Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sweet Spot Decision Making

Perhaps all of us have experienced a situation where we felt that the service we were getting was too slow. Maybe we had some other place we needed to get to, but often it’s a case where we feel that the people who are supposed to be attentive to our needs are not doing their jobs.

On the other hand, sometimes people are too attentive. I arrived at my local coffee bar one recent morning to purchase a coffee for the trip to campus. There was a line, but it was not too long and it was moving at a satisfactory pace. At least, I thought it was. Along came a barista who felt the situation would be improved by soliciting drink orders and having them ready at the cashier for each customer. In short order, several coffee drinks were placed near the cash register and confusion reigned as the cashier tried to determine which drink belonged to which customer. 

What does this have to do with business education? In thinking about these events, it occurred to me that many decision makers in business have problems when they are unable to maintain the right “pace” in their thinking. If they are slow to react, they may miss an opportunity or allow a bad situation to get worse. On the other hand, when decision makers move too quickly, they often hear that they are guilty of short-cutting the normal “process,” or worse, that they have responded with an ill-considered “knee-jerk” reaction.

A key decision making characteristic is operating in the area between “rush to judgment” and “analysis paralysis.”  I call this area the “sweet spot” of decision making. In the sweet spot, decisions are informed and timely. Whether one naturally tends to slow or quick decisions may be attributable to the person’s cognitive style, the person’s risk aversion or comfort, the influence of peers, institutional norms, or possibly many other things. To the extent we can refine the idea of “timely” decision making in our curricula so that we educate students to seek the decision making sweet spot  – decision making that is not too slow and not too fast – I think we will graduate better business professionals. 

1 comment:

  1. Your example also illustrates the different facets of decision making. You could say the barista (bless his heart, as we say in the south) made a good decision depending on how you define the problem - he gave customers the impression that they were being served.

    He clearly felt he had enough information to act - long line of customers, free time to jump in and help, etc. But - did he not THINK about the process implications - or did he assume that lattes would be properly identified? I think his action (granted with unintended consequences) revealed a bigger problem - to wit - if ONE customer comes in and orders 7 different lattes for all the clowns in the VW outside, then steps to the restroom, does the same confusion ensue when the customer returns or is the entire delivery process single threaded - so that ONE gets prepared but everything stops until he comes back to pick it up and they can start on the second?