Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Decision Making

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.
Author unknown

Indecision is debilitating; it feeds upon itself; it is, one might almost say, habit-forming. Not only that, but it is contagious; it transmits itself to others.

Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
Napoleon Bonaparte

There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.
William James

If you put off everything ‘till you're sure of it, you'll get nothing done.
Norman Vincent Peale

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Benjamin Franklin

When we react to a situation, we can/we’ll possibly behave in three ways:
        · action              · inaction              · non-action
Action is a ‘process of doing something to make something happen’; inaction is ‘lack of action/ not doing something about a situation’; non-action is ‘absence of action’. There is an element of involvement in ‘action’ or ‘inaction’— performing or not performing. Whereas non-action, by its very nature, is a non-involvement one; when we see two persons fighting, we either go our way or simply watch; we don’t wish to embroil (=involve) ourselves.

An action or act is ‘a thing someone does’. This may or may not involve decision-making.  We perform certain acts at subconscious level:
          · reflexive act— which is performed without conscious thought
          · instinctive act— which is a natural tendency to behave in a particular way
                                           using knowledge and abilities we’re born with
          · impulsive—which is a strong urge/desire to act (without thinking).
There is no decision-making occurring in these subconscious acts. We say, ‘Ouch!’ in pain when we stumble or trip over a stone. We recoil in fear when we see a snake. Both are reflexive acts. If I’m accused of embezzlement, I instinctively deny it. When we see a child weep, we impulsively take her in our arms, saying, ‘Now, now, don’t cry, there’s a good girl!’

There are situations where we take quick decisions. Practically, there is no process of decision-making. Here we are governed by
          · emotions—love, magnanimity, sympathy, anger, jealously, hatred, disgust shape
                               our decisions.
          · confidence—intelligence, experience, knowledge helps us decide.
As against this, there are situations where we don’t take decisions at all. Practically there is no process of decision-making. Here we are governed by
          · indifference—no interest in (not)taking a decision
          · inertia         __no desire to (not) take a decision
          · no motivation—no reason to (not) take a decision.
When we don’t take a decision either way, we are drifting.

But there are acts that occur at conscious level and therefore involve decision-making. Decision-making automatically implies choices from which we select one. We look at a situation, we think about it—what it implies, what is expected of us, what choices we have, what results are definite, probable or possible—desirable or not desirable, whether, if these are desirable, how desirable they are, how they would impinge on others, us and/or the future. We think, analyze, we argue for and against, we weigh, we judge and then decide to take action, not to take action.   

 Let’s quickly summarize:

                                                                  act / action
                                      |                                                       |
                              subconscious                                  conscious 
                        (no decision-making)                          (decision-making)                 
          ___________|__________________             ____|______________
          |                     |                   |                |            |                |                  |
    reflexive       instinctive    impulsive  drifting   action     inaction   non-action   

Decision-making and what it implies
Now that we’ve got an overall background picture, let’s move on to ‘decision-making’.
A decision emerges from engagement of heart alone, of mind alone, of both mind and heart. It indicates a final choice from a given number of choices/options. 

As an individual, you take decisions in two capacities:
                    · as an individual
                    · as a member of a group.

As a individual, you initiate the process of decision-making in areas that affect you personally—habits, manners, education, use of free time, job, hobbies. Now, you are either subjective or objective. You are subjective when you’re influenced by your feelings, tastes, opinions and ignore hard facts or evidence to decide whether to act or not. You are objective when you’re not influenced by your feelings, tastes, opinions but when you analyze and weigh hard facts and evidence to decided whether to act or not.

                                               |                               |
                                          action                       inaction                                                   
                      |                                   |                                  | 
               subjective       ®®         both      ¬¬          objective  
                      |                                   |                                  |
                   heart                  mind and heart                    mind
    (emotions, feelings,)                                        (cold logic and reasoning)

Delay in decision-making

When you are in the process of decision-making, it’s very possible that you’ll find it difficult to take a quick decision because you may delay or procrastinate. There could be any number of ‘obstructors’ in coming to a decision:
           · lack of self-confidence
           · too little or too much knowledge
           · inexperience
           · getting stuck in analysis of situation
           · peer pressure
           · prejudices
           · images in your mind of:
                others     (wrong/inadequate/poor) and
           · constraints like cast, status in society, position in hierarchy.   

‘Can I do it?’ is a good question to ask yourself, but if you keep asking for longer than necessary or too often, you’ll only be generating self-doubt. Which is not a good thing. It is important, in fact vital, for you to believe in yourself and your ability to make decisions without taking too much time. Taking time to think is a positive sign because you want to be sure you make the right decision. But if you decide after a considerable period of time, it’s possible that such a delayed decision may do more harm than good. Making decisions without undue delay, moving ahead and making progress are possible only if you have confidence in yourself.

If you feel you don’t have sufficient information about a situation or people involved in that situation, you become unsure of what to do. For instance, you fear you’ll be conned into buying a useless car if you have little knowledge about cars. Conversely, being an expert on cars can lead to an undue delay resulting in no purchase. Because the mental chart of plusses and minuses of each ‘make’ you draw up can confuse more than clarify.

You’ll begin to doubt your ability to make right decisions if you feel ‘experience’ is an essential qualification. And you may not be willing to rely on the experience of others. Bringing up children is one area where some young parents find it difficult to go about  parenting.

When you want to decide on a certain action, you may have several choices to choose from. You begin to analyze each choice in detail, what each can offer, how beneficial each would if chosen, whether the benefit would be temporary or permanent, and so on. If you carry this analysis too far or for too long, you could experience what is known an ‘analysis paralysis’. Your mind gets paralyzed because it is filled with so much information that it is no able to sift information and arrive at a conclusion.

Peer pressure results when you receive advice, comments, suggestions from friends, colleagues, family, relatives. Everybody’s help seems genuine, and this delays making a decision.

‘Prejudice’ is an unreasonable liking or dislike or preference for a person, group, custom etc., especially when it is based on race, religion, sex etc. You’d rather not accept help from someone because you’re prejudiced against him/her.

You form negative impressions or opinions, over the years, of people because of some bitter experiences in the past, because they don’t belong to your cast or community, because they are lower or higher in status or hierarchy. These can cause delay if you have to deal with them before making a decision.   

More often than not, you may know you’re unable to come to a decision but you may not know what’s causing the delay. If this is true in your case, the above discussion can help you identify the source for delay and deal with it quickly enough to avoid the delay.                                   

William Shakespeare, the master playwright that he is, used ‘delay in decision-making’ as the running theme and gifted the world with one of its greatest tragedy plays ‘Hamlet’. With his ‘to be or not to be’, Hamlet, the lead character, epitomizes ‘procrastination’ (delay in making a decision).  

How do you make a decision?

There is no magic formula for decision-making, that is, what steps you should take to arrive at a decision. But you can use these six steps to your advantage:

1. Define in clear terms your goal/problem. Put it in a single sentence.
2. Assess the implications –for you, your family or others who may be affected by it.
3. Explore different perspectives. See your goal/problem from different angles.
4. Be clear in your mind what will/can happen as a result of the decision you are making.
5. Weigh pros and cons of the possible results/effects. Look closely at the advantages and
    disadvantages of the choices open to you.
6. Decide and act. Commit yourself to a choice or course of action.

How do you make right decisions?

I’m sure, like everyone else, you also want to make right decisions. To be able to do this, you need to be aware of and avoid certain pitfalls arising from the nature of your perception:
          · The first choice that occurs to you may be appealing
             and so you may not think of or look at other available choices.
          · Of the available choices, you may like a particular one and so gather facts only in
             support of  it alone.
          · When you face strange situations, you are unwilling to change your pattern of
             deciding and apply the one you’ve used before.
          · You ignore information that seems to be out of place or to have no direct link.
          · You think that a decision you take will work because you want it to work.
          · You play it safe by taking a decision that others have taken in the past in similar
          · You decide to do something because it has been suggested by someone you like.
          · You think that you can do damage control later if your present decision leads to

You can avoid these dangers and make a right beginning if you allow yourself to bear in mind the following simple principles:

1. Be open-minded. Don’t allow pre-conceived notions you may have about issues
    affecting you as an individual or as a member of a group. Otherwise, you’re likely to
    look for information/ideas/arguments that confirm your notion/belief/philosophy. This
    is known as ‘confirming-evidence trap’.

2. Don’t play it safe. Don’t be over-cautious either. Like several others, you may choose
    a choice or course of action that seems to be ‘safe’ or that you know to be ‘safe’
    because you feel other available choices seem to involve an element of ‘risk’.

3. Don’t be over-confident. You may think yourself to be smarter than others, and you
    may actually be, but it does not always follow that you always make the right decision.

4. Don’t jump at a choice. Avoid picking a choice just because it appeals to your
    imagination, aesthetic sense or because it has some immediate benefit, like saving cost.

Planning a decision-making process

The chances for making the right decisions are bright if you decide on a structured approach, that is, if you make a plan.

There are four benefits to decision-making planning:

1. You have your goal(s), the probable time duration, the probable cost involved,
    personnel you need, the resources you have and you’ll need, the method(s) to employ,
    written down clearly, precisely.

2. Such planning gives a clear purpose and direction. It can work as your mirror to
    measure how close (or far) you are from accomplishing your goal. This measure is 
    important because it can show you immediately when you are off course and need to
    make adjustments and corrections.

3. Planning is a tool to translate an idea into a specific action or a series of actions. It
    gives focus and direction.

4. Though planning needs time, it’s a time spent well because it will prevent squandering
    of time during the actual process.

Decisions affecting a group

The word ‘group’ can refer to a team as large as a company/firm or as small as a group of, say, three members.

When decisions are to be taken that will affect the working of a group, four decision modes are available:
1. You take the decision (autonomy).
2. You delegate the responsibility of the decision to an individual or a group of
    individuals (delegation).
3. You need ideas/inputs from the group (consultation).
4. You involve the members in the process (consensus).

Choose ‘Autonomy’ if
you have sufficient expertise and information, you have information that mustn’t be shared, time is a constraint, the problem will not significantly affect the relationship between you and the group. Routine rules and regulations and certain policy matters will need autonomous decisions.

Choose ‘delegation’ if
you are not an expert and an expert is available. ‘Specialized’ activities like ‘market trends’, HRD are examples.

Choose ‘consultation’ if
you feel you need inputs from the members, you think collaborative thinking is preferable.

Choose ‘consensus’ if
you think active involvement of the group is necessary for acceptance of the decision and for its effective implementation. Involvement of representatives of  ‘workers’ is desirable here.    

As a member of a small group
A few employees may form a group for the purpose of deciding on the fate of a specific short-term activity, you initiate the process of decision-making (if you are a leader) or join others in the process of decision-making regarding issues that affect job-related situations involving you and your shareholders, you and your customers, you and provider of jobs/tasks, you and your employees/colleagues. The obvious inference is that you are not alone, and, whether you initiate or join, the process involves others besides you; to that extent, you’re governed, controlled, constrained by the thought processes of others. You must learn to be cooperative, to be understanding and to even compromise.

Decision-making techniques   

You’ll see below a list of ‘techniques’. You’re only being introduced to them. For more information, you’ll have to either browse the internet or visit a library.

1. Paerto Analysis 

        · Write down the activity for which a decision is necessary.
        · List the choices that come to your mind.
        · Apply a score appropriate to the aptness of each choice.
        · Choose the one with the highest score.

2. Paired Comparison Analysis
This helps consider the relative importance of different courses of action. It helps you decide on one priority over the others when they all seem equally important.  

3. Grid Analysis

        · List your options as ‘rows’ and the factors as ‘columns’.
        · Award weights to each factor.
        · Score each option for each factor using numbers from 0(poor) to 5 (very good).
        · Multiply each score by the weight already fixed.
        · Add up the total scores for each option.
        · Choose the option that has received the highest score.

Say you want to own a house. Your ‘options’ can be:
          buying a plot and constructing a house
          buy a built house: single house or a flat
Your ‘factors’ can be:
          construction quality,
          space (‘carpet’ area and/ or around the house),
          proximity to ‘facilities’ like school, market, hospital,

4. PMI       
This name stands for ‘Plus/Minus/Interesting’.
        · Make a table of three columns.
        · Use one column each for ‘Plus’, ‘Minus’, ‘Interesting’.
        · List all positive results you can think of under ‘plus’.
        · List all negative results you can think of under ‘Minus’.
        · Mention all possible ‘implications under ‘Interesting’.
Once you’ve completed listing, you’ll probably find that it’s easy to decide now.

5. Force Field Analysis 
This is a useful technique for weighing pros and cons of an issue. This will help strengthen the forces supporting a decision and reduce the impact of opposition to it.

6. Six Thinking Hats
This technique was developed by Edward deBono. It takes into account diverse thoughts, including emotions of participants, it encourages them to look at a situation from various vantage points or different perspectives/angles. It helps the group to perform a well-balanced act through its approach and analysis.

The six hats of the technique represent six different styles of thinking, and it is thus a comprehensive tool to arrive at a right decision. The different styles allow members to mentally tick off as many perspectives as they need to view the situation from. They do not classify the thinkers but only represent categories of thinking behavior, as members wear particular parts. The purpose of the hats is to direct thinking. It is most likely to inspire creative, inspiring thinking, similar to word association.

What the hats represent

The six hats are named after colours: white, yellow, black, red, green and blue.

    ¨ White represents facts and figures.
        Wearing this hat, you relate the present problem to past trends/experiences from a
        historical perspective, gather information and data relevant to the problem or
        situation, present these to the group and maintain a neutral position.
    ¨ Yellow represents positives, pluses, values and benefits.
        Wearing this hat, you look at the problem from a logical and positive point
        of view. 
    ¨ Black represents negatives, minuses, losses.
        Wearing this hat, you look at the problem from a logical and negative point
        of view. You concentrate on negative aspects—what risks there are and what
        could go wrong.
    ¨ Red represents emotions, gut feelings, intuition.
        Waring this hat, you react to the problem emotionally or intuitively.  
        DeBono is quoted as saying, ‘Emotions are an essential part of our thinking
        ability and not just something extra that mucks up our thinking.’
    ¨ Green represents creativity.
        Wearing this hat, you think out of the box and offer original ideas or
    ¨ Blue represents control over the thinking, organizing ideas shared, arriving at
        The Chair wears this hat.
        He/She initiates, directs, supervises and controls the decision-making act.

 How the hats actually work

The leader can decide who should wear which ‘hat’ for he/she may know the thinking strengths of each member; or he may invite members to choose the ‘hat’. What is important is that they should do full justice to the concept underlying the ‘hat’ they choose. The leader acquaints the members with the problem or situation, knows who wear which hat, sets a time limit, listens to them, and then takes a decision.

Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is especially valuable in generating alternatives. The mind remembers structures and pictures much better than it does sentences, words or bullet points. It is a visual tool. It helps show the structure or shape of a topic and the branches as the linkages between the details. If you’re making a presentation, it will help your audience understand and appreciate your thinking process. It also allows you to keep track of the raw data or facts.

Mind Mapping can be done as a group, or as a means of individual brainstorming.

How Mapping functions
     · Title
        Write down the title of the subject in the center of the page and circle it.
     · Branches
        Draw lines as branches to indicate major sub-headings.
     · Sub-braches
        For each sub-heading, think of ideas and draw branches.
     · Work quickly   
        Put down thoughts in single words or brief phrases, without evaluating them.
     · Pictures and colours
        Draw relevant pictures if you can. Or simply use different colours for easy reading.
     · Reorganization
        Remove repetition, make expressions sharper, briefer, more precise.
 This technique is useful when you wish to explore and understand a new idea or a product. You start asking questions with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘how’.

Take a paper and draw a star in the middle and put down the idea or product inside. Write each ‘wh-’ expression inside the star. Now ask as many questions as you can for each ‘wh-’ expression outside the star. Until you’re satisfied you’ve asked enough questions.
Now you can answer all these questions so that you get a clear picture of what you’re thinking about.

Here all members express their thoughts before they meet as a group. As such, they can make useful contributions as they will not be overpowered by bullying; they cannot hide themselves behind others’ skirts and so will have to take active part.

To make this possible,
     1. the task or problem is presented to all members individually,
     2. they are given sufficient time to apply their mind to the task,
     3. a core group of two members is formed and they discuss their thoughts,
     4. a third member is added, he/she presents his/her thoughts before he/she hears their
         ideas for further discussion,
     5. another member is added to the group for similar activity and
     6. the members together reach a final decision after an open discussion.

This technique works best with small groups.

The Delphi Method
Like the Stepladder method, this one also encourages active member participation. But it differs in its functioning from the Stepladder:
    · it has an objective facilitator or a leader,
    · its members will have no idea about each other,
    · it’s a lengthy process,
    · it’s used for major decisions requiring inputs from a large number of people.

The following are several other techniques:

    1. SWOT— Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

    2. PEST Model: Political, Economic, Social and Technology Analysis
    3. Cost Benefit Analysis Model
    4. Multivoting and Nominal Group Technique
        Multivoting reduces long lists of ideas and identifies important items
        while Nominal Group Technique generates ideas and prioritizes items.
    5. Decision Tree Analysis.