Understanding and getting past cognitive limitations for decision makers

It is important to understand that the human mind has a limited capacity for dealing with complexity. It is also important for decision makers to understand their cognitive limitations, to bring forth the right tools, both mental and physical, to assist them in making optimal critical and complex decisions.

Gears turning shows a decision makers cognitive limitations. There is lots of value that can be harnessed from understanding the mind’s limited cognitive capacity for complexity. The thought of this limitation can be perplexing but essential for decision-makers to fully understand as they devise strategic plans for organizational success.  For most leaders there is this notion of bounded rationality, which speaks directly to the mind’s limitations and how people will use convenient means in coming to a decision where action needs to be taken. However, this notion adds a layer intricacy as most managers will use this to get to satisfaction, but not to an ‘optimal’ course of action or decision. So how does a leader or manager jump the hurdle of the mind’s limitations when making critical organization decisions?

First, once the decision maker identifies a situation where complexity is an essential component, the evaluation of factors and alternatives begin.  It is important also to note that while it would be great to say that most of us would weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each choice we make, that is just not reality. For that reason, the manager needs to understand crucial factors that will affect his or her decisions. It is ideal that the manager conducts a decision analysis when prompted to make complex decisions to get to that critical and ‘optimal’ decision or result.  Various factors should be considered while planning and before decisions are finalized.

Factors Include:

  • Resources: What resources and effort must accompany the strategy for which the manager wishes to employ?
  • Skills and Knowledge: Does the manager have the right skill set and knowledge about the environment for which the decision will have an effect upon and if not, then what can be added or done to meet the skills and knowledge needed?
  • Conflict and Barriers: How can potential conflict or barriers of the decision be minimized?
  • Time: Ensure the manager has enough time to make the decision. Knowing this will help the manager develop a timeline and avoid “flying by the seat of your pants” decision making.
  • Intuition Value: Is the manager able to apply their intuition, and if so will that need to be justified to others before the conclusion is reached?
  • Ripple Effect: Does the manager fully understand the importance and ripple effect of the decision he or she is making?
  • Evaluation of Alternatives: Has the manager vetted out the alternatives to ensure the best decision is being made and will this also need to be justified to others?

There are an enormous number of books developed to assist managers in making sound business decisions, yet there is a significant number of decisions being made that resulted in failed initiatives, projects, and products. Perhaps it is as simple as suggesting they might not have owned their mind’s limitations and a decision analysis was not conducted. Whatever the cause of the failure, we do ourselves no service by ignoring the fundamental fact that our minds are capable of a great number of things, but it does have limitations with complexity. No matter the tools or technology that we utilize to help aid our decisions, an ‘optimal’ result should always be sought after rather than an ‘approximate’ one.

 

Dr. Lee Ann Walker is the Academic Program Manager for the Marketing MBA Program in the Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University. Walker holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of North Florida, a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from American InterContinental University and a Doctorate of Business Administration from Walden University. Walker has targeted, professional experience in marketing, advertising, graphic design, corporate branding, social media branding, and customer service in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. 

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