Summary: Harvard Business Review On Decision-Making - InformationWeek

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Summary: Harvard Business Review On Decision-Making

BI practitioners may find a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review indispensable.

A special issue on decision-making from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) features seven new and two repeated articles on the nature and process of decision making, and BI practitioners are likely to find the stories indispensable. From A Brief History of Decision Making to Conquering the Culture of Indecision, the articles carefully inspect the process of decision-making and what makes it work better. They also get at the guts of business intelligence.

Harvard Business Review remains one of the preeminent business magazines and an outstanding resource on the nature and methods of business management. What appears in HBR is often adopted into business school courses and readings. Articles show up as references and citations 10-20 years after the original publishing date. In sum, HBR is a source of seminal thinking on business, and the Special Issue on Decision Making is no exception.

HBR on Decision Making doesn't spend a great deal of time looking at the mechanics and analytics around decision-making, although Thomas Davenport's Competing on Analytics make a strong case that BI's advanced analytics confer distinct competitive advantage to leaders in various industries. Instead, these articles' emphasis is on the broader executive climate, and practices that either foster or harm decision-making in organizations.

Stop Making Plans, Start Making Decisions, by Michael Mankins and Richard Steele, looks at the fouled-up state of strategic planning within organizations. Having been fixed to an annual cycle and an orientation around business units has deprived strategic planning of the necessary agility for responding to business pressures, risks and other issues as they arise. The approach advocated in the article will have a profound effect on scorecarding, the configuration of performance measures and executive information systems.

Similarly, Decisions Without Blinders, by Max H. Bazerman and Dolly Chugh, gets to the heart of the decision making processes -- gathering good information. In effect, good decision-making is like good science. It's only as good as the breadth, relevance and veracity of the data brought forward.

The article warns against leaders' failure to seek information when they've made prejudgments that motivate them to favor a particular outcome. The authors cite Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, in which Clarke argues that the Bush administration was inclined to find an Iraqi role in 9/11: "We now know that this overly narrow assessment was wrong. But in the months that followed, the Bush administration conducted a motivated search to tie Iraq to 9/11 and terrorism. With such a confirmatory effort, information inconsistent with the preferred viewpoint lay outside the bounds of awareness."

The validity or invalidity of Clarke's assessment aside, the anecdote provides a lesson for BI practitioners: They can get a good read on how well their system will be allowed to perform by monitoring the ways top decision-makers react to dissenting, contradictory, or counter-to-the trend evidence and data.

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