Every single day, you and your colleagues make decisions within your business. The quality of these decisions is what influences your future direction and success. So let me frighten the living daylights out of you by suggesting that the way we all make decisions is fundamentally flawed.
But before I get to that, let’s talk about Batman.
Some of you on here may have seen The Dark Knight. If you haven’t, I suggest you check it out. It’s a fantastic film.
For those who don’t know, the basic idea behind the film is the moral dilemma faced by Batman.
There are two main characters in the film – Batman and the Joker. Batman is the altar-ego of Bruce Wayne. Wayne lost his parents when he was a child because they were murdered in cold blood by a criminal. Wayne assumed the identity of Batman in order to go out into Gotham city and bring criminals to justice. At the same time, he made a rule that he would never kill anybody. He did this on the basis that he believed killing was wrong, most likely because of what happened to his parents.
In the film, we see the arrival of the Joker in Gotham city. The Joker has no rules. He is prepared to do anything he likes and kill as many people as he likes purely for his own pleasure. It is clear from an early stage in the film that the Joker is unstoppable.
This presents Batman with a dilemma. As he refuses to kill anybody he’s powerless to stop the Joker. As the film progresses, Batman’s inaction results in the Joker killing numerous people in the city and also several close friends of Batman.
Ultimately, the Joker wins because Batman has rules, whereas the Joker has none.
What’s relevant about this to you is that the cause of the problem in the film is Batman’s strong right and wrong functioning.
We all make decisions in our businesses based on right and wrong functioning to some degree. You may well have experienced moments where you have felt you have made a wrong decision. Equally, you may have experienced times when you feel you have made the right decision. On both occasions, you will have experienced some emotion associated with this. If it’s a wrong decision, you may have felt unhappy. If it was a right decision, you may well have felt good about yourself.
If you listen to the language people use in meetings, you will hear people referring to making the right decision on a regular basis. So like Batman, we all operate to a set of rules and have strong right and wrong functioning in our decision-making.
But curiously, the world is not a binary place. Situations are generally far more complicated and have far more outcomes than the rather simplistic right or wrong options we normally use. Our right and wrong decision making reduces every situation to a binary set of outcomes. Is business really like this?
Right and wrong decision making is based on a number of very rickety elements. Personal values, moral views, emotional states, social pressure and assumptions to name but a few. How consistent are these between different people? How objective are they? Are they always reliable?
Right and wrong decision making blinds us to all the available options we have when making a decision. And we are all brought up with right and wrong functioning hard-wired into our thinking.
Every decision has multiple different options and multiple different outcomes. Every single option is relevant. If we look at all options with no desire to make a right or wrong decision we are left with a choice of which option is the most appropriate to the facts of the situation we find ourselves in. In other words, we are freed from all the emotional baggage that we normally associate with decision-making and are able to make a business led choice.
Next time you come to make a decision, do the following:
- Assess the facts of the situation; what’s really going on?
- Consider ALL possible courses of action, even those that seem unpalatable
- Consider the effects and implications of these actions; what will happen if you follow them?
- Assess which course of action best fits the facts of the situation based on its cause, effects and implications. There’s your decision!
So maybe it’s useful to be aware that one of the options in reducing our company debt is to sack half of the staff. Maybe it’s okay to consider the possibility that we don’t do that amazing merger deal with another organisation. After all, it’s all just options!
Now think about poor Batman. If he was able to see that the most appropriate option to deal with the situation with the Joker at the beginning of The Dark Knight was to kill the Joker, he would have avoided the one thing that he feared most. Loss of life.
Next time you’re faced with a decision where you find yourself desperately trying to come to the right solution, remember to kill the Joker. It’s not wrong, it’s just an option.
Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.