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Volume 12, Issue 6;   February 8, 2012: How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Recognize Haste

How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Recognize Haste

by

When trouble arises after we commit to a course of action, we sometimes feel that the trouble was foreseeable. One technique for foreseeing the foreseeable depends on recognizing haste in the decision-making process.
A portrait of Matthew Lyon, printer, farmer, soldier, politician

A portrait of Matthew Lyon (1749-1822), printer, farmer, soldier, and politician. Lyon was a colorful character. Born in Ireland, he immigrated to Connecticut in 1764. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the regiment known as the Green Mountain Boys in July 1776, and served two terms in Congress (1797-1801) as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. While serving in Congress, he was arrested, tried, and convicted for sedition in 1798 under the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts, passed in haste from June 18, 1798, to July 14, 1798, prohibited malicious writing about the government of the United States, the Congress, or the President. Laws of this kind would seem to be directly prohibited by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which ensures freedom of speech. The Acts are now regarded as politically motivated. They were advanced by the Federalist Party, then the party in power. Being of the other party, and having made numerous enemies, Lyon was probably targeted. The Acts are now regarded as unconstitutional, though one does still remain in force. Among Rep. Lyon's many other distinctions is the fact that while imprisoned, he won reelection to Congress for a second term. Photo of a painting that now hangs in the Vermont Capitol Building.

Sometimes we're unaware that we're acting in haste, possibly because recognizing haste requires pausing to assess our condition. Still, recognizing haste is important, because haste, as they say, makes waste. But haste can do far more than make waste. Failure, bankruptcy, and threats to life and limb can follow, too, though not in every situation. Some signs of haste are obvious: the emergency meeting; sending out for dinner for everyone; or having people phone in from airports. But some signs of haste are more difficult to discern. A sampling:

Rescheduling meetings too close to deadlines
Decision quality can suffer when critical decision-making meetings are rescheduled from, say, a month before deadline to a day before the deadline. Cushioning intervals between decisions and deadlines make space for safety mechanisms.
For example, these intervals let us seek outside support such as advice, research, or references. A zero-cushion rescheduling can compel us to decide now, at the meeting, irrevocably, and that can prevent us from foreseeing the foreseeable.
Decisions require time, sometimes beyond the actual meetings at which they're drafted. Scheduling (or rescheduling) those meetings must take that time into account.
Delivering supporting exhibits late
If a decision depends on examining exhibits — documents, reports, experimental results, or other intelligence — and if delivery is late, decision makers might be unable to review the material adequately before the decision. They might be unable to grasp its full implications.
Making decisions on time despite late exhibit delivery could mean that scheduling is more valued than decision quality. In effect, to compensate for the late delivery, the decision makers are sacrificing time they need.
Determine Making decisions on time despite
late exhibit delivery could
mean that scheduling is more
valued than decision quality
in advance the minimum interval between exhibit delivery and the decision. Deciding about the minimum interval in the moment biases the group in favor of haste. Minimum intervals between deliveries and decisions might depend on the nature of the decisions.
New team member pressure
Sometimes, when new team members join a group, we feel compelled to proceed before they can become familiar with the issue at hand. Formally, the new members supposedly represent important constituencies or expertise, but that representation can be ineffective if familiarity with the immediate issue is limited.
Making group decisions with inadequate representation of important constituencies or expertise exposes the group to risk. Mere assignment to the team of someone with relevant attributes doesn't make that person capable of functioning as intended.
Establish criteria for team readiness before making critical decisions. As with exhibit delivery, the criteria might depend on the nature of the decision.

When the stakes are high, and both speed and decision quality are essential, lean toward quality. Make an agreement in your group that once the signs of haste are acknowledged, you'll take previously agreed-upon steps to limit the errors that haste can facilitate. Accept that you might have to decide in haste, but if you do, do it with eyes open. Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Focus on the Question  Next Issue

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