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Plotting “How to make better decisions?”

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

For a while, I have focussed on this question, “How do we make better decisions using data?, in the context of how do we become better ancestors” Decisions are usually a result of a negotiation, sometimes with oneself and occasionally with others.

Negotiation - as taught

I am sure that my love/ hate relationship for a two by two matrix started 25 years ago when I attended a negotiation course in Fontainebleau at Insead. A wide range of models was presented and discussed, concluding that they only worked in specific situations. The models all fit into the flow: need, prepare, negotiate, execute and follow up. The art of negotiation interested me, especially when it was about complexity and not a barter/ trade or prisoners dilemma.

I wanted to plot how I make decisions on the Peak Paradox map.

Unsurprisingly I unpacked the stress and tension in the decisions I make as I have to compromise away from my natural resting state - it is part and parcel of being in a society with norms and values comprised of individuals with freedom and agency. I started by writing down many decisions I have made and how they map and align with the four Peaks Purposes. My examples quickly became very long, complicated and messy, but I identified some trends. I ended up drawing circles to represent different zones as I could see the old two by two models did not fit. Those models never appeared to present a depth that I needed.

The outer yellow circle: this represents simple decisions when I do not need to compromise. If you need food and water, a species’ survival is not on top of your plan. Because you are at a peak, there is no consideration of others at different peaks and affinity is found with the like-minded. Decisions are more extreme and divisional, especially when your opinions are aired next to others at different Peaks. Does this sound like a voyeur TV entertainment series or a tabloid media headline?

The purple circle: This starts to get to more difficult decisions as there is a need to recognise others values which creates tensions for everyone, but there is no need to compromise to create a unifying decision. Whilst aware of the conflict, individual or group prefer to stick with something that orientates towards their favoured Peak Purpose.

The Pink Circle: Getting to the sharp end, these are hard-fought for complex decisions as individuals recognise other principles and the need to satisfy more than themselves to create a better outcome (better decision?). Each party is willing to compromise to create a unifying decision, but one party may have to give up more than the others, which creates a compromise that has to be justified. Often if too much is given up, it will not work out as the justification is lame, and there is a lack of motivation to make it happen. Also, there is more stress and tension for this party, which can bubble up to question the original decision. It is not a wrong decision; it is that the compromises move people too far from a natural state. It is the missing third axis in a bilateral negotiation zone.

The inner grey circle. As all parties can fully grasp the paradox in their own position, the result may be a weak decision because there are too many super cleaver people with strong well-reasoned opinions, mixed with too much data. It all results in endless discussion and some trying to be the brightest person in the room. We try to understand everyone too much, but everyone is playing the game. Parties will predict unintended consequences and know that everyone is compromised and that no-one party can do better than another to create the fairest outcome. Probably the worst decision, and in the long run, will not create better outcomes, but everyone can live with it for now.

Why is this important

I do not doubt that in 7.5Bn years, the earth will be absorbed into the sun on route to becoming a red giant. The earth as a planet will survive to that point irrespective of what we do.

Our question is, “Can we create a quality of life during that time, given the limitations of the biology we have?” Is it a challenging and complex question. Therefore we need to think about how do we make better decisions using data in the context of how do we become better ancestors, but in the context of the problems highlighted above as at Peak Paradox, we get the most compromise from the parties but the worst decision making and worst outcomes.

Suppose we want to provide a quality of life for generations to come. In that case, we need to focus on decisions in the yellow circle between Peak Human Purpose and Peak Society - this means there will be many who will not like those decisions; how do we make that work?

Suppose we focus on providing a quality of life for a few who have power and limit it to this generation. In that case, we will see decisions focussed in the purple circle which will be orientated towards Peak Individual Purpose and Peak Work Purpose. How can we make that work?

If we want to provide a quality of life for everyone alive today, we have to realise that we cannot afford to compromise in the middle at Peak Paradox.

We have some very tough choices and decisions ahead, and we don’t appear to have the forum to have these discussions in the open - probably because we will not like them. If we don’t, all of our life qualities, especially for future generations, will suffer from our inability to make better decisions.

The dilemmas of our decision making at Peak Paradox.

  • The more difficult a decision ( impacts many whatever is decided); it is best to have fewer people or more people? How much diversity? Why

  • The more complex a decision ( impacts are unknown whatever is decided), it is best to have fewer people or more people? Why?

  • What is the threshold for understanding and link to risk, that enables us to accept a decision we or someone else makes?

  • How does leadership impact difficult or complex decisions?

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