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. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Forever Yours

1978: $19.95; Today: $180.00+

I entered the discipline of computer science in 1976. I was a sophomore in college and computer science looked like a better degree program for me in the long run than the one I was in at the time (mathematics). I remember giving great thought to which books I would sell back to the bookstore and which ones I would keep. There were some books that I knew I would be able to use in later courses and there were other books that I just thought I would enjoy having.

Today, we deliver many materials to our students in an electronic form. We often use a course management system as the primary delivery mechanism. Unfortunately, when a student finishes a course her access to the course materials via the course management system usually ends. Why is this?

I suspect one reason is that we have not given much thought to doing things differently. There may also have been technological reasons (e.g., limited or costly storage requirements or the overhead of maintaining multiple “old” versions of course materials) that also weighed against maintaining access to course materials forever. But are those issues still relevant today?

As we place more emphasis on our business students understanding the integrated nature of the business disciplines, it seems to me that we must move toward a system of maintaining student access to all prior course materials they have studied. We should encourage students to “go back” to those materials to refresh their knowledge on how the material fits in the current course work. We should also build into our courses content and exercises that require active integration of prior material. I think those objectives are easier to achieve when we know students have access to the material in courses they have already completed.