrueuncertain world … they only offer the illusion of certainty.  The business world is a complex world with thousands of decisions and a relentless onslaught of uncertainty.

 

About the only thing to maneuver your way through all of this complexity & uncertainty is by using the skill of critical thinking.

 

When we deny people the challenge of thinking critically, evaluating situations, making your own decisions and bearing the burden of responsibility we are heading towards a future where future manager will lack the cognitive ability, and critical thinking skills, to effectively think and make good decisions.

 

While I have several worries with regard to what technology and connectivity is doing to our business world … this is one we do not discuss enough if we are truly interested in the next generation of business people to be better than us.

Enlightened Conflict