Saturday, July 19, 2008

Part 1: Decision-level


Part 1: Decision-level objectivity

Part 2: As a basis for comparison or judgment

Part 3: God or whatever you take or don’t take as His equivalent


To take the idea of objectivity on its smallest (and most manageable?) scale, I’ll consider decision-making. Something humans are notoriously not so good at.

First, however, a disclaimer/clarification (and a nod to e!): it’s useless to seek The Answer, to expect a single, objective truth in your answer. There probably isn’t one, and it would take forever (literally…). Instead, what is important is to aim for objectivity in the process, which in turn will inject a measure of objectivity into an answer. Which, in turn demands a recognition of the interpersonal context of the decision or answer…come back to this.

There are innumerable examples of biased decision-making and the [potential] consequences. It would be good to avoid these traps.

There are two main dimensions by which to define objectivity. First, is the answer based on facts, or, did the answer come from “within” or “without”? An answer that was driven by an assertion can be said to come from within, while that based on facts comes from without. Second, completeness in the evaluation – that is, were all relevant facts considered? Because it’s no good being “fact-based” if you cherrypick the facts to fit your story. That’s called the confirmation bias in psychology – the tendency to ‘see what you want to see’.

I’m increasingly thankful to a certain teacher who spent time on what he called “BLINDSPOT” analysis. Yes, it’s an acronym. No, I’m not going to spend the space here explaining the whole thing. But it was a valuable discussion to have had. It was basically a repackaging of psychological biases and decision-making risks into a convenient framework of sorts. And paying attention to these things will go a long way towards ensuring objectivity and making for a better quality decision.

And…fail. There has to be more because having logic on your side just isn’t enough these days. The decisions that matter are rarely, so lots of conflicting opinions and different stakeholders are involved, which demands the effective communication of the answer. Decisions always happen in context.

Back to the idea of completeness, the answer arrived at, no matter how objectively found, has to be put in a larger context. In fact, it is one piece of three: there is the message, the speaker, and the listener(s).* The answer or decision is the message, and it is the only part of this that is, strictly speaking, logical. The other two relate to emotions, perceptions, and projected image. And so, the decision-taking process needs to be wrapped inside the process of communication in order to be complete. One has to have their answer, has to make their decision, and that shouldn’t change. The speaker shouldn’t change, save perhaps a little. But the listener will always be changing.

Oh, meta.

*h/t Aristotle

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