Posts Tagged ‘Decision’

One of the problems with our caveman brains is that they are a bit slow. It may not feel that way but they are – and if you don’t believe me try this experiment: Stand up, get a book, hold it in your left hand open it at any page, hold a coin in your right hand between finger and thumb so that it will land on the floor when you drop it. Then close your eyes and count to three. Open your eyes, drop the coin, and immediately start reading the book. How long is it before you are consciously aware of the meaning of the words. My guess is that the coin hits the floor about the same time that you start to making sense of what is on the page. That means it takes about half a second to start perceiving what you are seeing. That long delay is a problem because the world around us is often changing much faster than that and, to survive, we need to keep up. So what we do is fill in the gaps – what we perceive is a combination of what we actually see and what we expect to see – the process is seamless, automatic and unconscious. And that is OK so long as expectation and reality stay in tune – but what happens when they don’t? We experience the “Eh?” effect which signals that we are temporarily confused – an uncomfortable and scary feeling which resolves when we re-align our perception with reality. Over time we all learn to avoid that uncomfortable confusion feeling with a simple mind trick – we just filter out the things we see that do not fit our expectation. Psychologists call this “perceptual distortion” and the effect is even greater when we look with our minds-eye rather than our real eyes – then we only perceive  what we expect to see and we avoid the uncomfortable “Eh?” effect completely.  This unconscious behaviour we all demonstrate is called self-delusion and it is a powerful barrier to improvement – because to improve we have to first accept that what we have is not good enough and that reality does not match our expectation.

To become a master of improvement it is necessary to learn to be comfortable with the “eh?” feeling – to disconnect it from the negative emotion of fear that drives the denial reaction and self-justifying behaviour – and instead to reconnect it to the positive emotion of excitement that drives the curiosity action and exploratory behaviour.  One ewasy way to generate the “eh?” effect is to perform reality checks – to consciously compare what we actually see with what we expect to see.  That is not easy because our perception is very slippery – we are all very,very good at perceptual distortion. A way around this is to present ourselves with a picture of realilty over time, using the past as a baseline, and our understanding of the system, we can predict what we believe will happen in the near future. We then compare what actually happens with our expectation.  Any significant deviations are “eh?” effects that we can use to focus our curiosity – for there hide the nuggets of new knowledge.  But how do we know what is a “signifcant” deviation? To answer that we must avoid using our slippery self-delusional perception system – we need a tool that is designed to do this interpretation safely, easily, and quickly.  Click here for an example of such a tool.

Sustained improvement only follows from effective actions; which follow from well-informed decisions – not from blind guessing.  A well-informed decision imples good information – and good information is not just good data. Good information implies that good data is presented in a format that is both undistorted and meaningful to the recipient.  How we present data is, in my experience, one of the weakest links in the improvement process.  We rarely see data presented in a clear, undistorted, and informative way and commonly we see it presented in a way that obscures or distorts our perception of reality. We are presented with partial facts quoted without context – so we unconsciously fill in the gaps with our own assumptions and prejudices and in so doing distort our perception further.  And the more emotive the subject the more durable the memory that we create – which means it continues to distort our future perception even more.

The primary purpose of the news media is survival – by selling news – so the more emotive and memorable the news the better it sells.  Accuracy and completeness can render news less attractive: by generating the “that’s obvious, it is not news” response.  Catchy headlines sell news and to do that they need to generate a specific emotional reaction quickly – and that emotion is curiosity! Once alerted, they must hold the readers attention by quickly creating a sense of drama and suspense – like a good joke – by being just ambiguous enough to resonate with many different pepole – playing on their prejudices to build the emotional intensity.

The purpose of politicians is survival – to stay in power long enough to achieve their goals – so the less negative press they attract the better – but Politicians and the Press need each other because their purpose is the same – to survive by selling an idea to the masses – and to do that they must distort reality and create ambiguity.  This has the unfortunate side effect of also generating less-than-wise decisions.

So if our goal is to cut through the emotive fog and get to a good decision quickly so that we can act effectively we need just the right data presented in context and in an unambiguous format that we, the decision-maker, can interpret quickly. The most accessible format is as a picture that tells a story – the past, the present and the likely future – a future that is shaped by the actions that come from the decisions we make in the present that we make using information from the past.  The skill is to convert data into a story … and one simple and effective tool for doing that is a process behaviour chart.

Time is an intangible – we can’t touch it, taste it, smell it, hear it or see it – yet we do sense it – and we know it is valuable. A precious commodity we call lifetime. We often treat lifetime as it if were tangible – something that we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch – something like money. We often hear the phrase “time is money” and we say things like “spending time” and “wasting time” – as if it were money. But time is not money; we cannot save time, we cannot buy time, and we all get the same amount of time per day to use.

Another odd thing about time is that we sense that it moves in one direction – from past to future with now as the transition. This creates an interesting discontinuity: if we look forward from now into the future we perceive an infinite number of possibilities; yet if we look backwards from now into the past we see only one actuality. That is really odd – Now is when Infinity becomes One.

So, how does that insight help us make a choice?  Well, suppose we have decided what we want in the future and are now trying to make a choice of what to do next; to plan our route to our future desired goal.  Looking from now forwards presents us with a very large number of paths to choose from, none of which we can be sure will lead us safely to where we want to get to.  So what happens? We may become paralysed by indecision; we may debate and argue about which path to take; we may boldly step out on a plausible path with hope and courage; or we may just guess and stumble on with blind faith.  Which we choose seems more a reflection of our personality than a rational strategy. So let us try something else – let us project ourselves into the future to the place where we want to be; and then let us look backwards in time from the future to the present. Now we see a single path that led to where we are; and by unpicking that path we can see that each step of it had a set of necessary and sufficient pre-conditions which, with the addition of time, moved us forward along the path.  Hindsight is much clearer than foresight and each of us has a lifetime’s worth of hindsight to reflect on; and the cumulative hindsight of history to draw on.  This is not an exercise in fantasy; we already have what we need.

To make our choice we start with the outcome we want and ask the question “What are the immediately preceeding necessary and sufficient conditions?”   Then for each condition we ask the question “Does that condition already exist?” If so then we stop – we need go no further on this side branch; and if not then we repeat the Two Questions and we keep going until we have linked our goal back to pre-conditions that exist.  All the pre-conditions in the map we have drawn are necessary but we do not yet have all of them. Some are only dependent on pre-conditions that exist – these are the important ones because they tell us exactly what to focus on doing next. Our choice is now obvious and simple – though the action may not be easy. No one said the journey would be easy!