Decision-Making under Complex Conditions

Business revolves around making decisions, often risky decisions, usually with incomplete information and too often in less time than we need. Executives at every level, in every industry, are confronted with information overload, less leeway for mistakes, and a business environment that changes rapidly. In light of this increased pressure and volatility, the old-fashioned ways of making decisions–depending on intuition, common sense, and specialized expertise – are simply no longer sufficient.

VUCA can be a buzzword – the Reality is a White Water World

In a long term study on the VUCA skills of leaders (#2057), asked to describe a general decision-making process for resolving ill-structured real-life dilemmas, only 54.5% described an actual decision-making process. Often, a coherent decision-making process is mostly lacking and is replaced by a story that provides a sense in hindsight, meaning: people make up a story afterward that seems to come up with a process, explaining to others – and themselves- how they decided afterward. People think they have decided in a coherent way. This phenomenon is called “retrospective coherence”. Fun fact: that story depends a lot on the outcome of the decision: if a decision leads to success (the right ‘bet’) it tends to draw a completely different retrospective story than an outcome considered a failure.

What if it’s complex?

So, if people have difficulties with decision-making under normal circumstances, what happens when it gets complex? How can people, leaders, executives or consultants make decisions that match today’s complexity, taking and coordinating many different viewpoints? And, indeed, how do you make decisions in VUCA conditions when the outcome is inherently uncertain and cannot be predicted?

We support clients to improve their decision-making, choice-making, and sensemaking skills:

  • solid and sound decision making processes using the appropriate tools for the appropriate domains
  • being able to distinguish between different sensemaking domains and chose different decision-making approaches
  • being able to act and move in contextually appropriate ways
  • Skill development for collaborative thinking, complexity thinking, perspective-taking and coordination, sensing and probing in the complex domains
  • dealing with uncertainty, volatility, disorder, and chaos

With these approaches, clients can not only make better decisions but also avoid the problems that arise when their preferred leadership style causes them to make mistakes, confusion, or uncertainty. Since the complex domain is much more prevalent in the business world than most leaders realize — and requires different, often counterintuitive, responses—we concentrate particularly on that context. Leaders who understand that the world is often irrational and unpredictable will find this work particularly useful.

Our favourite tools and approaches for this work:

  • The Cynefin Framework from The Cynefin Company
  • The Sensemaker® – Suite from The Cynefin Company (Dave Snowden)
  • The Lectical Decision Making Assessment (LDMA, Theo Dawsons
  • The works of Gary Klein, Gerd Gigerenzer, Russo, and Shoemakers.
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