The wonderful thing about working in a discipline like Marketing is that you’re really working through the complexities of your fellow human beings. The irreverent, irrational and irksome human qualities that often defy logic and commonsense. Is there any other explanation for Korean pop sensation PSY managing to garner more YouTube views than Lady Gaga’s entire video collection? It certainly ain’t commonsense.
That human beings are often irrational – ask my wife about Paris or my kids about ice cream – isn’t news. What is interesting is factoring irrationality into exercises like strategic planning. Planning should, by its very nature, be a highly rational process.
A recent article in Farnam Street article was quick to point out an uncomfortable reality though.
Humans have several patterns of behaviour that get in the way of being truly objective. A tendency (like this author) to generalize, to have biases or preconceived notions based on previous experiences, oversimplify or analyze data so it will reinforce an existing belief. Any of these behaviours can cripple a strategy session.
So can Strategic Planning ever be truly objective when most people tend to be highly subjective? I put that question to my LinkedIn network and received a spirited response from dear friend Marco Monfils who co-authored this blog.
Marco’s opinion, which I share, was as follows…
Strategies should be conducted in an environment of clinical detachment. No favouritism for the CEO’s pet idea, no convenient amnesia when discussing the failed line extension. Egos, biases and subjectivity left at the boardroom door.
But how do you actually do that??
Here is a five-step guide for more objective decision-making in business, life and beyond:
- Is the decision complex and inter-related. If no, make a decision, if yes, go to point 2.
- Can the decision be reversed later on, subject to new info, opinions or events? If no, go to point 3. If yes, make a decision.
- Can the decision be made tomorrow, after you’ve sleep on it, or must it be made today? If yes, go to point 4. If no, make a decision.
- Can someone else add needed perspective and/or provide information from an expert/experience point of view? If yes, go to point 5. If no, make a decision.
- After the required information, data and points of view has been collected, do you now feel qualified to make a better decision? If yes, go to point 3. If no, go to point 3.
To step out of routine-influenced decision-making, to remove bias, ego and subjectivity, people require time for their brains to adjust – to slow down! Parts of our brains have evolved to short-cut decisions based on what worked well in the past. We all know that successful brands overtly try to create these types of neural short-cuts to make chosing them “easier”.
Yet our brains can be trained to dive deeper and challenge what was earlier considered standard fare. If you’re prepared to give it time.
The very nature of human beings is complex, irrational and inter-related, and that truth needs to be considered if any decision is to have a chance for maximum impact. Subjective thinking often relies on what worked in the past. The quick and easy stuff. Objective thinking considers other possible outcomes. That’s why it is so critical in planning. “The past is no guide for the future, except if we make it so.”
There is a understandable tendency amongst business people to think decisions must be made instantaneously – that shows your decisiveness. The reality is the quicker the decision, the more likely it is based on subjectivity. You may consider the 5-steps above overly simplistic. We’d argue, however, that the simple ruse of “sleeping on it” builds in a natural opportunity to pause, reflect and consider alternatives. You may still make a subjective decision but, heaven knows, at least you’ve given your objective mind time to catch up.
We look forward to your views on this topic, feel free to challenge us. As for our response to your challenges? Well, we may just need to sleep on it.
Marco is an independent marketing consultant based in Budapest. He is widely recognized for his work in packaged goods and speaks frequently about the future of marketing and business in society, branding and the new dynamics of social consumers. Reach him through LinkedIn.