Thinking fast—and faster
Steps to take
1. Determine your industry clock speed. A primary attribute of the enterprise of the future is that the speed at which people in an organization think and act must be equal to or greater than the speed of change in the market. How fast is your “shot clock?” Be thoughtful about this. Setting decision deadlines arbitrarily can be perilous to your health. Know the difference between when to think fast and when to think slow.
For example, we’ve already seen the life-saving importance of thinking fast on the part of first responders. But we’ve also seen what happens when strategic decisions are made too quickly in politics, military deployments, public health, and other critical areas. This isn’t easy, especially for government, military, corporate, and other leaders facing a major crisis while their stakeholders and constituents scream: “Do something … now!” Knee-jerk decisions based on panic and emotions must be replaced with more sound, rational ones. Which brings us to the next step …
2. Identify your critical decision points and streamline the knowledge flows needed to support those decisions. On any given day in most large organizations, thousands of decisions are made at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels. These decisions typically occur in one or more stages of what is known as the OODA loop: observe, orient, decide, act. Decisions in the “observe” stage include matters of filtering and choosing which of the myriad available input datapoints to consider. The “orient” stage aims to assess the meaning, intent, and impact of those observations. The “decide” stage deals with generating, evaluating, prioritizing, and choosing among alternative courses of action. The “act” stage includes determining how best to plan, communicate, and execute the chosen course of action.
The cycle then repeats, often in real time. Plans define the opening moves, and then a flurry of nearly instantaneous decisions is needed as all parties involved begin to adjust. As former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson famously quipped, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Each of these many decision points requires access to the right information along with the knowledge to determine the best actions, given the circumstances. In a high-speed world, more of this knowledge needs to be automated. If that isn’t possible, then the people closest to the action need to be armed with the right knowledge so they can quickly determine the right course of action.
But it doesn’t end there. We KMers know that learning is critical, and learning requires measurement. Which leads us to the final step …
3. Choose your decision metrics wisely. Since we’re focused on speed, tracking time-to-decision is a good place to start. On average, you want to see this metric steadily decreasing. Quality-of-decision is also an excellent metric. Along with timeliness, it has a major impact on the outcome. High-quality decisions enable mission success, while poor-quality decisions require rework, impacting not only response times but also a third metric: cost-of-decision.
It pays to remember the old expression: “Fast, good, cheap … pick two.” Always strive for balance. It may be worth trading more time for a better-quality result or trading an increase in cost for a more accurate result. It all depends upon the situation and circumstances.
A fourth and often critical metric is capacity-for-decision (i.e., throughput). This is especially important at the operational level, where many decisions are being made rapidly and repeatedly, and where timeliness, quality, and consistency are especially important.
Think about your own organization. When faced with a critical decision, can you and every one of your fellow employees clearly articulate the foundational principles that make rendering that decision an obvious choice? If faced with the same decision multiple times under similar circumstances, would everyone remain consistent in how they choose to respond? If not, you know what to do. Not having a clear set of decision guidelines will only continue to slow you down while the rest of the world races ahead.
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