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The Art of Decision Making.pdf

The Art of Decision Making.pdf

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The Art of Decision Making Mirrors of Imagination, Masks of Fate Helga Drummond JOHN WILEY & SONS, LTD Chichester New York Weinheim Brisbane Singapore Toronto The Art of Decision Making The Art of Decision Making Mirrors of Imagination, Masks of Fate Helga Drummond JOHN WILEY & SONS, LTD Chichester New York Weinheim Brisbane Singapore Toronto Copyright 2001 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Baffins Lane, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 1UD, England National 01243 779777 International (+44) 1243 779777 e-mail (for orders and customer service enquiries): cs-books@wiley.co.uk Visit our Home Page on http://www.wiley.co.uk or http://www.wiley.com All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise, except under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 or under the terms of a licence issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9HE, UK, without the permission in writing of the publisher or the copyright owner. Other Wiley Editorial Offices John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158-0012, USA Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH, Pappelallee 3, D-69469 Weinheim, Germany John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd, 33 Park Road, Milton, Queensland 4064, Australia John Wiley & Sons (Asia) Pte Ltd, 2 Clementi Loop #02-01, Jin Xing Distripark, Singapore 129809 John Wiley & Sons (Canada) Ltd, 22 Worcester Road, Rexdale, Ontario M9W 1L1, Canada British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 0-471-49718-5 Typeset in 11/17pt ITC Garamond by Footnote Graphics, Warminster, Wiltshire Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd, Guildford and King’s Lynn. This book is printed on acid-free paper responsibly manufactured from sustainable forestry, in which at least two trees are planted for each one used for paper production. For Sheena Science reassures, art disturbs (Proverb) Contents Acknowledgements xiii Introduction 1 The questions 5 Ambiguity lurks 6 The imagined world 6 The rutted road 7 Shifting tides 7 The ripening of events 8 ‘All is human’ 9 Are you competent or lucky? 9 1 The Clock That Struck Thirteen: The Challenge of Sense Making 11 ‘Two dead fish’ 13 Hanged in the middle of the play 17 The clock that struck twelve? 21 The clock that really did strike thirteen 24 The perils of experience 27 Turning a drama into a crisis 28 ‘It can’t be’ 30 2 The Morning After 35 The lantern and the mirror 36 viii CONTENTS ‘Oh what have you done?’ 38 Rolls meets Royce 42 Divorce your husband without him noticing 43 Sentence first, verdict later 46 The ghosts of Christmas 47 The magnolia years 49 The lantern flickers 50 3 The Dark Side of the Moon 54 An imagined world 56 Received images 58 The dark side of the moon 60 Love is like . . . ? 63 Hidden possibilities 65 From hell 67 Strangled by a dish of eels 68 All that jazz 71 4 Ghosts and Shadows: Reflections on Information and Decision Making 77 Green light spells danger 79 Do you understand? 80 Painting God 83 Creating confusion 86 Ghosts and shadows 87 5 Tricks of Mind 92 Déjà vu? 94 Why bad publicity is better than none 97 CONTENTS ix Weigh anchor 97 ‘It could be you’ 99 ‘Wow! Grab it!’ 102 ‘Too soon deject and too soon elate’ 104 Ending the pain 105 6 The Essential Lie: Exploring the Myth-making Process 106 Building on mud 109 Dressed to kill 111 Waving the magic wand 113 Writing the hymn sheet 114 Singing from the hymn sheet 117 The essential lie 118 The suspicion of witchcraft 120 ‘Then came the cat’ 123 ‘An intensity beyond belief ’ 124 7 High Tides and Green Grass: The Illusion of Control 127 Illusion 128 ‘Feel lucky, punk?’ 130 Lightning strikes 132 Illusion piles upon illusion 133 Nothing succeeds like success? 136 Fine tuning the odds 136 Water seeping 141 ‘Like a child’s sparkler’ 141 ‘A fire the size of a cardboard box’ 142 x CONTENTS ‘Make pumps 4-persons reported’ 143 High tides and green grass – in the desert 145 8 Tales of the Unexpected: Exploring the Paradox of Consequence 148 ‘Kickback’: the paradox of consistency 149 Problems, problems 152 The hunter becomes the hunted 155 Winner’s curse 156 The tale of the boilerman 157 The Icarus paradox 159 A runaway bull 160 The tragedy of the commons 162 ‘It was a crucial decision, it was the wrong one’ 163 Brilliant and daft 165 Chance has got nothing to do with it 170 9 Riding a Tiger: Escalation in Decision Making 172 Mounting a tiger 174 Hidden depths 177 Promises, promises 181 All is human 183 Keeping up appearances 185 Hell hath no fury 187 Money sunk and lost 188 The march of folly 193 Tomorrow and tomorrow 195 10 ‘An Ace of Success’: Knocking at the Door of Fate 197 The events unfold 198 CONTENTS xi ‘An ace of success’ 208 Escalation 209 Shifting sands 210 Fiasco becomes inevitable 212 Trusting to luck 213 The fortunes of war 214 11 The Point of No Return 216 The scene is a dilapidated hairdresser’s shop 217 ‘I’ve only myself to keep’ 220 ‘Don’t clap too loudly’ 221 ‘Crisis, what crisis?’ 225 ‘Drifting idly towards eternity’ 227 Red light spells danger 229 Polishing the chains 232 Clutching the pole 235 Skeletons and cobwebs 237 12 The Art of Decision Making 240 Rising to the level of events 240 A dog is for life 245 Liars serving truth 248 Take a walk on the wild side 249 There’s a rumour going round 250 Opposites 250 Look hard and look twice 253 Quacks bawling 254 Buying a ‘cut and shut’ 256 Fortune favours the brave 257 xii CONTENTS The illusion of alternatives 259 If at first you don’t succeed . . . 260 Escaping to reality 261 Catch a falling knife 262 Do no harm 263 Squeezing hands 265 Blown off-course 266 Creating luck 268 Show some emotion? 268 Puzzled as well as beaten 270 Ils ne passeront pas 272 Loving to death 272 Why ghosts return to haunt 274 The element of surprise 277 Sweet are the uses of adversity 278 The golden chance 279 Time and tide 280 Epilogue: A Dancing Star 281 Transcendent optimism 284 References 287 Index 298 Acknowledgements This book was prompted by an invitation to teach risk and decision making on the Manufacturing Leaders’ course of the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. I am grateful to Peter Webster and Robin Daniels for their enthusiasm and encourage- ment. Elizabeth and Stuart Rayner (who may have been magnolia for thirty years) helped more than they realised by listening to my comparisons between their task of converting a barn and mine of writing a book. Chapters, like oak floors, need sanding down, and material, like staircases, sometimes refuses to fit. I at least had the consolation of not having to worry about whether the plumber or the electrician would turn up as promised – the ultimate in un- certainty. My commissioning editor (‘you want it when?’) Diane Taylor went beyond the call of duty in reading material and contributing suggestions. But for her willingness to take a chance there would have been no book. My colleagues in Liverpool have been good-humoured and supportive. Laura McAllister read substantial parts of the text and saved me from many errors. Janet Beale proofread the manuscript and helped with part of the research. I am grateful to Sheena Waitkins for directing me to the Aberdeen Typhoid Report and for much, much else besides. Introduction ‘Well, here’s another fine mess’ (Laurel and Hardy) The poet Robert Burns warns us that our best-laid schemesfrequently go awry. It is hilarious when Laurel and Hardy find themselves embroiled in ‘another fine mess’, rather less so when it happens in real life. Moreover, for all our technical sophistication, we only have to open a newspaper to find yet another ‘fine mess’ – the Millennium Dome that promised so much and ended in ignominy, the BSE saga, the Internet trading companies that fell to earth. Some de- cision failures are so serious that the word ‘mess’ is inadequate. The patients murdered by their trusted doctor, Harold Shipman, died because potentially ominous evidence was misinterpreted. The victims of the Concorde disaster died because a potentially catastrophic risk went unrecognised. In our personal lives we also sometimes make decisions that ‘gang aft a-gley’. We may find ourselves trapped in a career or a relationship and wonder how we got there. We may do something exactly ‘by the book’ and fail miserably yet succeed brilliantly when we act upon intuition and impulse. The central question this book tries to answer is how and why decisions go awry. There are many books that treat decision making as a science. This is emphatically not one of them. There are no probability statistics, 2 INTRODUCTION no mathematical models, no spreadsheets, and no techniques of risk analysis. Although such tools have their place, they can lull us into a false sense of security as they imply that risk is something that can be managed and controlled. If so, why did the collapse of markets in the Far East in 1998 take analysts by surprise?1 More recently, the risk of ‘foot and mouth’ disease seemed so remote that by early 2001, when the disease reappeared, many farmers in the UK had stopped insuring against it. My theme is uncertainty. Consider the board game ‘Monopoly’. We can improve our chances of winning by taking a strategic approach to decision making. We can compute the probability of landing on Mayfair, or drawing the card marked ‘Go to jail’. Yet the ultimate arbiter is a roll of the dice. Almost all decisions are a gamble. No matter how carefully we research and plan, there is always the risk that things will turn out differently from what we expect. Laptop computers were expected to oust the larger desktop machines – a prediction that has yet to be fulfilled. Although the forecast upsurge in sales of mobile tele- phones has materialised, the unexpected twist is that expansion has largely favoured the ‘pay as you go’ sector. Decision makers must not only confront uncertainty about the future, ambivalence also surrounds the past and present. During the summer of 2000, analysts debated the significance of the up- surge in house prices. Did it signal the start of another boom similar to that of the late 1980s, or were we witnessing an isolated event that would soon give way to a market correction?2 In October 2000, an express passenger train was derailed at Hatfield killing four people. The immediate cause of the accident was a broken rail. A more important question is what that broken rail signified. INTRODUCTION 3 Did the accident reflect Railtrack’s alleged policy of ‘sweating assets’ being pushed too far? Was the subsequent decision to embark upon a full-scale programme of track checking that delayed rail services for months an over-reaction, or did it prevent other accidents? Act II of the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead ends with the words, ‘. . . anything could happen yet’. We cannot make a decision without formulating some idea of what the future may hold. Yet for all our techniques of forecasting and scenario plan- ning, the future remains hidden. AT&T, the US telecoms carrier, foresaw the convergence of telecoms and computing and how it would transform our lives and their business. However, they were not to know that the Internet would be the vehicle of converg- ence, and that their decision to merge with NCR, the US business machine manufacturer, in anticipation of developments would be a waste of time, money and opportunity.3 Even when we guess the future correctly, the dividing line be- tween success and failure can be slender. In the late 1980s the Reichmann brothers began the Canary Wharf project. The plan was to construct 12 million square feet of office space in London’s then derelict Docklands. The brothers believed that London would soon require modern office buildings with spacious floors for service companies. Yet this massive venture was launched with almost no transport infrastructure in the area. Consequently, City firms in search of office space dismissed Canary Wharf as a fringe develop- ment. In 1992, as the property market collapsed, and office rents plummeted, construction halted. Canary Wharf was placed in administration with only 4.5 million of the intended 12 million square feet of office space complete. 4 INTRODUCTION In 1995, Paul Reichmann succeeded in buying Canary Wharf back from the banks. The Financial Times was not impressed, predicting that the venture might remain an expensive ‘white elephant’ as the prospective release of 7.5 million square feet of office space would create an increase in supply likely to limit the recovery in office rents.4 The question now is will the story of Canary Wharf end happily? In 1995 rents were 80.73 a square metre. Five years later, in July 2000, with the Docklands Light Railway in service and the Jubilee Line extension finally complete, rents have more than trebled to 269.10p a square metre, prompting Paul Reichmann to predict that the site would be fully occupied within eighteen months. The upsurge in Canary Wharf ’s fortunes has been the recent expansion and merging of multinational firms such as Citigroup, Credit Suisse and First Boston. In the late 1980s Reichmann pre- dicted that it would take ten to fifteen years for Canary Wharf to realise its potential.5 He may have been right but it surely counts as a ‘close-run thing’. Luck plays a part in decision making. When the volunteer workers of the Peak Rail organisation decided to hire engine 4472 Flying Scotsman for nine days in the summer of 2000 they knew they were taking a risk as the costs of staging the event might far outweigh the revenues. The decision must have seemed ill-starred when the lorry carrying the engine to Derbyshire burst a tyre on the main road near Rowsley. Yet the event generated 100 000 (the equivalent of a year’s turnover), a figure boosted by the free publicity generated as motorists passed the stranded transporter.6 Sometimes we are luckier than we deserve to be. Text mess- aging generates more profit for mobile telephone operators than THE QUEST IONS 5 calls. Yet the facility was added to mobile telephones largely as an afterthought. What we do know is that if we get it wrong, we have to live with the consequences. Unlike the fictional Beggar’s Opera no one is going to insist that ‘the piece must end happily’. Metaphorically speaking, if we finish up in the condemned cell there is no re- prieve, unless we are incredibly lucky. The Questions My fascination with decision making dates from when I was about seven years old. I read a book that said history was all about blun- ders, lost opportunities, and failed gambles. So is decision making. The specific questions this book tries to address are as follows: 1. Why are danger signs often missed? (Chapters 1, 4, 5, 7) 2. How do decision makers become committed to a course of action without apparently having made a decision? (Chapters 2, 3, and 10) 3. Why is it that decisions that were absolutely right can suddenly seem completely wrong? (Chapters 2, 6, 9) 4. Are decision makers completely at the mercy of chance? (Chapters 3, 6, 8, 10) 5. Decision fiascos frequently take us by surprise, yet in retro- spect were inevitable. If something is unexpected it cannot be inevitable. How do we explain that paradox? (Chapters 8, 10) 6. All decisions have unintended consequences. Yet sometimes decisions produce the complete opposite of what was intended. How does this happen? (Chapters 2, 8, 10, 11) 6 INTRODUCTION 7. When decision makers are confronted by failure they frequently make matters worse by ‘throwing good money after bad’ – why? (Chapters 7, 9, 10) 8. Why do crises occur? (6, 11) 9. Why are problems sometimes ignored until they become crises? (Chapters 6, 7, 9 and 11) 10. What can we do to ‘get lucky’? (Chapter 12, 13) Ambiguity Lurks Decision science assumes that we live in a world where two and two equal four and where problems arrive on decision makers’ desks one at a time, neatly labelled and marked ‘for attention’. In contrast, an important theme of this book is that ambiguity always lurks. Decisions are rarely clear. Feedback tends to be slow to arrive, and is invariably equivocal. Moreover, the people on whom we rely for our information may exaggerate, dissimulate and even tell lies. The Imagined World The problem of ambiguity runs deeper than that, however. Decision science treats reality as something that exists ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered. In contrast, another important theme of this book is that reality exists as we define it. Our freedom to define reality implies contradictory things. On the one hand, we can escape from reality by retreating into fan- tasy. Conversely, we can change reality by viewing the world from SH IFT ING T IDES 7 a different viewpoint. While we risk missing danger signs when we retreat into an unreal world, our freedom to define our realities also means that we are not entirely at the mercy of chance. Our problems are a figment of our imagination. This is not to suggest that we are deluded, only that there are many different ways of seeing and indeed, many different realities. The Rutted Road Decision science teaches that the correct approach in decision making is to choose whatever course of action promises maximum benefit. Yet a basic dilemma of decision making is that we can never be sure of the consequences of our actions. A more important issue is how we resolve that dilemma in prac- tice. Experience suggests that there are no good or bad decisions as such. More specifically, decisions succeed or fail according to whether they command support. According to our textbooks this suggestion is nonsense. The textbook approach to decision making requires us to make rational choices. In this view, rationality acts as a guide. I suggest that it is safer to see rationality as an achievement, forged from all the arguments, counter-arguments, claims and counter-claims of the day. Most decisions can be made to look good on paper. The only valid test is the rutted road of reality. Shifting Tides The word ‘decision’ means ‘to cut’, implying a clear and volitional choice between alternatives. I suggest that scientific perspectives 8 INTRODUCTION place too much emphasis upon the notion of decision at the expense of considering other aspects of the process. First, until we can make sense of a situation there is no decision to make. Second, we are faced with the problem of implementing our decisions. Our management textbooks suggest that imple- mentation is simply a matter of monitoring progress and taking corrective action where necessary. This mechanistic prescription can leave us feeling inadequate as decision makers because it is insensitive to the shifting tides of organisation, the oblique twists and turns whereby best-laid plans can go awry. Decision science further assumes that things happen because somebody, somewhere makes a decision. This perspective ignores how destiny may be shaped by indecision and inaction. The Ripening of Events Decision science rests upon taking the risk out of uncertainty by pre-emptive planning and forecasting. The art of decision making stresses reflection, imagination and insight. While decision science suggests we can eliminate surprise, the art of decision making involves reflecting upon the ripening of events, assessing what the future may bring, where the weak- nesses lie and preparing to be surprised. Yet events ar


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