In a garden in Ojai, California, in the summer of 2013, a 20-something traveller asked: “If you were to boil decision-making down to one thing, what would it be?”

In a word: Self-Awareness

A year later, Decision Making for Dummies was published. Not surprisingly out of twenty-two chapters, more than half address the inner growth opportunity of making good and bad decisions. In today’s world, there is a strong belief in the human intellect, and a stronger more rigidly held belief in business that decisions are rational as if rational were better than emotional, or intuitive. The evidence doesn’t support that conclusion. If it did, Kodak would never have gone bankrupt, Wells Fargo would not have sabotaged its reputation or the health of employees, and we would not be looking for another planet to inhabit.

True. Self-awareness doesn’t help you much where bias is concerned except to know where you may be responding to bias. The quest to develop bias-free AI is a testimony to that particular challenge. Our worst decisions are a by-product of intellectual distortions combined with a failure to use emotions as data or consider the impact on the health of people, society and ecological and systems. Human brains receive emotional data directly from the body and heart. Demonizing human emotions ignores what sets us apart from robots. So far.

Why is a rational approach naive at best?

#1 Human psychology: Hidden biases that operate under the waterline of consciousness number roughly 150 though I have seen various estimates. The Neuroleadership Institute has distilled them down into five groups in their SEEDS model. We’ve mapped biases, organized them, occasionally acknowledge them and some even assume we can eliminate them. However, as neuroscientist David Rock put it: “If you have a brain, you are biased.”

What you can do is:
* Design for each group of biases in the decision-making process
* Create better conditions for decision making in the workplace by…
• Minimizing stress or mitigate the effects using music calibrated for coherence (see Mark Romero Music)to bring the environment back into a coherent more balanced state
• Name the underlying pressures pushing the decision down a particular path.
• State unstated assumptions.

#2 Temptation to commit too soon. In a podcast I did on Olav Maassen’s and Chris Matts’s novel, Commitments, we used shoes as the example for managing risk. I need options when it comes to choosing which shoes to wear. I prefer to decide at the last minute when I am closer to knowing if I want to look good or walk 2-3 km. When working with uncertainty, Chris and Olav apply Real Options to managing project risk.

#3 Speed and amount of incoming information. Not much needs to be said about this reality apart from assuming a fixed approach will stabilize uncertainty leaves you ill-prepared.

#4 Science shows that rational decisions are not more accurate. The opposite is true. *

[*From Chapter 7 in Decision Making for Dummies: Understanding Intuitive Decision-making]

Robert Sapolsky in ‘Behave,’ names a section of Chapter Two: The Obligatory Declaration of the Falseness of the Dichotomy Between Cognition and Emotion. His detailed explanation of the interaction between the limbic and cognitive functions should be required reading for all.

When decision-makers start using the emotional and social health of their organization as valued data, making better decisions is possible. It is the part of being human that separates us from robots.

So how do you typically make decisions when you are not consciously making a decision?

Instincts drive immediate action-oriented decision-making that comes straight from needing to survive or avoid danger. Companies that use fear as a management style create fear-based decision-making environments with a highly competitive mindset, cover your butt mentality. The signal to act is sent from your gut to the brain; activating relied upon coping strategies. Mindfulness can calm the chemical storm so you can regain access to your pre-frontal cortex for a more executive-level decision. Meanwhile, your gut will be making sure you live to write the next chapter in your life.

Subconscious **
Subconscious decision-making is an act first, think later approach sourced from memories hidden away in your subconscious. Subconscious is below consciousness. Unconscious means you are not aware. The triggers can be a smell, a word, or a movement directly wired to an emotionally charged memory. The subconscious triggers will most often reflect a personal life experience with unresolved emotional issues. Subconscious beliefs take up energy that you can use later in life when there’s less energy to waste inefficiently. Investing in personal growth can help transform the negatives into learning and wisdom.

Belief-based Decision-making **
The majority of companies use beliefs to make decisions. Rarely do they update their beliefs to reflect the times. Instead, there is much running around in circles relying on past practices (or best practises). The belief is that the past determines the future. Perhaps once upon a time, it did; not anymore. Up until a recent announcement, the purpose of a business was believed to be generating shareholder profit. Hopefully, a shift in perspective will allow companies to optimize their higher potential and rise out of the short term weeds to see and seize more significant responsibilities and opportunities to benefit society, employees, customers and the planet.

Questioning beliefs and more loosely held (often unconscious) assumptions is key to liberating companies from the rut of routine decision-making to engage with values as the driver for decisions.

Value-based Decision-making**
Values transcend all else. ‘I value money’ does nothing for the heart. ‘I value time with family’ does. Apart from warm feelings, what else do positive values do when plugged into decision-making?
1. Design the future!
2. Provide clear navigation through complex conditions
3. Serve as an ethical foundation (hence the use of the word positive; greed does not result in ethical decisions)
[**Excerpted from Decision making for Dummies Chapter 5: Raising Self and Organizational Awareness for Better Decisions]

One other distortion is worth mentioning.

Ego-driven decision making. With ego-driven decision-making, there is the temptation to believe everything you think is right. Add stress and the cognitive distortion kicks in the expedience bias: ‘my perceptions are accurate.’ in complex environments, assuming you are right limits vision and increases risk. Work with multiple perspectives who can respect, yet challenge your point of view to broaden the picture.

The first opportunity is for decision-makers at every level is to widen perception, shift perspective, have the humility to reflect, stay curious, and explore the impacts of decisions. Adhering to logic can have a high cost to humans and the economy. Replacing recklessness with care gives us all a chance to thrive.

Contact Dawna to speak or workshop on decision-making for complex conditions.


The global and business issues we face today require full employee engagement and a different thinking. Dawna loves to work collaboratively to evolve and transform workplaces to be more ‘fit’, agile and inspiring. By shifting perspective to expose the invisible elements creating routine results, clients gain the strength and clarity needed to remove barriers to growth. Intelligent and intuitive insights strengthen leadership capacity to use complexity fluently and grow beyond the limitations of profit to achieve greater prosperity and value. To activate a quantum leap in leadership, Dawna started the Evolutionary Provocateur podcast in 2008. Author of Decision Making for Dummies, a speaker and a tad nomadic, Dawna is currently working on using Virtual and Augmented Reality to accelerate business culture change and human potential. An original thinker, she brings personal experience with resilience and transformation to her leadership.


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