Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wise delinquency

Could this be true? (If so, it could put a lot of consultants out of business)
... when decision makers use informal deliberative techniques rather than textbook formal decision methods, they are usually doing so quite appropriately, since deliberation better fits their decision challenges than those formal methods.

This is the editor's lead-in to "The Wise Delinquency of Decision Makers", an article by Tim Van Gelder in Quadrant, March 2010 No 464 (Volume LIV, Number 3), p.40-43

I was put onto this by an interesting post on IBIS, a structured decision and argument tool, by EightToLate

So, what does brother van Gelder tell us? After interviewing a number of military officers (and others), all trained in depth in decision methodology, he concluded that few ever used their training explicitly for decision making. (We have to be careful here since we know from proven research that intuition is a learned response from real experience; thus, we can't dismiss their training out of hand. See: Gladwell, or Kahneman, among others)

He gives us this anecdote:
Some years ago I (Percy Diaconis) was trying to decide whether or not to move to Harvard from Stanford. I had bored my friends silly with endless discussion. Finally, one of them said, "You're one of our leading decision theorists. Maybe you should make a list of the costs and benefits and try to roughly calculate your expected utility." Without thinking, I blurted
out, "Come on, Sandy, this is serious."

Oh well!

van Gelder gives four reasons for such delinquency:
  • "First, there are the intrinsic biases and limitations built into each of our minds by virtue of the fact that our thinking equipment is the result of a long, haphazard and incomplete evolutionary process.
  • Second, there are the ill effects of the passions—temper, envy, pride, fear. Emotions are an unavoidable and often helpful aspect of human decision-making, but they can also be the enemy of wisdom.
  • Third, there are problems which arise due to the fact that important deliberative decisions are often made not by individuals but by small groups such as boards or committees.
  • Finally, compounding the above is the untutored manner in which people engage in deliberation. The regrettable fact is that few people have ever had any training in the art of deliberative decision-making."
Good grief! It's a wonder that anything gets decided on its merits!