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Can I make better decisions now?

decisiónI attended today's Boston KM Forum symposium on Decision-Making and Decision Support by Leveraging Knowledge, and I think I learned some interesting things.  I don't know if I can make better decisions as a result, but I have plenty of things to ponder. 

As I have come to enjoy at the KM Forum's other events, there were plenty of questions to break the train of the presentations.  Along with the five speakers, Larry Chait acted as the moderator and threw in his thoughts about decision making between each of the speaker's presentations.  To me, his comments were some of the best, as they synthesized the ideas of decision-making, where the other speakers were talking from their specific frame of reference.

Decisions in the network.  Larry set up the meeting by talking about the classic decision making disaster: The Challenger Disaster, as informed through Deadly Decisions by Christopher Burns.  And this took him to an interesting quote from the book that talked about how information gets filtered and assessed as it is passed through the chain of command.  It is filtered and normalized and suppressed.  And at the most critical point of decision-making, the information has been so filtered that it is almost useless.  The decision gets made that is predestined by the biases and filtering that people have been doing.  When I tweeted something about that, I heard back from Greg Lloyd and Valdis Krebs, which inspired a couple other thoughts.  Greg suggested that "posting" of the information doesn't engender the same distortions that email or hierarchical communications creates.  And Valdis reminded that your location in the network tunes your filters (and hopefully your awareness of them).  Maybe it is the distance the information travels (telephone game; whispering down the rain pipe) that creates the distortions.  Maybe it is the hierarchy.  Maybe we filter based on what we assume others want to hear.  If we can use the network better, can it highlight the unexpected information, instead of burying it?

Humans make decisions.  Later in the day, Larry talked about the decision making process and cognitive dissonance.  Essentially, if there is information that doesn't fit with our model, our brains don't like it and then we try to resolve that tension by changing the information - refuting it; adding more; altering importance.  This all boils down to some version of "we use data to justify the decisions we want to make" which was a near-quote from the first speaker, Rafael Reisz.  Rafael also made the obvious-but-not statement that the best data warehouse / business intelligence (DWBI) cannot ensure good decisions.  Those are still made by humans. 

Learning and emerging.  Rafael also talked about the two areas where DWBI are being used in organizations.  One is for learning, analysis, and decision making - things that I traditionally think of in this arena.  A nice piece of this puzzle is that he sees DWBI being used for strategic decisions as well as operational decisions that it has been traditionally employed around.  The other area for DWBI is as a "boundary spanner."  With the data - and agreed upon meaning behind that data - people can have interesting conversations across disciplines and business areas.  Knowledge emerges at the boundaries - when people come together and see things through new eyes. 

Context.  Mark Watkins, CEO of Goby, took the discussion into "the future of search" and how that might affect future decision support / knowledge management.  His basic idea is that people will want search that understands your context.  And he defines context as Task (what are you trying to do), Location (where do you want to do it; where are you), Time (when), Identity, and your social network.  Different search tools use this different ways, but they all provide more specific results that a larger "web search" for the same kind of information.  How does this tie back to the idea of enterprise systems?  Today it doesn't: most enterprise systems barely know who I am - even if I have to login - much less where I am or what I am trying to do.  People are growing to expect these things.

Intangible CapitalMary Adams talked about her interest in intellectual capital / intangible capital, and discussed a number of examples where a framework of intangible capital could be used to help see into the important aspects of a question.  Essentially, if most valuation of a company is "intangible" then you should look at and measure those pieces just as you would the pieces that are directly linked to money.  IC is composed of human, structural and relationship capital.  The best way to see what this is about is to watch the video Mary created that describes how these ideas fit for Google.  Besides, they use LEGO's to demonstrate how the pieces fit together.

Seven questions.  In Larry Chait's wrap-up, he suggested a set of questions to ask yourself - or challenge your team - when making decisions.  These require some self awareness and consciousness that there are very human problems with decision making. 

  1. What are my biases in this situation?  And, yes, everyone has biases.
  2. What are my true motives in this situation?
  3. What is the real truth here - the real facts?  Not just the "facts" as people have filtered them.  Acknowledge that you might not have it all.
  4. Who is involved but not yet heard from?  Especially look for people who have intimate knowledge but who haven't spoken up.
  5. Who do I trust but disagrees with my position?  This is an interesting one:  acknowledge that there are differing opinions and try to work with each other to understand why.  The trusted person here is key - otherwise it's easier to shut them out.
  6. What information would make me see things differently?
  7. Can I sleep on it and come back tomorrow?

Another thought came to me as I was listening to these questions.  If I am getting angry at people who wish to go with the opposite decision, I might have to step back and think about why I am getting angry at them.  Disagreement is fine, but when my blood starts boiling, that is a different signal.

I was tweeting with one or two others under the #kmforum hashtag, as were a few others.  Mostly it was me.  There are some other small thoughts embedded in that set of tweets.

[Photo: "decisión" by Ana mCachón]

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