The Bayonet

Tuesday, Jul. 22, 2014

Scientist shares insights on decision making

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Gary Klein, a senior scientist at MacroCognition LLC and author of Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, visited Fort Benning July 16 for the latest edition of the Combat Leader Speaker Program.

Over the course of his career, Klein has studied decision making, and developed his "10 myths about the way people think," which he used as the basis for his talk. In talking about the myths, Klein said there is a disconnect between how decision making is perceived and how it is actually applied.

"The well-ordered situation is where we do all of our research because we can do more rigorous research," Klein said. "But where people have to serve, especially in the military, is in the shadows and the complex environments. That's the disconnect."

However, he said that disconnect can be overcome by experienced leaders who are driven to continue to gain knowledge throughout their careers, rather than resting on their laurels.

"One of the ways I distinguish real experts from nonexperts is to ask them about the last mistake they made," Klein said. "I find some people who are puzzled and can't think of any mistakes they've made. ... But, the real experts have no trouble telling me about the last mistake because it still eats at them. They're still wondering how they could have done a better job. They're still puzzling about it. They're very sensitized to things that didn't go as well as they could have and what they can do to improve. There's a real focus on improving their own skills, as opposed to others who are looking for ways to coast."

Klein said the complex environments the military often operates in can make it difficult for leaders to define goals, an important step in the decision making process. He said it is important to allow goals to remain fluid in these environments.

"You don't want to change directions too often because then it's confusing to people and it's demoralizing, but if you adhere rigidly to the original goals, that's just being insensitive," he said. "So, moving to management by discovery means ... I should expect to revise goals and look for opportunities to do so. It's a different mindset." After speaking to a large group of Soldiers, he expressed his appreciation for their past and future service.

"Like the entire country, we're all grateful for the job the Army does, in particular the job the Army has been doing for the last 13 years," Klein said. "I'm hoping that the research that I've done can have some value. I don't just want to throw out ideas to make people uncomfortable. I'm hoping people can put some of my ideas that they heard into practice in their careers. I just hope I can make a small contribution to the major contribution that goes on here."

Klein's 10 myths about the way people think

• To make a decision, generate several options and compare them to pick the best one.

• Teaching people procedures helps them perform tasks more skillfully.

• The starting point for any project is to get a clear description of the goal.

• At the end of a planning session the team should critique the plan.

• We should diagnose a problem by trying to find the cause.

• When the workload gets too high, add more people to the team.

• Most organizations want to foster more insights.

• Deep down, people from other cultures are just like us.

• Have the Soldiers with more skills coach the others.

• Leaders guide subordinates by describing their commander's intent.

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