We are constantly bombarded by choices. Some are simple, some are complex, and others seem impossible to make. Plato said that it was best to use pure reason to decide everything. Kierkegaard acknowledged that reason and emotion are not necessarily separate. Neuroscientists in the 20th century started to categorize and more clearly understand the decision-making process, the foundation of which is innately programmed into our brains.
When I think of logical reasoning with just the right amount of emotion, I think of Mr. Spock from Star Trek.
The creator of Star Trek made the Spock character half human to preserve the emotional aspect of decision making. Spock was logical until some kind of conflict emerged that logic alone couldn't overcome. Then his human side would reveal itself to help Spock make the best choice, usually in a matter that was purely emotional, such as sacrificing himself to save the Enterprise. Sometimes his team--the crew of the Enterprise--didn't like the choice but most of the time, he brought a level of even thinking to the complex decisions a crew of a starship in the 23rd century faced. Dr. McCoy represented the purely emotional side of decision making, the foil to Mr. Spock, and Captain Kirk was the leader that was ultimately responsible for the outcome.
The Enterprise captain’s chair, where many decisions were made and carried out. I took this picture at the Icons of Science Fiction exhibit here in Seattle.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, the officers collaborated on decisions. The officers would debate the options, and the option’s value was weighted based on who presented it. Do we fire on the ship? Send an away team? Will raising shields show hostility? Captain Kirk would listen to the input of his officers and then go with the choice that he believed was the best. As the de facto leader, he had the power to do whatever he wanted, but as a smart leader, he listened to the experts around him. Often the outcome of the decision would have a longlasting effect, such as banishing Khan or sparing the life of an alien.
According to B. Aubrey Fisher, collaborative teams making a decision should go through four stages: Orientation, Conflict, Emergence, and Reinforcement. In orientation, everyone meets and gets to know each other, and identify what the decision is. That's when people size each other up and start to figure out how much of a voice they will have in the process. Then the conflict begins. People argue, dispute each other, and have heated discussions, and then work out their differences. (Dr. McCoy was often the voice of passion against Mr. Spock's logic.) This leads to emergence, when the people talk and clear up any vague opinions. Finally, the people make a decision and reinforce its validity by justifying it to themselves.
In the business world, decision making affects the agility of the business. Leaders want decision making to be faster along with quality results. As the decision making process becomes more effective and efficient, the business is able to more rapidly respond to changes and be more confident in the decision itself. And to make effective and informed decisions, decision makers need the right information, in the right context, as well as feedback to help them adjust their decisions. They need a place to hold information and support team decision processes, and retain the history of the process.
On the Enterprise, Captain Kirk assesses a situation and gets input from his officers, makes a decision, and communicates it immediately. The officers--his team--put the decision into effect (shields up!). Later, he'll add the details of the decision scenario to his captain's log. He gets the right information as fast as he can and makes a decision that he will stick to. Once you fire phasers, you don't get to take them back.
Meanwhile, back at Starfleet HQ, the decision to extend peace accords with the Klingons goes through the decision making process, including the requisite approvals, and the status of the process is tracked by the diplomats involved. Once a decision is reached, it is communicated to the United Federation of Planets and the war is over. This is a longer process and involves a substantially larger number of people with wide expertise, but it's not really that much different than what happens on the bridge of the Enterprise.
In both situations, the success of the decision making depends on the empowerment of the people involved, the availability of information, and the successful communication of the decision. This is what businesses need to understand if they want to be more agile and rapidly adapt to changing conditions in the world market. It’s up to us to help them
As the 23rd century gave way to the 24th and Captain Picard took the lead on the Enterprise, collaborative decision making improved and the crew responded more quickly, and more thoughtfully, to challenges. The Starfleet officers studied the decisions of previous crews and learned from them. They weren’t afraid to try something new or to challenge conventional thinking. And they always worked together.
With an investment in effective decision making, future generations of business leaders will also be able to boldly go where no one has gone before.