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Decision Making: It’s not what we think. It’s also what we see. And what we do too.

21 July 2016

So how do we make decisions? That’s easy. First we diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next we design (identify possible solutions), then we decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally we do (carry that choice into action). In other words, we think in order to act: I call this thinking first.

So how do we make decisions? That’s easy. First we diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next we design (identify possible solutions), then we decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally we do (carry that choice into action). In other words, we think in order to act: I call this thinking first.

So let’s take a decision that was hardly incidental in your life: finding your mate. Did you think first? Following this model, let’s say as a male, first you make a list of what you are looking for in a woman, say brilliant, beautiful, and bashful. Then you list all the possible candidates. Next comes the analysis: you score each candidate (so to speak), on all the criteria. Finally, you add up all the scores to find out who has won, and inform the lucky lady. Except then she informs you that “While you were going through all this, I got married and now have a couple of kids.” Thinking first does have its drawbacks--although arranged marriages in India kind of work like this, and many do work quite well. (You may wish to consider this the next time around.)

So chances are that you proceeded in a different way, like my father, who announced to my grandmother that “Today I met the woman I’m going to marry!” And that he did. There was not a lot of analysis in this decision, I assure you, but it worked out well—a long and happy marriage ensued.

This is known as “love at first sight”; as a model of decision making, I call it seeing first. Even some rather formal decisions happen this way—for example, deciding to hire someone two seconds into the interview, or buying a company because you like the looks of the place. These are not necessarily whims; they can be insights.

But not so fast: there’s a slower and sometimes more sensible way to make decisions. I call it doing first. I’ll leave how that works in finding a mate to your imagination. Suffice it to say that when you’re not sure how to proceed—often the case in making decisions big and small—then you will just have to do, in order to think, instead of thinking, in order to do. You try something in a limited way to see if it might work, and if it doesn’t, you try something else until you find what work. Start small to learn big.

Of course, this can have its drawbacks too. As Terry Connolly, a professor who studies decision making, quipped: “Nuclear wars and childbearing decisions are poor settings for a strategy of ‘try a little one and see how it goes.’” But there are lots of other decisions for which that proves to be a perfectly good strategy. IKEA came up with selling its furniture unassembled after a worker had to take the legs off a table in order to get it in his car. “If we have to do this, what do we think about our customers…?” Rest assured that IKEA must have tried this on a few products before it changed many of them.

So, have you an important decision to make? Good. Hold those thoughts! Look around! Do something! Then you may find yourself thinking differently.

(For more on this and related topics, see the book by Brice Ahlstrand, Joseph Lampel, and myself entitled Management: It’s not what you think (Amazon and Pearson, 2010).

Reference: Terry Connolly “On Taking Action Seriously” in G.N.Undon and D.N.Brunstein eds. Decision-Making: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry (Boston: Kent, 1982:45)

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg Originally posted September 26, 2014. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

On the earth, for the Earth

14 July 2016

You have likely heard of the World Economic Forum (WEF), or at least its annual conference in Davos. Every January, 2500 of the world’s movers and shakers descend on this Swiss resort to shake the world, while keeping it firmly planted in economic globalization.

Have you heard of the World Social Forum (WSF)? It expects twenty times as many people to descend on Montreal next month in the hope of doing a little moving and shaking of their own, for example to loosen the roots of the “crisis of capitalism”. This will be the twelfth bi-annual conference of the WSF, but the first in the “North”. (Others have taken place in Brazil, India, Tunisia, etc.)

You have likely heard of the World Economic Forum (WEF), or at least its annual conference in Davos. Every January, 2500 of the world’s movers and shakers descend on this Swiss resort to shake the world, while keeping it firmly planted in economic globalization.

Have you heard of the World Social Forum (WSF)? It expects twenty times as many people to descend on Montreal next month in the hope of doing a little moving and shaking of their own, for example to loosen the roots of the “crisis of capitalism”. This will be the twelfth bi-annual conference of the WSF, but the first in the “North”. (Others have taken place in Brazil, India, Tunisia, etc.)

Don’t feel badly if you never heard of the WSF. Recently I gave a talk to 300 people at HEC, Montreal’s main French-language business school. Barely 10 knew about the WSF, let alone that it was meeting soon in their hometown.

A Tale of Two Forums  Such is the state of our world today: focused on the economic while obscuring the social. The WEF calls itself “The International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.” Cooptation too, thanks to its success in promoting globalization at the expense of national sovereignties. The private sector leads and the public sector follows while the plural sector (civil society) struggles.

I have been to Davos as a speaker a few times. In 2006, I attended a session entitled “Global Business: Survivor or Scapegoat.” Some choice! (Of course, it’s the choice we’ve been hearing from those pundits quick to dismiss the recent Brexit vote.)

Don’t expect to see anything like Davos in Montreal next month. The WEF attracts elites; its agenda is loaded with big names, not necessarily with anything new to say; and the organization is big on “young global leaders” (presumably selected by old global leaders).

The WSF attracts activists, organizes its conferences around “self-managed workshops”, and promotes collaboration—what I like to call communityship, in contrast to leadership. This is a meet-up of people concerned less about doing deals than about the consequences of doing such deals.

The WEF conference gets enormous press coverage. The WSF conference has barely received mention in its host city, let alone around the world. If the WEF is about power in the name of change, then the WSF is about change in the face of power.

Here, then, we have the two main models for changing this world, neither of which is working. One fails because it brings together the people who have benefited most from some of our main problems—income disparities, consumptive economics, lop-sided globalization. The other fails because it lacks the power, and the attention, to do something about these problems, not to mention its own lack of organization. (Business gets its collective act together for what it wants—such as tax cuts—while the plural sector associations do not. To paraphrase a song by Tom Lehrer, the WSF may have the good songs, but the WEF wins the big battles.) Together, this is not a happy combination for a troubled world.

The theme of the Montreal conference is “Another world is needed.” Another model too. Imagine if one day the two forums—social and economic—marched as equal partners for a balanced world. While holding our breath for that, let me tell you what we will be doing in Montreal to nudge the world slightly in this direction.

Our March  Our little team at McGill has been busy preparing three events. I will be speaking about Rebalancing Society, and we have organized a panel about how the plural sector can get its collective act together to help restore balance in this troubled world.

We are especially excited about our self-organizing event, entitled “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” It will be held on Wednesday August 10 from 9:15-15h in the McGill University football stadium—on that earth. (Please see the Facebook event for details.)  Participants from around the world will meet each other and form small groups, each to focus on one issue, such as:

  • What can we do in our personal lives to reverse global warming?
  • How can we get creative about challenging the most destructive environmental practices?
  • What can we do to make our city energy friendly?
  • How can we build societies of better and better instead of economies of more and more?
  • How can the WSF become the force that the WEF has become?

The groups will share their proposals for change, and select the best, for presentation to the whole throng. Five really cool proposals will do it (although we will not complain if we get 50). Then we will all consider what each of us can carry home for action—starting the following week. If 100 people go home determined to make a difference, we will be happy; if 1000 do so, we will be delighted.

Please join us. We promise you a low fee for the whole conference: at $40 it comes to .0005 that of Davos (finally a chance to join the 0.1%!). (You can register here.)We can also guarantee you a lot more fun: a living lab and do-it-yourself climactic picnic, on the ground. Who knows, we might even move the Earth!

© Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

Brexit and the rest: it all adds up

6 July 2016

I have written frequently in these TWOGs on the need for rebalancing society, but I feel that recent events have made the message more compelling. I will keep conveying it until that message gets through, or I can no longer write. So if you agree with it, please circulate this so that I can move on!

Question: What might explain the following? Brexit. Trump. Sanders. Democracies in retreat. Thugs in presidential palaces. Backlash against globalization. Add to these: climate change and corruption in America (worse than Brazil). Answer: Imbalance in society.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and that set off our relentless march to imbalance. The wall fell on us, thanks to our misunderstanding of what brought it down

I have written frequently in these TWOGs on the need for rebalancing society, but I feel that recent events have made the message more compelling. I will keep conveying it until that message gets through, or I can no longer write. So if you agree with it, please circulate this so that I can move on!

Question: What might explain the following? Brexit. Trump. Sanders. Democracies in retreat. Thugs in presidential palaces. Backlash against globalization. Add to these: climate change and corruption in America (worse than Brazil). Answer: Imbalance in society.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and that set off our relentless march to imbalance. The wall fell on us, thanks to our misunderstanding of what brought it down

It was claimed in 1989 that capitalism had triumphed. This was dangerously wrong. Balance had triumphed. While the communist states of Eastern Europe were severely out of balance, with so much power concentrated in their public sectors, the successful nations of the West balanced their power more effectively across their public, private, and plural (civil society) sectors. But a failure to understand this has been throwing the world out of balance ever since, with power increasingly concentrated in the private sectors, in favor of the forces of economics and individualism. Since 1989, capitalism has indeed been triumphing, globally and domestically.

Now consider these happenings in light of this imbalance.

Brexit. Was there dissatisfaction with the European Union? Of course. Was there xenophobia? No doubt. But these evident explanations do not justify the knee-jerk reactions of an establishment press to the pro-Brexit vote: “stupidity”, “lies”, “cynical politicians”, “dumb down”, “hucksters”—to quote from two recent columns in the New York Times, by Roger Cohen and Thomas Freidman. It’s too easy to dismiss the lashing out of disadvantaged and disoriented people instead of probing into the source of their angst, especially when that questions the globalization dogma that these two writers have promoted blindly for years.

Beneath this vote lies the social imbalance When people have lost their way, while their established leadership offers no viable alternative, they find somewhere to go. And this can cause them to act no less stupidly than their leaders. The prevailing paradigm, the American dream, has become a nightmare for too many people around the world. (Especially in America, where social mobility—the odds of getting ahead when born into a poor family—has dropped startlingly.) One inconvenient truth behind the Brexit vote is the anger felt about globalization, in this country directed at the powerful elites of the London financial establishment.

Trump and Sanders. Take your pick—rednecks or liberals, manifesting their frustration as anger or angst. Again we find the same social imbalance, here directed more explicitly at the brazen power of Wall Street.

Democracies in retreat.  Not long ago, democracies were in ascension, all over the world. No longer. Thanks again to the imbalance, they are in retreat, left and right, with the unimpeded rise of elected thugs in presidential palaces (Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, etc.), or through the bribing of elected politicians by private interests. In Brazil this corruption is criminal, and at least is being prosecuted. In the United States this corruption is legal, and so it continues to fester.

Global Warming. Is there excess use of carbon energy? Of course there is. But behind this is the imbalance inherent in the domination of economic interests over social need: the obsessive drive for quantity over quality—for more and more GDP and Shareholder Value instead of better and better lives. We and our planet are being consumed by consumption.

Exaggerated individualism and rampant globalization. These are two sides of the same coin. Instead of balancing individual needs with collective and communal needs, we allow one to dominate the other two. And who are the prime beneficiaries of this? The wealthiest individuals, many of whom are the greediest—and the ones behind a globalization movement that allows an unelected economic autocracy to undermine national sovereignties and social communities. No wonder so many disrupted people vote Brexit, Trump, Sanders, Le Pen, et al. Who else acknowledges their concerns?

And how about terrorist attacks?  Angry at the established forces and unimpeded by a balanced alternative to the prevailing paradigm, some people lash out in horrific ways, with indiscriminate killing. They express no concern for the consequences of their actions. (Does the 1% express concern for the consequences of their particular actions—less horrendous but more widespread?) After the latest carnage in U.S., we have the spectacle of the National Rifle Association giving elected representatives permission to legislate against assault weapons.

Need I go on? Need we go on? There is another way. It’s called balance, across the sectors: respected governments and responsible businesses with robust communities. Constrained greed. Concern for the disadvantaged. The Western democracies were closer to all this in the four decades following World War II. (Recall the welfare programs of the Johnson administration in the U.S. and the higher levels of taxation in many of the developed countries.) The world needs to restore its balance, and reject the oxymoronic “democratic capitalism.” (Notice which is the noun and which the adjective.)

Once we understand what has been going on, we can appreciate that the conventional solutions will not work. The problem will not be fixed in or by the private sector. Capitalism certainly needs fixing, but this will require rebalancing across all the sectors—which means putting capitalism in its place, namely in the provision of goods and service. Period. Nor can we expect public sector governments to take the lead, because most have become too coopted by private interests domestically and overwhelmed by corporate forces globally.

This leaves the plural sector, comprising those associations that are neither private nor public, most of them community-based: our clubs and groups, NGOs, not-for profits, cooperatives, social initiatives and social movements. This sector is massive, yet it has been lost in the great debates over public versus private, namely the linear politics of left versus right.

Please understand that the plural sector is not them; it is you and I, in our everyday lives. Some of us may work in the private sector and most of us may vote in the public sector but all of us live in the plural sector. We need to recognize that it is here, on the ground, that the restoration of balance will have to begin.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Please see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center for a full rendition of this message. For earlier comments on this theme, please see the TWOGs under Rebalancing Society (This TWOG was delayed pending the appearance of a related version on the Huffington PostFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.