Making Better Decisions Under Pressure

At a certain point, we all have to acknowledge the reality that any business is operating in a continuous state of change. So you have to learn to not only operate within a constant state of flux, you need to learn to thrive in that environment. How do you do this?

Cognition and the way that we think has always fascinated me.  Not necessarily at the biological level (although you obviously can’t study cognition without getting into some of that), but the way that we make decisions.  What kinds of factors are given more weight than others, and why is that the case?  Why does that hierarchy of factors seem to change not only between different people, but also between different decisions the same person makes?  These are the kinds of questions that I find very interesting.

The way that we make decisions at work is changing as well.  In one webinar I attended on how to create brain friendly workplaces, they referred to the modern business world as being in COAT – a state of Continuous Overlapping Accelerated Transition.  In layman’s terms?  Everything is changing, and it’s changing faster and faster.  That reality has led to a challenge in the business world, where more often than not the reaction tends to fall on the following spectrum:

I do not like change

At one end, you have those who are apprehensive of change.  It makes them nervous.  They might not stand in the way of change if it’s small, but they are definitely not a fan of it.


Fear of ChangeAt the other end, you have those who, like Dr. Sheldon Cooper, will have nothing to do with change.  Change is greeted with extreme anxiety and is to be avoided at all costs.

But at a certain point, we all have to acknowledge the reality that any business is operating in a continuous state of change.  So you have to learn to not only operate within a constant state of flux, you need to learn to thrive in that environment.  How do you do this?

The Human Capital Institute presented a webinar with Sae Schatz and Lynn Pollard of Executive Development Associates last week.  Beyond Critical Thinking – Making Smart Decisions Under Complexity is still available in the webcast archives, and I would recommend this webinar to anyone who wants to learn some useful tips to help make smarter decisions in this ever-present state of COAT.  The webinar covers a lot of material, but it does offer seven skills to cultivate to help you make better decisions in complex situations.

I won’t detail all seven skills here.  I would highly recommend that anyone interested watch the webinar in its entirety because it does make more sense when seen in context.  But I want to point out some things I found surprising in their skill set recommendations. One thing that surprised me is the inclusion of Intuition in the skill set.  Standard advice generally steers towards avoiding using Intuition as a factor in any decision made in a complex environment, because intuition is kind of fuzzy, hard-to-describe type of thing that often can’t be justified in the business world.  Advice instead recommends coming to logical, analytical conclusions which can be justified with hard data and facts.  But Schatz and Pollard point out that in a state of constant change, and especially within complex or chaotic environments, finding hard facts and data is often difficult, if not impossible.  They recommend recognizing your intuition as a factor, but acknowledging its nebulous features.  Unless, of course, you are Jethro Gibbs….then always trust your gut.

GibbsAnother recommendation I found interesting was an acknowledgement of something that can be a strength, but when over-used is really a weakness.  This recommendation was related to adaptability, and points out that adaptability is a key component of making decisions in a complex environment.  But they defined adaptability to be “Change when change is required”…with an emphasis on the required bit.  In other words, you shouldn’t be seeking to change simply because you can.  You have to be comfortable with the idea of challenging your comfort zone when needed, and be OK with making changes if necessary.  But don’t focus on being so adaptable and flexible that you are constantly changing simply because you can.

If you are interested in hearing the other five recommended skill sets for making better decisions in complex situations, check out Beyond Critical Thinking – Making Smart Decisions Under Complexity.

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