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What are we optimising for?

There are many starting points for applying the Peak Paradox model, but two are especially helpful: finding paradox and living with paradox. Leadership must be able to recognise paradox.

The first, finding paradox, is to help widen the perspective when you cannot see a paradox in the data, recommendation or decision. It is most likely you cannot see paradox because of the framing (railroaded.) The PP framing allows you to plot where opinions and recommendations fall on the PP map and then determine if there is another equally compelling conclusion that can be reached from the same data set. Alternatively, to understand that the data set has been biased to provide the outcome wanted.

The second, living with paradox, is to help bring clarity where there is confusion, too many opinions or too many options. You can most likely not see the paradox as there is a lack of leadership, no common purpose or shared vision. The PP framing allows you to plot where everyone falls on the map to determine what drivers are and why there is a lack of cohesion.

In both cases, the Peak Paradox model assures that you are making the best decision you can on the facts, risks, and consequences as a team.

A question I often reflect on is, “What are we optimising for?” I find it helpful to think in layers.

Layer 1 (below) is the top-level one for senior leadership, board and executives. When a decision, choice or judgement is presented, it helps to bring up a mental model to gain clarity on the framing. The bottom left is when finding paradox is critically essential. The top right is where living with paradox enables you to bring clarity to your thought and seek good questions. The other two boxes are rarely entered.



Level 2 would is a top-level per function. Sales, marketing, legal, operations, finance, product and technology will have their own optimising conflicts. Again, the point is to ensure that in the decision-making process, we can find paradoxes or live with paradoxes. An example of “what is technology optimising for” is below and shows the pulling demands they have to allocate resources. It is not that there is a right or best choice; everything is required, and therefore a compromise will result, and that decision has consequences. Often we just do not spend sufficient time to understand the consequences as incentives are misaligned.


Level 3 is created by focussing one aspect in a level 2 frame and breaking this one aspect into specifics. Level 3 transitions from “what are you optimising for” to become “how-to deliver.” In the case above, this would be to focus on “a more human-centric culture and personalised experience.” At level 3, you can start to pull together the variables that should be considered in a complex model at the top level and determine the sensitivities. Whilst level 2 explores the consequences of the compromises, level 3 is deep and dirty in the facts and data. Not having access to level 3 data, as a decision-maker, means you are framed to a compromise you might not understand. No level 3 data means poor recommendations.

Peak Paradox is a framework to assist in the identification of bias in our methods. Previous biases resulted in existing "shadows, ghosts and incentives" that now influence our current ability to make choices, decisions and judgements. The purpose of the Peak Paradox model is to help you to determine what you are optimising for and the consistency of the same message across an organisation. Peak Paradox supports decision-making as it surfaces compromises to objectives that will not be evidence in budgets and financial forecasting.





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