August 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm #138459
A friend of mine told me that in his agency, the higher-ups make decisions and then try to find evidence to back up the decision they’ve already made. Has this ever happen to you? What do you think about this decision making method?
August 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm #138463
I was at a retirement party for a friend who worked in a science-related organization. One of his long-time colleagues gave a speech, in which he lauded the retiring individual for his commitment to “evidence-based decision-making….as opposed to decision-based evidence-making”. It was an obvious dig at his political and senior official masters, and an allusion to exactly what you describe.
I spent long enough in the sciences to know that there probably aren’t all that many dissertations and publications where the investigator had conducted an exhaustive search of the literature prior to embarking on whatever they did. The more typical picture is that they are familiar with enough literature to spark a hypothesis, which is then tested out empirically, and additional corroborating evidence is dredged up when the research is finally written up. So, it would be disingenuous to suggest that nobody engages in post-hoc gathering of supportive evidence.
That said, seeking confirmatory evidence only after a decision is made is, to my mind, reflective of what is likely a very poor method of arriving at decisions. It is essentially non-consultative. If the decision-maker is a sharp cookie, expert in the domain where the decision was made, on top of things in terms of current circumstances, and wise, then post-hoc confirmatory evidence is essentially just support for what was the right thing to do in the first place. How often those pre-conditions exist in the real world is quite another matter.
It is probably also likely the case that when decisions are made in such a manner, that whatever “evidence” is assembled. is probably a fairly weak test of the appropriateness of the decision. I mean, who would implement a decision, then gather evidence that clearly shows it was a dumb thing to do?
August 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm #138461
A real life example of ‘knee jerk’ decision making…I flew the week after 911. And I flew on United, so doubly tense. My original flight was cancelled so instead of going KC to Denver to Seattle, I flew KC to Chicago to Seattle – something that only made sense to the airlines.
Anyway, because of the longer flight I was served breakfast and when I got my food I also got a plastic knife with a metal spoon and metal fork and I remember sitting there thinking ‘umm, you know, if I really wanted to do something bad, this fork, with its 4 sharp little tines is more dangerous than a dull butter knife i normally woulda had’.
Yes it was only a week, and since then we’ve seen bans on everything from nail files to knitting needles to toothpaste, but I think it can be an example of knee jerk decision making without someone sitting back and taking a moment and thinking it through.
It may also have been an example of non-collaborative decision making. I’m sure my utensil selection was the result of a ‘omg, must get all knives off planes now!!!!!111’ panic rather than someone sitting down with any sort of law enforcement or self-defense professional and saying ‘ok, we want to deweaponize plane cabins, what should we get rid of?’
I think a lot of these decisions come from perhaps ill informed but well meaning people, those with titles but not much practical experience, or someone in a fit of anger or pique or annoyance…and if they go running for ‘proof’ it’s usually because someone else has called them on their decision and they don’t want to admit that it might have been a bad one so go looking for proof that their decision wasn’t wrong.
I think if you have a manager that’s constantly making rash decisions then expecting others or who then themselves goes digging for proof that they were right…they may not be in the right mindset to be making ANY real decisions. And people under them should probably watch their backs because that person is just as likely to go looking for a scapegoat if they can’t find ‘proof’.
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