Make better decisions: process matters

I have an longstanding obsession with understanding how decisions get made in complex environments, and how we can make better decisions in local government, non-profit and business settings. (Hey, I told you I’m a Northwestern University alum… I’ve got a lifetime membership in Geeks R Us).

Because of that interest, part of the answer to “What did I do over winter break?” involved… listening to 24 lectures on the Art of Critical Decision Making, a Teaching Company lecture series by Dr. Michael Roberto of Bryant University, while driving the 12 hours to the Gator Bowl.   Part psychology, part sociology, part organizational studies, it’s a fascinating exploration.

There’s lots to share from this series, but here’s something from Dr. Roberto to chew on as you get ready to ramp up the new year:

Many leaders fail because they think of decisions as events, not processes..We think of the decision maker sitting alone at a moment in time, pondering what choice to make. However, most decisions involve a series of events and interactions that unfold over time. Decisions involve processes that take place inside the minds of individuals, within groups, and across units of complex organizations.

When confronted with a tough issue, we focus on the question, what decision should I make? We should first ask, how I should I go about making this decision? (emphasis mine)


I’ve written before that we have a tendency to fall back on seat-of-the-pants, rules-we-learned-in-kindergarten methods when making decisions that will impact the future of our communities, whether those decisions have to do with economic development strategies, long-range physical planning, policy matters or pretty much anything else.  And then we wonder why our efforts don’t generate the results we wanted, and we get blindsided by unforeseen consequences.  In most cases, the trouble probably starts with how we made our decisions.


I don’t generally do New Years’ resolutions anymore, but I do try to set some priorities.  So one thing that I will try to do this year is continue to explore what business, psychologists, sociologists and others have learned about how we make decisions – about our blind spots, our shortcuts, our limitations and how we can consciously learn to work around them.  In the meantime, if you want to check out Dr. Roberto’s work, I’d recommend it – sometimes a little geekdom does you good.

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