Managerial Decision Making and Spiderman

I completed Malcolm Gladwell’s books, "Blink" and "The Tipping Point", and I plan to read three of Seth Godin’s marketing-oriented books next in order to keep my MBA fresh. My impression and initial investigations to date have me thinking that these books have not penetrated business schools very heavily yet. Perhaps some of these books should be recommended in business schools or parts included in packets. I gave very high-marks to "The Tipping Point". Malcolm Gladwell indicated to me via email that it’s probably too early yet to know if "The Tipping Point" will penetrate the business schools, but he is hoping so.

Having just finished "Blink", I wanted to share some thoughts related to subconscious decision-making and making decisions based on "gut feeling". This is an interesting topic in the management consulting field, which bases its core on fact-based decision making (as I’ve hinted here). Making decisions based on gut feel is generally frowned upon. I suppose this is also true for managers (non-consultants) within operating companies, but I would venture to say that since management consultants are independent third-parties to solving business problems, there is more polarization and social pressure for consultants to rely on facts (just like patients rely on medical doctors to rely on facts).

I’m not aware of any grand unification theory for balancing fact-based decision making with subconscious decision-making, but I’ll offer my working model for handling the balance (it may be more liberal than traditional consultants). I basically use what I call my "spider sense" to balance fact-based decision making.

Spider-sense is based on Stan Lee’s superhero, Spiderman, who gets a tingling sensation when something bad is about to happen to him.

So my general "algorithm" for decision-making (work in progress) is to:

  1. rely on facts
  2. check your gut feel or "spider-sense"
  3. if #1 and #2 are in alignment, great (i.e., the facts and spider-sense agree)
  4. if #1 and #2 are wildly out of alignment (contradict one another), better re-check the facts or re-factor what is going on around you
  5. on the margin (i.e., if #1 and #2 contradict, but they are not wildly out of alignment), if you have above moderate expertise in the subject matter, then weigh "spider-sense" more than the facts. Otherwise, try to seek out an expert (or godfather or mentor) to fill-out the tacit knowledge gap.

The other caveat to this is that one must constantly try to sharpen one’s spider senses. In business, some of this has to be done by focusing on vertical experiences within an industry sector. However, sharpening managerial decision making in a more general way is also important. In some business schools, this is covered in classes on organizational behavior (OB), and schools may have required OB courses to earn the MBA degree. OB training helps one to become more cognizant of biases that people have when processing information and making decisions. Whether biases are good or bad in a particular situation depends. Nevertheless, there are a ton of biases out there and OB classes help to give people a structure for thinking about these kinds of things.

One Reply to “Managerial Decision Making and Spiderman”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *