Thursday, July 30, 2020

The importance of understanding "What is going on here?"

While exploring practice of decision making I recently came across the following while reading Radical Uncertainty
Intelligent views about actions, and the range of possible actions, are expressed at the end, not the beginning, of the process of ascertaining ‘what is going on here.’
This lead to the realization that a large chunk my own decision making process is focused just on that, understanding "What is going on here?" 

Some prompts I use to zero in on "what is going on here?" include:
  • What goal are you pursuing? 
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • How is the problem being solved today? Why is it failing?
  • Wha sub-problems are tied into this?
  • What triggered this decision?
  • What “environmental” factors are affecting this decision?
  • What data do you have supporting that this is actually a problem worth solving today?
I have found that sitting with and answering those questions over the course of days (sometimes weeks or months) dramatically improves my ability to make a wise decisions.

This is not novel. 

Folks' focused on decision making capture this over and over again. Here are 4 viewpoints driving towards this same idea 👇

  • "[SCQA] forces you to organize your thoughts, it forces you to slow down and say, "What's going on here?" That's what 'situation' is. 'What's going on here?'"

  • "the important element in decision making is defining the question. The important and crucial steps are to decide whether there is a need for a decision and what the decision is about."
  • "…the whole process is focused on finding out what the decision is really about, not what the decision should be."
OODA Loop (John Boyd via Farnam Street)
  • Observe: The first step in the OODA Loop is to observe. At this stage, the main focus is to build a comprehensive picture of the situation with as much accuracy as possible
Be Slightly Evil (Venkatesh Rao)
  • "my favorite definition of a CEO’s job is from A. G. Lafley: ‘A CEO’s job is to interpret external realities for a company.’"

Anecdotally, folks often don't take this step and are resistant to trying it out. 

Sure, it takes time & effort to pause and commit to writing an answer to, "what is going on here?" and it is self-exposing to lay out your thinking so explicitly. 

Companies like Stripe have figured out a way to bake this level of care into their culture though. 

I continue to wonder whether such a practice will become an accepted part of the way knowledge workers' get things done.

P.S. I'm taking Farnam Street's "Decisions By Design Course" and this is covered in Skill #2: The Root Problem