Agile Directing - Johda ketterästi

Shift the focus from decision making towards implementation

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Saturday 9/13/14 time 12:11 PM

Managing is making decisions. Challenging is the fact that the world is changing rapidly. Things and people are changing. Our feelings are changing. We should, as a matter of fact, be able to predict the future in order to make accurate decisions. Some people trust on the dictum that this moment is the best estimate of the future. There could not be a sillier phrase!  The future has probably nothing to do with this moment.

For some reason, I always recall an old very stupid joke about Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in these discussions, as her wife asked when he will come home (from the bar). Sibelius answered “How could I know? I am a composer not a predictor”.  This one still amuses me as much every time. 

People use enormous amount of time in making decisions. The world is full of various decision making models and tools which are assumed to be adapted in diverse situations. There are at least three important things to remember (e.g. Pfeffer):

  1. A decision by itself changes nothing. You can decide to acquire a company, launch a new product, or your own personal decisions, but the decision will not put itself into effect.

  2. At the moment a decision is made, we cannot possibly know whether it is good or bad. Decision quality, when measured by outcomes, can only be assessed as the consequences of the decision become known.

  3. The most important observation is that we usually spend more time living with the consequences of our decisions than we do in making them.

Consequently, it seems evident that the focus in management training and practice has been misplaced. Rather than spending enormous amounts of effort in the decision-making process, it would be at least not less useful to contribute in implementing decisions and in working with further adjustments.  

Biases on decision making

Hence, it is close to impossible to assess on beforehand if the solution is correct or not. Maybe we will never find it out. The feeling is very oppressive if we need to make a quick decision which cannot wait for verifications on verifications.  In the worst case, we are so afraid that we cannot make that decision. We forget that not to make a decision is, indeed, a decision as well. On the other hand, waiting in peace can actually be a good choice especially if the underlying issue concerns something vital and irreversible.


It should also be noted that some factors which we assume having heavy impact typically occurs much less severe due to the counterforces.

On top of all, if we had appropriate tools and even a group of specialists and we had plenty of time to analyse the premises, we still have several uncertainty factors related to the human mind which time after time lead to major misjudgements. In my earlier Finnish writing I presented professor of decision making Spyros Markidakis’s (2000) list of the biases which we tend to fall into:

  • Search for facts which support the decision and ignoring the facts which threaten the decision

  • Inconsistency; Inability to apply the same criteria in similar situations

  • Conservatism: Failure to change one’s own mind in light of new information or evidence

  • Recency: The most recent events dominate those in the less recent past, which are downgraded

  • Availability: Reliance upon specific events, which can be easily recalled from memory, to the exclusion of other important information.

  • Anchoring: Predictions are unduly influenced by initial information in forecasting process

  • Illusory correlations: Belief that patterns are evident and/or two variables are causally related when they are not

  • Selective perception: People tend to see problems in terms of their own background and experience.

  • Regression effects: Persistent increases (in some phenomenon) might be due to random reasons, which, if true, would raise the chance of a decrease.  Alternatively, persistent decreases might raise the chances of increases.

  • Attribution of success and failure: Success is attributed to one’s skills while failure to bad luck.

  • Optimism, wishful thinking

  • Underestimating uncertainty

One could think, based on the list, that it would be wise to involve a big group of people in planning in order to diversify the risks of our misjudgements. But in reality, the misjudgements can accumulate by then, since we have, in actual fact, just more delusional persons involved.  

The common sense is full of experience even though it has never tried anything"

                Gilles Deleuze

The major pitfalls: rational thinking and power relations

Unfortunately, one remarkable reason why people are involved in decision making in so large numbers without increasing the quality of the decision is the fear of firings. All too often I hear that someone has been fired based on “a failed decision”. Yet, it is quite impossible to assess in light of this moment if the decision made in light of the past moment were false. That is actually a quite absurd question. Besides, it is much more probable that the fault is in implementation.

If I now had to mention 2 most significant mistakes or cornerstones in strategic management process, they are the following ones:

  • Rational thinking leads very easily in planning unplanned troubles. Phasing the planning and implementation is a problem in many organisations. Preliminary work, of course, should not be disregarded.  All the alternative visions for the future should be sketched. Yet, planning and implementation should be done simultaneously, in collaboration. In this way we also enable learning. And, we should highlight the revising process. In implementation one may think back decisions made and premises analysed in earlier phases. Overall, this means trying a strategy or concept etc. out in practice rather than using rational planning in advance.

  • Unidentified power relations; there are invisible factors, social processes which have a great impact on implementation. If directing or directors are very weak, the power relations can get out of control. The typical attitude according to many power studies is that people tend to ignore these power relations and their impact in organisations.

Despite of the fact that I am neither a composer nor a predictor, I am going to the bar, anyway. Yes! In Helsinki the sun is shining perfectly. I have been working on the data analysis for my dissertation long enough now and really beginning to act like a ghost while in the same time I get scared when I walk past a mirror. “But, I feel alright." :-D

Keywords: decision making, päätöksenteko, implementation, toteutus, strategic management, Pfeffer, Spyros Markidakis,

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