Decision Making Under Adversity

Article and picture from AusIMM

Learning how the brain interprets and processes stressful situations can help the decision-making process in high-pressure environments

We initially became interested in decision-making as a topic because of insights and evidence from the gender diversity debate. Organisations with both women and men on the leadership team in relatively equal numbers perform better on a range of measures including profitability, productivity, risk, customer satisfaction and staff engagement. And the reasons why? Researchers put it down to better decision-making:

  • ‘companies with strong female leadership deliver a 36 per cent higher return on equity, according to the index provider MSCI’ (World Economic Forum, 2015)
  • ‘companies ranked in the bottom quarter in terms of gender diversity on their boards were hit by 24 per cent more governance-related controversies than average’ (World Economic Forum, 2015).

However, women are frequently criticised for their decision-making. They’re allegedly slower at making decisions, wanting more evidence and are more risk averse. This is seen as a negative by organisations that are used to more masculine models of leadership.

....... This is an excerpt from the Minerals Institute monthly publication in which I feature in conjunction with Amanda Blesing in the October 2016 edition.

Read the full article here

What Were You Thinking?

This week I have been witness to a host questionable decisions - personal opinion, mind you.

A couple of years ago Australia’s two major supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths decided to pursue the concept of self-service checkouts. Quite obviously, in an effort to reduce costs and to increase profit.

Looks like it worked too because Coles’ full-year earnings rose 4.3 per cent to $1.86 billion with food and liquor sales increasing 5.1 per cent to $32.6 billion, and the crucial comparable sales growth lifted 4.1 per cent.[1]

However, this week Coles has announced that self-service has led to an increase of theft. Gee, couldn’t see that coming. (Insert bucket of sarcasm when reading that last sentence)

Whilst there is market research that indicates the Australian public is none-too-fussed about the introduction of self-service supermarket checkouts, I’m yet to encounter this ‘average shopper’ in the flesh.

These self-scanning machines seldom serve me without throwing up every conceivable problem imaginable. Did you bring your own bag? There’s an item in the bag that didn’t scan. Can’t identify that grocery item. Price unknown or the item’s barcode simply won’t scan. These issues and many more, require the intervention of the overworked sole staff member that is expected to look after twenty of these machines, all being used by non-experienced checkout operators such as myself.

Is there any wonder someone throws that packet of Tic-Taks into their bag after five minutes of trying to get the scanner to read it. And let’s not even get started on trying to pay with cash now Australia has decided to introduce its super secure yet ugly $5 note. That decision is looking like costing Australian businesses many millions of dollars to upgrade all manner of vending machines to recognise the new note.[2]

What then rubs salt in the self-service wound is that the NSW Police have been roped into devoting taxpayer funded resources into policing what was a profit driven decision in the first place. Even more of a questionable decision is that of a government agency coming to the aid of a commercial company that is in a mess of its own making.

Firstly, it is true that we the consumer, end up paying more for groceries and the likes due to the retailer hiking prices to offset their losses from theft. Secondly, we fund the police to enforce the law and that may include conducting covert surveillance and other law enforcement activities. But to deploy these crime-fighting skills and tactics to stop that evil person who scans an avocado as an orange, or scans their chewing gum packet once despite having two packets, needs more thought.

I don’t know about you but with the advent of terrorism, cyber crime, home invasions and car-jackings [3] as well as Australia’s No. 1 world ranking drug [4] problem and illicit gun crime which is at unprecedented levels [5], I’m of the opinion that passing a carrot off as celery doesn’t sound so criminal after all.

The decision for NSW police to go public [6] with this move to assist Coles with their problem is my second questionable decision. Yes, stealing is stealing and the police are there to enforce the law. And this is in no way a criticism of the on-the-beat police officer but more so a ‘What were you thinking?’ moment when the decision was made to go public in unison with Coles (a commercial entity) to devote police resources to tackle a problem of Coles’ own making.

Surely someone in the police media liaison unit considered the ‘look’ of co-hosting a media release with a commercial entity to highlight that they are prioritising grocery theft.

I agree that stealing is stealing and offenders should be prosecuted, don’t get me wrong. But this is Coles’ mess and they should take it upon themselves to employ loss prevention officers.

Better still, give young Australian’s a start in life with a part-time after school job serving me at the checkout. They’ll do it way faster and much more securely than I can do it myself. I bet they’ll even accept the new $5.00 note!








Doing is Learning

Part of working with organisations to streamline their decision processes and working with staff to empower their decision-making is conducting some exercises to test these processes. Sometimes this is in the form of crisis management exercises, emergency management exercises or simply communication exercises involving team building and decision management.

Whatever the mechanism, there's one vital insight I have gained from these exercises.

I don’t worry about how great or badly your exercise goes. Yes my shoulders slump if things we’ve spoken about in the classroom go badly. Yes I too am disappointed if it is a shemozzle. But this chance to practice, is the time to uncover shortcomings and build confidence. – There’s no such thing as a failed exercise, only failure to learn from it.

There is one sure fire way to ensure success at pretty much everything you do and that is to study less and practice more.

If you attended a lecture a week for 52 weeks and also read through the complete volume of instructions on how to ride a bicycle and you had never ever riden one previously in your life, do you think after all this instruction and learning you could ride a bicycle? Most likely not.

The real learning takes place by testing yourself and putting your learning into practice.

Keep the “Rule of Two-Thirds” in mind. Spend only one third of your time studying and the other two-thirds doing the activity. Testing yourself.

 In his book The Talent Code author Dan Coyle states "Our brains evolved to learn by doing things, not by hearing about them. This is one of the reasons that, for a lot of skills, it’s much better to spend about two thirds of your time testing yourself on it rather than absorbing it. There’s a rule of two thirds. If you want to, say, memorize a passage, it’s better to spend 30 percent of your time reading it, and the other 70 percent of your time testing yourself on that knowledge."

If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.
— Bruce Lee

Action precedes clarity

What makes people hesitant to attempt something new? Why are you confident that you can do something you do regularly? What Is Confidence?

Confidence is often described in a range of different ways and it’s sometimes combined and even overlaps with self-esteem and optimism.

Yet confidence has its own distinct quality. Wikipedia puts it this way; 'Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self confidence is having confidence in one's self.'

So to put it simplistically, it's the sense that you possess the skill and competence to successfully do a certain task.  You know that specific actions will lead to specific outcomes.

The decision cycle that I use regularly is that action precedes clarity; clarity brings ceratinty; certainty breeds confidence and confidence emboldens you to take action.

What needs to be highlighted however is that confidence is not all encompassing. Being confident doesn't mean you are good at something and certainly not good at everything.

Confidence is “task specific.” Just because you’re confident in your ability to excel in one area, doesn’t mean you’re confident in all areas. Realising and accepting this helps break through indecision.

Similarly, I describe the above concept as a 'cycle'. Because we have different levels of confidence for different decisions or tasks we will consistently find ourselves starting at a different point on the cycle each time. Some things we already have confidence with and so take action. Action results in an outcome (expected or otherwise) and so our clarity develops leading to more certainty regarding our decision or performance. Other times we may seek more clarity before being certain about our choice, decision or action. And so on.

Summing up; we can learn and study till the cows come home but until we try, do, act or practice no real learning has taken place.

Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn puts it this way: 'testing is actually a better form of studying than studying.'