How do bad decisions die?


It’s been a long time, a long time indeed. Probably too long.

So what made me change my mind? What made me decide that another blog post was needed?

Too many things really and not all of them are good. I seem to find that when things go south when things just seemed to be screwed up, that is when my inner voice rings out and says “Let me be heard!” So here is my inner voice.


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

How do you know when an idea is a good idea?

That’s actually a really tough question to answer. In an ideal world, we would be talking about something that Ray Dalio, in his book “Principles” calls Idea Meritocracy. It’s a simple enough concept but damned difficult to implement or follow:

Idea Meritocracy = Radical Truth + Radical Transparency + Believability Weighted Decision Making

Ray Dalio, “Principles”, page 309

So what does all that mean?

Radical Truth

This is the idea that you don’t filter your thoughts, that you talk about things honestly. This doesn’t mean that you can be a jerk about it, it just means that if you have a problem with something, perhaps someone else has a problem with it as well. There may be a lot of people that have a problem with it, but because someone else may be heavily invested in that item, and you don’t want to annoy them, you don’t talk about it. Neither does anyone else. The next thing you know, this tiny problem is now a Titanic sinker because everyone was quiet so as to not provoke or hurt anyone else’s feelings.

But you need Radical Truth. You need people to discuss the problems, particularly the problems that no one wants to talk about! Be honest, be upfront, but also be respectful. An idea or a process may be flawed, but that doesn’t mean that you attack the person behind that idea or process. Stick to the problem.

Radical Transparency

This one is painful for people. Really painful. If people don’t have all of the information it makes it difficult, if nearly impossible, to come up with the correct answer or have an intelligent conversation about why a particular solution is not viable. This is all too common in companies. Way too common. The idea is that if I have some knowledge that no one else has, the company has to keep me around. Or it could be that the information is “sensitive” and could make someone look bad, or the information may be classified or privileged or … the excuses go on.

Radical transparency means getting rid of as many of those barriers as possible. In many organizations, this is well nigh impossible. They follow the doctrine of “least privilege”. You get the least amount of privilege/access required to do your job. If something is not required then you don’t get access. This leads to security situations that are impossible to unravel without breaking something else.

But it does show you that privilege is key to your job and the company’s business. There is no question that there has to be some delineation, some demarcation that indicates something that you should have access to and something that you should not have access to. Those should be minimized wherever possible as they breed problems. To give people anything less than total transparency would make them vulnerable to others’ spin and deny them the ability to figure things out for themselves.

We give people the truth and as much data/information as we can. What’s next?

Believability-Weighted Decision Making

This is the most difficult to quantify and it is what has helped separate an average organization from a great organization. Secrets like this are difficult to glean from anyone, even if they have written a book about it! What it comes down to is creating a set of decision-making principles upon which ideas are evaluated. But these decision-making principles need to be the same for all ideas, not just a few. If you operate consistently across the organization/division/branch people will understand the how and why of any decision regardless of who made it.

This doesn’t work for some companies, particularly public sector companies where decisions can be made outside of the area you are in for purely political reasons. Reasons that appear to hold no sanity. Take a look at a myriad of decisions made in the various State Senates in the United States. One State will limit access to xxx while another will expand access to xxx. Next election with new politicians and the reverse occurs. There is no way to get out of this cycle of forward / backward. There is, however, a way to ensure that decisions made to support that idea are done in a consistent manner and that is to document the decision-making principles.

You may not agree with the new approach and you may not have a choice about supporting it, but you do have a choice in ensuring that you make the best decisions to make the outcome work.

What’s left?

What does all this give you? Idea Meritocracy, where ideas, based upon opening up the truth and being transparent about what is going on, are evaluated against each other based on a clearly defined set of principles. The idea that comes out on top is most likely the best idea. If it is not, then perhaps you need to evaluate where something slipped up. Not enough data available? Not visible to everyone? Or were the decision-making principles at fault? The main point here is that you review all of the pieces that led to that decision and see what you can do to make it better. Not more complicated, but better.

People want to keep writing addendums to the principles to make them clearer. But clarity lies in being concise. If you can’t be concise and make the principle better, then are you really looking at the right principle?

This is complicated, there is no doubt about that. But it is something that needs to be done, even if in little steps. Give a little bit more information next time when asking for comments. Do your best to minimize the levels of security that exist. Get more people access. Allow people to understand the decision-making process. The more things are exposed to the light of day, the more likely the decision will stand up to be the best decision.


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