Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Taxonomy of Bad Decisions

It started the beginning of the week.  Someone I know approached me and told me about something they had decided to do in their job.  I listened.  I nodded.  I said, "Ok.  It's your call."  
What I was thinking, though, was, "What crack are you smoking to think doing something like that is going to work out?"  
Decisions are tough.  I have to make decisions everyday at work.  The hardest ones for me are those that involve dealing with the employees.  How do I approach this person on what they're doing?  How do I get them to stop making these mistakes?  Do I hire this guy?  Do I hire that gal instead?  Hate them.  Have to do them.  It's part of the job.  It's part of life.  
This week, I started noticing how bad decisions could be classified.  This is not an exhaustive classification.  I'm sure there are other ways to screw up.  People are inventive.  These are just the types I noticed in my life.  
Too Fast or Too Soon
There was a smell in the office.  A metallic oder that stung the nose.  Some people said they thought it smelled like burning plastic.  People were searching around their desks.  One or two said it was too much for them to bear and left their units.  
I was given the job of finding out where it came from.  We tracked it down to the storage room where our network equipment and server is kept.  A back-up power supply, a large battery plugged into the wall, was acting up.  My boss told me to switch it out before something happened.  
I grabbed one of the other employees and ran to the storage room.  Together we started tracing power cables and connections.  All of our back-up drives, where our work was archived, was plugged into the offending back-up.  Our office's server was plugged into it, too.  
We already had a brand new back-up purchased and set-up.  I ran back to my office and called our IT department to have the server shut-down.  I told the supervisor of my department the archive drives were going off-line.  I trotted back to the storage room, heading past the receptionist desk.  
"What's going on?" the receptionist asked me as I went past her desk.  
"We're switching the server to a new power supply," I said over my shoulder, already heading down the hall to the storage room.  
"Won't that affect the phones?"  
Crap.  I hadn't checked that.  Our office has a VOIP (Voice Over IP) phone system.  If the calls were routed through the server then everyone on the phone, with a client or calling a location, was in the process of being cut-off.  It might also mean that everyone using our system to status their work would be disconnect as well.  In my desire to get the battery back-up switched RIGHT NOW, I hadn't thought the problem through.  
Making a decision to do something before you have all the facts or thought it through is a good way to make a bad decision.  Fixating too much on the result you want is part of the bad decision making process.  
"I'll take care of it later," or The Decision to Not make a Decision
I spotted the Highway Patrol car as I passed it in the fast lane.  I was going home after a long day at work.  I wanted to get to Trader Joe's, a specialty food store I frequent, before it closed.  I took my foot off the pedal.  I winced as the patrol car swung behind me.  
I switched lanes.  He switched lanes right behind me and turned on his lights.  Damn it!  Not now.  Cursing under my breath, I swung over to the side of the freeway.  The officer used his loud speaker to tell me to pull completely off the freeway.  
I sat there, fuming, as he doused my car with his spotlights.  He came up to my passenger door.  I rolled the window down.  
"Good evening, sir.  How's it going?"  Very polite and professional fellow. 
"Fine."  I was neither.  
"I pulled you over because your license plate sticker is out of date.  Did you register your vehicle?"  
Damn.  I did.  I did it early, in fact.  I was on vacation when the updated registration arrived.  I found it in the pile of mail waiting for me when I got back.  
"Oh, yeah..."  I remembered thinking to myself when I found it.  It was on a Saturday.  It was the last piece of mail in the pile.  "I need to put this on my car."  Not feeling like going outside, I set the envelope on the far edge of my desk and thought, "I'll take care of it later."  
I hadn't.  Moreover I completely forgot about it.  I got in my car every day for weeks after that, "Knowing" that I had proper registered my car.  But I never put the sticker on my car, nor hung the registration car on the flap of my sun-visor.  
When I got home I tore my desk apart.  I didn't find it that night.  The next morning, my writing session turned into a "find that 'ehfing' registration card session."  I found it right at the end of my allotted hour and a half.  It had been pushed off my desk and gathered up in pile of junk mail to be sent to the recyclers.  I walked out to my car and affixed it right then and there.  
The fix-it ticket the CHiP gave me is $25.00.  That's twenty-five dollars I won't be able to use to go out for lunch or buy groceries.  Twenty-five dollars for something I already had.  
FYI: The California Highway Patrol doesn't charge you for the inspection to verify that you've fixed the problem on the fix-it ticket.  The Los Angeles County Sheriffs office charges you $17.00 for the service.  
This is the type of bad decision I make a lot.  I'm trying to adopt of mantra of, "can I do this now?" when I am asked to do something.  Obvious, I still have a ways to go.
It's Just TOO HARD
I was listening to a program on Nation Public Radio (NPR) this week.  They had a panel of economic experts discussing what could be done to get the American Economy going again.  The panel came from an extreme variety of economic and political backgrounds, from laissez faire free-market capitalist, to hard-core Keynesians advocating for broad government intervention.  
The panelist were asked to focus on policies they could all agree on.  To come up with economic proposals that a candidate for office might advocate that they all agreed would help the economy and lower the government's deficit.  In response they came up with two proposals that everyone of them agreed would work.  
Eliminate the mortgage interest deduction from Federal taxes.  Eliminate all corporate taxes.  
The consensus of their reason was that the mortgage interest deduction represented hundreds of millions of dollars the government doesn't take in.  It also makes housing more expensive overall, by allowing people to purchase homes they would normally not be able to afford, and keeps owning a home out of reach of the majority of potential home buyers.  It also favors the wealthy over the middle class, since they can probably afford the homes they are in easier, yet gives them a significantly greater deduction.  
Corporations, the panelist agreed, both big and small, are engines of job creation.  Eliminating taxes on their profits would allow them to put those profits back into their business to grow it.  Tax the people that own and run the corporations, but allow the corporations to keep their money.
The panelist also agreed on one other thing: Neither of these proposals would ever be offered in the platform of any candidate running for office.  The mortgage interest deduction is too popular.  And not taxing corporations sounds too unfair.  A decision to do these things, though reasonable, was too hard to make.  
I think this is the type of Bad Decision, or more accurately, an example of Hard Decision avoidance, that is rife in politics and government.  The decision to cut defense spending is another example.  The United States spent $711 Billion dollars on defense in 2011.  That's more than any other country in the world.  In fact, if you took the defensive spending of China, Russian, the UK, France, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Australia and Canada, the countries with the next thirteen biggest defense budgets combined, it would come up to $695 Billion dollars, or seventeen billion dollars less.  And at least eight of those countries are allies of the U.S., nations that are part of strong defensive alliances with us.  
To even propose significant cuts to defense spending, though, will get someone branded as "soft" on defense, someone who would leave this nation defenseless. 
Decisions in Stories 
As a writer, I create characters that have problems.  They have decisions to make.  Often these decisions are much, much harder than any most people face in their daily life, and they have to be enacted much more forcefully. 
But how often do I have them make a bad decision?  And once that decision is made, how often do they commit the act of making another bad decision, that of sticking with it, even after the evidence is in that it simply isn't working?  
We want our heros to be big and strong, smarter and braver, tougher than we are.  People to aspire to be like.  This desire made lead us to make them less fallible, a little too perfect in their decision making.  
Wouldn't they be more like someone I'd want to be like if, after making a bad decision, they admitted the truth and made the decision to correct it, even if that decision was hard, even if it meant taking action "right now"?  I think it would.
At least, that's what I've decided.


Post a Comment

<< Home