Solomon writing Proverbs (Gustave Doré)

Solomon writing Proverbs (Gustave Doré)

I read an article this weekend about making good decisions – it seems at a team of scientists examined the way that applicants for the Cirque du Soleil were judged by themselves, managers and also by other performers.  The applicants rated themselves two levels too high while the managers rated them two levels too low.  However, it was other performers who rated them the most accurately.  At first glance it just shows that we rate ourselves optimistically, managers rate pessimistically while the people who actually do the work are the best judges of the work.  At first glance.

But what does it say about making decisions?  Depending on the relationship, individuals are likely to make the wrong decision – if they are advancing the idea, they’ll be too optimistic – if they have to approve, they’ll be too pessimistic.  I have seen this many times when I deal with start-up entrepreneurs – they have the greatest thing since sliced bread!  But investors only see the negatives (one angel investor receives 300 pitches, reviews 10 and selects one – a month).

But the article pointed out that their research identified a way to make good decisions – by including as many other different voices as possible.  In essence, science has proved what has been known for thousands of years.  For example, from the Book of Proverbs (King James Version)

11:14  Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellers there is safety.

15:22  Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellers they are established.

(While the exact date of Proverbs is not known, there is evidence that it was an oral tradition that dated to well before the 8th century BCE when parts were collected and written down.)  Similar writings have been recovered from Egypt and Mesopotamia.

In our modern business world this advice runs directly opposite to present practice – too many people worry that someone will steal their idea so they refuse to tell anyone unless they agree to buy into their idea – they never check whether they have a proper understanding of the problem until they unveil it to the world – and suffer the tragic realization that no one wants what they are offering.

Managers are in a different boat but the results are the same – they have to evaluate ideas and determine if they will be successful but they know that they will be punished if failure is the result – so new, innovative ideas are shot down while tried and true ideas are advanced because we know they won’t fail, but they likely won’t really solve the problems.  Add to that the fact that the failure will likely be gradual or sometime in the future after the manager has moved on and it will be someone else crisis.

Besides which, getting multiple inputs is hard work and takes time.  And what if someone disagrees with your idea?  Obviously, they’re not a team player and if you’re not a team player, why would we want you on the team?  You would be well to consider a Russian proverb:

“An enemy will agree, but a friend will argue.”

Agreeing is so easy and takes so little effort, but arguing requires a commitment of time and effort – a sign of true friendship and commitment.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg described her relationship with Antonin Scalia as “best buddies.”  While they were polar opposites politically and didn’t give an inch in ground to the other, they helped each other to write the strongest opinions by pointing out the weaknesses in early drafts.

We have just celebration Independence Day but we forget that the men that wrote, edited and finally approved the Declaration of Independence argued, stormed and found common ground.  It wasn’t perfect to them and it isn’t perfect to us today, but it got the job started.

And a task started is a task half completed.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.