Decision Making – Technique or Gut-feel

Lessons in live, just like opportunities, sometimes come from the strangest sources or situations.

As I was driving from London to Canterbury University to meet an old colleague and friend, I tuned in to the radio station ‘Magic’.  The presenter announced that it was time to give away some money to a lucky family for holiday spending money in a dial-in competition. The concept of the competition is that the presenter has a particular item in mind which the contestants must determine. The presenters provides a clue through asking a relevant question to which the answer is this particular item he has in mind. Contestants dial in and can ask two questions to determine what the item is the presenter has in mind, after which a final answer must be provided.

The relevant question was: “I am going to the beech to enjoy a lovely sunny day of sea and sand, what am I taking with me?” Now usually I would start solving a mystery question like this by means of elimination narrowing down the field of possibilities and thus zooming in onto the correct answer. For example asking an initial question like: “Do I use this item in the water or on the beech sand?” Dependent on the answer of either water or sand you’ll start narrowing things down by questioning if you use the item to play, can you eat or drink the item, etc. The catch is though that you can only ask two questions and then have to guess the correct answer. So you have to carefully think of which two questions to ask, while the clock is ticking…

An eleven-year-old boy won £1800 for his family in summer vacation spending money in playing the game? Instead of applying a problem solving technique like elimination, he went directly to obvious answers, which he phrased as questions. His first question was: “Is it a spade?” to which the presenter answered: “No, it is not a spade…”. His second question was: “Is it a bucket?” “Yes! It is a bucket, you just won your family £1800 in cash!” The presenter answered in delight.

This was making me think as I participated in my mind making up questions to determine the correct answer myself – by means of elimination… “Is it something that you use in the sea? No! Is it something you use on the sand? Yes, on the sand, right. Oh, my two questions are up, now I have to guess…”

What has just happened – the 11-year-old boy, who probably had no official training in problem solving techniques or skills, solved the mystery in two questions without having to guess an answer at the end.

As a director I am facing hundreds of questions and problems (sometimes mysteries) every day. Surely there is a lesson or two I could take away from this…?

Lesson 1 – go straight for the obvious, the chances are the answer is right in front of you and if you are right you save a lot of precious time.

Lesson 2 – sometimes you do not have to analyse the situation, applying sophisticated techniques and methodologies to make the right decision just go with your gut, take small steps, adapt as you go and recover quickly as needed. Almost like the Lean software development methodology that uses the concept “Fail Early, Fail Fast, Fail Often” to ensure measurable progress is rapidly delivered that aligns with end user expectation.

Now, you could argue that the boy was just lucky, which he was, but going for the obvious, keeping things simple, in most cases provides you with the right answer without spending wasted time and energy. If you tend to make things more complicated than they are, remember the old saying in engineering and development ring true, KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid!

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