Making decisions


Having to make difficult decisions is a key part of my job. Some of these decisions can often be unpopular – but I suppose that’s what I get paid for.

Every decision is usually associated with a variety of options which will usually have a number of distinct features, namely:

  1. Consequences – each option will have positive and negative consequences directly associated with that course of action;
  2. Emotional attachment – there are usually people who will have an positive emotional response to one of the options and a negative emotional response to another.
  3. Evidence – most options will have associated evidence which can be used to either support or counter their effectiveness
  4. Familiarity – options which have proved successful in the past.

My own decision making process tries to take account of the above but there is one other question which I ask myself whenever I have to make a decision: How does this choice of option relate to other features of our practice?

In this regard I was deeply influenced in the mid 90’s by systems thinking as described by Peter Senge which transformed my personal practice.

Prior to that time I tended to make decisions based on a rough amalgam of the four factors mentioned earlier but where I looked at individual decisions as discrete entities. The lesson I learned from Senge was to see “things” as being part of a system, or part of a whole and that no one decision is ever disconnected from another – particularly if you are trying to achieve an overall goal.

Lastly, there needs to be a moral/ethical filter associated with the decision making process and reference to my own personal integrity and honesty.

However, all other things being equal it’s the connectedness to other factors and their relationship to the overall goal which will have decisive effect on which option will be selected.

4 thoughts on “Making decisions

  1. Don,

    If you haven’t already read it, Peter’s most recent book – ‘Presence’ – a joint effort with three friends is an interesting read. Much insight – sometimes a little ‘spiritual’ for my liking – but a very human, compassionate and thoughtul book. I’ve read it if you want to borrow it – a pint would be a reasonable price! 🙂

    I’ll even throw in RH Mackenzie’s book!

  2. Don, I would recommend you read some of Peter Checkland’s work on Soft Systems Methodology. I feel schooling/education is too complex to take a hard systems view and decision makers like yourself and senior school managers in general would benefit greatly from understanding the concepts of SSM. There are a couple of interesting books such as: Rational Analysis for a Problematic World Revisited: Problem Structuring Methods for Complexity, Uncertainty and Conflict – Jonathan Rosenhead & John Mingers (Editors)

  3. @Kenneth: For anyone wanting an introduction to soft systems methodology, Rosenhead & Mingers has a really useful (chapter-length) explanation which I’ve found useful in situations where Checkland’s books, which tend to be 10 year retrospectives, might put new people off.

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