Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Decisions, decisions...

What is the orientation you have toward decisions? Do you make them? Arrive at them?

There are subtle but important differences between them. In the former, one has to make up our mind. they have an empirical process to look as the situation with objectivity. This implies infallible knowledge, expertise and instinct. It is quite possible make decisions quite on your own. It is a what-are-we-doing-to-do-captain? matter.

In the latter, the process is democratic, there is a group of people setting out to solve a problem and so doing they are open to the emergence of new information. It provides the room for evaluation and feedback, space to amend operating assumptions. It provides a spirit of exploration and experimentation.

A wise man by the name of John Rooks recently said in a talk in Portland Maine, about culture, sustainability and authenticity, that solving problems well requires that the group solving them be working on the right scale. This sheds a light of  appropriateness on the difference between making and arriving at decisions; of groups arriving at decisions versus people making them.

In a culture of individualism and hero-worship we are wired for making rather than arriving at decisions, and this leads to all manner of wasted time and money in the problem solving world.

Often there is a tendency for people with resources to take roles in organizations or in coalitions that have a mission to address some social problem, only to find they are geared for making decisions only. They don't have the will to work with others. But because they can not make decisions for social issues, they end up maneuvering politically; focusing on internal power-struggles instead of solving anything. It appears to be more about the "helper" acting out a savior-complex, fulfilling a narrative of helper, at the end of the day.

Then there is the ones that make decisions independently for a group that is actively engaged in a collaborative process. These decision makers are also wired in the same culture. They are not accustomed to status and resources, nor are they tolerant of "process". They are passionate, intelligent and the sense of urgency that can not wait for the process to figure it out. They know what to do! Everyone should just follow them! They end up tyrannizing the group, hijacking the process, alienating people and trying to pushing a decision through.

The scale of some problems require wide participation. Engaging discussion and structured processes to arrive at decisions together are essential in adaptive solutions to large scale problems. Take food security, housing, joblessness, or any number of social ills. These can not be solved by making decisions. Expertise in this situations is an absolute liability. Status, a barrier to engagement. An accustomed decision maker, say a top-dog, is completely lost, and would rather hide, deny or bury evidence of the problem, then to engage with a process that navigates ambiguity and hold people in relationship so they may arrive together, at decision.

We need diversity, unknowns, committed people to engage in problem solving. So, given you have some greater discernment about the appropriate orientation toward decisions, what is can you do? The answer begins with partnership. From there the collective wisdom can begin to emerge.

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