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Streetlights and Shadows

Gary Klein’s book Streetlights and Shadows takes commonly held maxims for decision making and overturns them, revealing cases where these practices break down

Klein’s book does an impressive job showing us where these problems occur and he prescribes how we can be more resilient decision makers in these scenarios.

He begins by outlining ten of the most widely held beliefs taught about systems and decision making, and after telling a few stories about each he describes a replacement maxim.

The ten claims and their replacements are:
1. Teaching people procedures helps them perform tasks more skillfully. Replacement: In complex situations people will need judgment skills to follow procedures effectively and go beyond them when necessary.

2. Decision biases distort our thinking. Replacement: Decision biases reflect our thinking. Rather than discouraging people from using heuristics, we should help them build expertise so they can use their heuristics more effectively.

2(a). Successful decision makers rely on logic and statistics instead of intuition. Replacement: We need to blend systemic analysis and intuition.

3. To make a decision, generate several options and compare them to pick the best one. Replacement: Good decision makers use their experience to recognize effective options and evaluate them through mental simulation.

4. We can reduce uncertainty by gathering more information. Too much information can get in our way. Replacement: In complex environments, what we need isn’t the right information but the right way to understand the information we have.

5. It’s bad to jump to conclusions – wait to see the evidence. Replacement: Speculate, but test your speculations instead of committing to them.

6. To get people to learn, give them feedback on the consequences of their actions. Replacement: We can’t just give feedback; we have to find ways to make it understandable.

7. To make sense of a situation, we draw inferences from the data. Replacement: We make sense of data by fitting them into stories and other frames, but the reverse also happens: our frames determine what counts as data.

8. The starting point for any project is a clear description of the goal. Replacement: When facing wicked problems, we should redefine goals as we try to reach them.

9. Our plans will succeed more often if we identify the biggest risks and then find ways to eliminate them. Replacement: We should cope with risk in complex situations by relying on resilience engineering rather than attempting to identify and prevent risks.

10.Leaders can create common ground by assigning roles and setting ground rules in advance. Replacement: All team members are responsible for continually monitoring common ground for breakdowns and repairing the breakdown when necessary.

Buy the book.

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