Denial, Decisions, and Disasters

Michele Wucker
Author of THE GRAY RHINO, WHY THE COCKS FIGHT, and LOCKOUT

Aug 25,2016

People tend to focus so much on an unfolding crisis that it’s easy to forget how they got there. Problems usually start with denial, the first stage of an approaching gray rhino: a highly probable oncoming crisis that is poorly addressed, if at all. Whether our denial comes from an honest blind spot or from willful ignorance, the ways we make decisions in organizations, governments, and life can help us to deal better with the risks we’d rather not exist.

Luckily, there are things you can do to keep you out of trouble. They start with regularly asking yourself tough questions about how you make important choices for yourself, for your family, or for your organization? Who is at the table? Do you have all the information you need? Are biases and group dynamics getting in the way of seeing the most important and obvious problems or opportunities? 

One technique is to recognize your decision making style. If you decide on a hunch or a whim, if you get overwhelmed and can’t make up your mind, or if you ask the opinions of people from a variety of perspectives who can alert you to things you might not be able to see yourself. Even if you feel that you do get the right information and have a good process, do yourself a favor and ask others you trust if they agree. If you’re too quick or too slow to decide, think about how you could turn to someone with a different approach to help to balance your style. Whatever answer you end up with, it’s worth checking in with yourself regularly to question if you are getting the right combination of views. 

Similarly, ask yourself regularly, if you’re including the views you need to make good business decisions. If everyone around the conference table always agrees, you likely have blind spots that could hurt you. Is one person quieter than the others? Make a point of getting that person’s point of view. Does one person monopolize conversations? If so, consider that other important perspectives might be drowned out. Does your board or team include people who are part of your key customer demographics? If not, how do you get information about what your customers like or don’t like? It’s often hard to accurately assess an organization from the inside. Consider bringing in a trusted outsider for an independent view of how your organization makes important decisions that could help avoid going down a road leading to crisis.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what decisions you’ve made that have worked out spectacularly or have been disasters. How would you apply that experience to future decisions you make?

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