August 05, 2021 by Romain Bouqueau

On decisions

Updated on 2021/10/04: added references to better articles thanks to your feedbacks :)

About efficiency

There is one subject that seems to preoccupy tech workers around the world: how to be more efficient?

Depending on your position (technician, engineer, sales, manager, CxO, ...) you may have a different opinion. But while reading about it you'll notice it boils down to: self-discipline. This attitude comes from over-rationalizing human beings. But we are not robots and cannot be defined by short-term metrics, methods, or self-beliefs.

Humans are much more than that. If you read about persuasion you probably read about Cialdini (Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion). Being consistent is one of the brain's most common traps. However people keep on going to the gym, doing meditation, and encourage others to have more habits. How many decisions makers actually follow these? I don't feel like Steve Jobs, the young Bill Gates or Elon Musk went to the gym, practiced mindful meditation, and applied all kind of tricks to make a difference. Instead I pretend they had the right mindset (more below).

This asymetry between the speech and the acts is misleading. It's like Google promoting Kubernetes while not using it internally. Or Scrum being fantasied as being the norm in the GAFAMs while managers there just evaluate the situation and iterate with great team autonomy. Data is available, so why not rely on data instead?

I pretend that being more efficient is only about making better decisions. I pretend there is a myth about self-efficiency. In a complex work there is no perfect decision. In complex minds there are several realities.

Reaching agreement

Decisions are about seeking agreement. May it be with yourself or within a group. The framing is important because you take a complex decision based on so-called "objective" elements brought to you and subjective elements coming from your own experience.

The role of a leader to guarantee the consistency of the frame. In a company this frame is called the vision.

My personal experience is about open-source projects. Being able to hear and please a heterogenous community is an impossible job. However the most important is not to please everyone: it is to hear everyone and make sure everyone's ideas get the attention they deserve.

Noise in decisions

When there is a decision to take and a set of independent individuals, then there are divergences and noise.

We know the existence of biases. Most of the time we can represent biases as a tendency to do mistakes in the same direction. For example we overestimate our pace, we take too much risk, etc. While biais is about the mean of your errors, noise is about the spread. Noise is about inaccuracy. Noise is more important than what most people believe.

However noise is not a surprise. Look back at your sale forecasts, your last hires, or any situation that required your professional judgement. When taking decisions, we don't expect our judgement to be perfect and that's how we reach agreement with our colleagues. A small part of noise is acceptable.

However noise can lead analysts to take opposite decisions. The fact is that many decisions depend on several factors. Look at weather forecast, juries, medical decisions. That's also why we seek for multiple opinions even though this has a cost.

Noise can be decomposed in two components:

  • The individuals of a group show different judgement characteristics.
  • Each individual is inconsistent in his decisions.

Noise can be measured by analyzing retroactively decisions. It allows an organization to elaborate decision protocols to reduce both the bias and the noise components.

The alternative to the burnout, mindful meditation, and organization

It is called solitude. You don't need to apply any technics. Just stay with yourself only. Don't plan to do anything. Unplug your phone and don't communicate with other beings. After some time of boredom you'll only get more clarity.

Burnouts, mindful meditation, productivity apps are just different facets of a negative world that makes you feel inefficient and bad. The pressure is set by employers and a life organization that would just require you to be more efficient - if not perfect. Sometimes less is more.

“Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art.” Abraham Joshua Heschel

Romain Bouqueau

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