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“Every long-term decision is a snowflake, or a fingerprint: unique, never to be repeated”

“Farsighted – How We Make the Decisions that Matter the Most” by Steven Johnson

 

Should I take that job or not? How about the opportunity to join the board of a non-for-profit organization? What if I move to a different country without knowing the language?

Or: how do we organize our garden so we can minimize the impact on insects and nature? Should we plan in the new house a charging option for an electrical car (even if we don’t have one)?

Yes, these are decisions that I have been faced with. Some with long-term impact on my life, career, and development. Some that required me to look at a broader spectrum and eventually have a crystal ball to see the future.

And yes, I have moved to a country without mastering the language, and changed career paths a couple of times (a mentee told me that I have 5 more career paths in me at least!) and we have in the garage a connection for electric car (but we don’t own one yet).

For each crossroad I made for myself a map of potential roads and looked at them objectively and assess where should I go next and how is all fitting with the bigger picture.

I’m convinced that you have been faced with complex decisions. In a way or another, you have employed a method of decision making to gain some security.

What are complex decisions?

  • “Complex decisions involve multiple variables.”
  • “Complex decisions require full-spectrum analysis.”
  • Complex decisions force us to predict the future
  • “Complex decisions involve varied levels of uncertainty.”
  • “Complex decisions often involve conflicting objectives.”
  • “Complex decisions harbor undiscovered options.”
  • “Complex decisions are prone to System 1 failings.” (see “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman for the definition of System 1)
  • “Complex decisions are vulnerable to failures of collective intelligence.”

In the same time, full spectrum decision making is a skill that we all have to learn on our own. There are no university courses or dry runs or specialization courses. You have to do it and learn from it.

“Farsighted” attempts at providing the reader a set of methods that can be employed to reach a well-documented and conscious decision. It includes a balanced mix between explaining how a method is working and how it was deployed in a real example, all via storytelling.

My challenge was to summarize the information in a visual map under the motto

“In case of being faced with taking a decision, break the glass and use the toolkit inside”.

“In case of being faced with taking a decision, break the glass and use the toolkit inside”.

I have focused on providing a description for each instrument, the pluses and minuses and how we could improve it to reach better decisions.

This is not to say that the list is complete, there are other methods out there (such as decision trees, cost-benefit analysis, etc). My goal was to summarize the ones described in the book as they are thought particularly for complex decisions.

To give you a flavor of the book, below is a selection of quotes:

  • “We have a tendency to emphasize the results of good decisions and not the process that led to the decision itself.”
  • “To make the right choice, you have to figure out how to structure the decision properly, which is itself an important skill.”
  • “We have a tendency to value the decisive leader, the one who makes a hard choice and sticks with it. But sometimes the most farsighted decisions are the ones that leave room for tinkering down the line.”
  • “Part of being a smart decision-maker is being open-minded enough to realize that other people might have a different way of thinking about the decision.”
  • “When we make hard choices, we are implicitly making predictions about the course of future events.”
  • “You can’t run a thousand parallel simulations of your own life, the way the meteorologists do, but you can read a thousand novels over the course of that life.”
  • “We are all fingerprints. But what is generalizable is the importance of building those mental models, taking the time to think through the subjective responses of the individuals influenced by the decision at hand. But whatever approach seems to work best—given the unique situation we are confronting, and our own distinctive mental habits and aptitudes—the two things we will almost always benefit from are time and a fresh perspective.”
  • “No one makes a hard decision without some kind of mental map. Sometimes those maps are literal ones.”
  • “The better approach, I believe, is to accept uncertainty, try to understand it, and make it part of our reasoning. Uncertainty today is not just an occasional, temporary deviation from a reasonable predictability; it is a basic structural feature of the business environment. “(quote attributed in the book to Pierre Wack)
  • “But often the best decision—the decision that somehow finds the most artful balance between the competing bands of the spectrum—turns out to be an option that wasn’t visible at the outset.”
“We don’t have an infallible algorithm for making wise choices, but we do have a meaningful body of techniques that can keep us from making stupid ones.”
That is exactly what the visual map is – a collection of techniques that can make us a better decision-maker.
I would be curious to know what other methods you use for evaluating the complex decision you are faced with. Do reach out or share it with everyone so we can learn one from the other.

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