Hi there! My name is John Bordeaux. I graduated the 22nd grade with a Ph.D. in public policy, so I'm not leaving the Washington DC area anytime soon. I served as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s, and landed here in 1990. What I started doing then, I've continued to do. Through positions labeled as analyst, consultant and even a brief misguided stint as a Chief Knowledge Officer - I've worked to connect operations with intelligence.
I taught an ethics-and-leadership course for an MBA program; because leadership without ethics helped destroy trillions in generational wealth just a few years ago, and many leadership frameworks are based on an outmoded view of humanity. I’m now leading a strategic management capstone course for the same program, and I’m old enough to remember when strategic management was not a phrase.
I used to offer a decision science module several times a year for a large client in the U.S. intelligence community; helping security professionals understand the cognitive biases and filters that can cloud their work. I’ve returned back to a public sector focus, working in the think tank that first welcomed me in 1990.
Through all these pursuits, my friends and I figured out a few things, principally:
We know why your decisions need work.
There are many reasons, actually, but it boils down to this:
Every decision is a prediction. A guess about the future. And we are terrible at this.
We were taught how the individual makes decisions - and were given bad information. We built entire economic theories on utility functions and rational actor theories, despite knowing we are not rational. Behavioral Economics is a belated realization that sociology tells us more about human decisions than economists. A friend once told me that economics had physics envy, which is why it ignored sociology for several generations.
We were taught how to make decisions in organizations - through a beneficent hierarchy which took the long view while we labored away on the components. And we were lied to. The humans at the top of the pyramid were as human as the rest, and long-range thought scares us all. So we invented process and avoided foresight. We took manufacturing processes and pretended assembly-line efficiencies translate to all human endeavors. Humans became resources. We applied Lean Six Sigma to drive defects down, which served to embed today’s definition of a ‘defect’ deep within corporate processes - and prevent us from being successful tomorrow. (Smaller companies that can’t afford consultants then crop up to monetize what we were told was a defect.) Now we are told that our Big Data holds the key to making better decisions. What presumption about the future is embedded in that algorithm?
Here’s the best part: I lied. We are actually very good at predicting. There’s some thought that intelligence is nothing but the ability to predict better than others. Your brain actually doesn’t bother telling “you” when most of your predictions are correct. As you navigate your day, you aren’t aware when stairs appear beneath your feet in the expected intervals and height. The moment your foot fails to hit an expected step, however, is when your brain sends the error to your active consciousness. (This is also why you occasionally don’t recall your commute home - you were focused on a problem at work or with a lover and your brain helpfully drove for you, leaving you to the higher order thinking. Consider that next time you feel like texting on the highway.) We evolved to predict our movement through our environment, to make decisions effectively.
So why do we fail? Perhaps it is because we surround ourselves with processes and functions and incentive schemes based on how we were told things should work. Because business is harder than navigating stairs, we invent all manner of management silliness - believing that people in groups somehow become machines rather than mobs.
This is what motivates me; for my clients, my students, my grandchildren. We need to make better decisions - individually and organizationally. There's a lot riding on this, and we can do better.
@jbordeaux if you'd like to talk.
jb [at] jbordeaux [dot] com twitter: jbordeaux