The Trap of Decision Making
Do you know that Critical Thinking Skills is one the most important crucial for managers of today?
It can be mind boggling to realise that in the past, leaders of nations and organizations made bad decisions. These leaders whom we looked up to, even smart ones, made bad choices which embarrassed them and frowned upon by others. The Bay of Pigs incident was embarrassing to John F. Kennedy. However, J.F. Kennedy learned his lessons well and was able to avert a third world war in the Cuban Missile Crisis, contrary to the advice of the U.S military to use force on Cuba.
An old Japanese legend is told about a man renowned for his flawless manners visiting a remote village. Wanting to honour as well as observe him, the villagers prepared a banquet. As they sat to eat, all eyes were on their noble guest. Everyone looked at how the man held his chopsticks, so that they could imitate him. But then, by an unfortunate accident, as the mannered man raised a slippery slice of tofu to his lips, he placed the tiniest bit of excess pressure on his chopsticks, propelling his tofu through the air and onto his neighbour’s lap. After a brief moment of surprise, in order to preserve the myth of their guest’s perfection and keep him from any embarrassment, all the villagers at the banquet began to fling tofu into each other’s laps.
This lesson from this story was well explained by Zachary Shore in his book, Blunder which I quote: “The legend reminds us that people will sometimes go to extreme lengths to avoid being exposed as weak or flawed.” The villagers do not to be seen to be wrong and weak about their honoured guest. So they also tossed their tofu through the air.
We can make wrong decisions because of cognition traps and an example of this is what is termed as exposure anxiety. The use of force to subdue “rebels”, protesters and those who spoke up about injustice and corruption is well known in the news. Overreacting with excessive force only reveals the weakness of leaders. Leaders who are able to disclose or admit their faults gain respect and demonstrate their strength. The path that some leaders in power take is one where they do not want to be seen as weak – a typical case of exposure anxiety. Worse still, the followers also take this same path so as not to reveal their weakness in following such leaders. This is the path that leads to disaster in decision making for all of them.
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