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Three tips to make better decisions: alternatives, surrogate arguers, and goal of decision

An excellent article, Dan P. Lovallo and Olivier Sibony, ‘”Distortions and deceptions in strategic decisions,” McKinsey Quarterly, 2006, No. 1 at 21, presents among its many ideas three that I want to mark (See my post of Jan. 17, 2006 for other points from this article.).

A general counsel might insist that all recommendations made by the department’s administrator or senior lawyers include alternatives, “next-best” ideas. As the authors write, “this approach is useful not only to calibrate the level of the manager’s risk aversion but also to spot opportunities that a manager might otherwise consider insufficiently safe to present to senior management.” Push supporters of an idea to challenge their own proposals, to act like their own Devil’s Advocate (See my post of Jan. 10, 2006 on this and other methods to stir up creativity.).

The authors also recommend that instead of having each lawyer present a favored option, the general counsel might ask each lawyer to advocate another’s favorite. If you have to explain your position to someone who will be your spokesperson, you organize your thoughts and hear your own arguments. Surrogate presenters help foster rational debate instead of a battle of egos; they help people be more objective about someone else’s idea.

The third tip focuses on the decision that needs to be made at the moment: “One key principle, for instance, is clearly distinguishing a discussion meant to reach a decision from one meant to align the team, to increase its commitment, or to support a project champion.” A meeting framed to make a decision runs differently and might include different participants than a meeting that aims at one or more of the other decision goals.

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