Friday, November 22, 2013

Running off the jetway or how to make decisions under pressure

The hazards of the unknown unknowns or how to avoid Running off the jetway

This scene illustrates an all too common problem in any field, and is one that I've encountered over and over again. We often entrust major decisions to folks who don't have enough information or are working with major assumptions about the situation that are incorrect. In this example, Jim Carrey's character is running furiously to get a briefcase back to it's owner, and when stopped (because the airplane has left), he assumes that his status as a Limo driver entitles him to board the plane even when no one else is allowed. The critical piece of information he was missing was that it wasn't simply his lack of status that was the reason he couldn't board the plane, but the fact that the plane had already left.

This is a lot like many computer 'experts' who claim that because of their status, they can ignore warnings or requests from others because 'They know better' about this sort of thing. They have the opinion that they are knowledgable enough to make broad assumptions about 'how things are supposed to be', but often are missing important and dangerous details. These blindspots are made famous by Donald Rumsfeld as unknown unkowns and cause many problems that we end up spending a lot of time extracting ourselves from.

To avoid the pain of running off the jetway, there are two important important things to remember:

  1. Don't Panic
  2. Be a good listener

Dont Panic: because once your brain goes into fight or flight mode, you can make bad decisions. This means you will revert to "Type 1" or automatic thinking. Your decisions will be short sighted and even irrational because your brain is busy trying to save you from whatever the emergency situation happens to be.

Be a good listener: since often the details of the situation can illuminate important details that make things much less urgent than they might seem on the surface. It takes careful and active listening skill to tease these details out and they will be buried if everyone is busy broadcasting their opinion. Calm ourself, listen to what is going on, and most importantly, start to detect what you aren't actively looking for.

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