Long ago and far away, I was introduced to rigorous decision making, a concept invented by the ancient Greeks. As part of this tradition, I was taught to carefully define my premises, apply logic to determine my alternatives and then make value judgments as to which of those alternatives I would support.
In such a methodology, there are facts, which are special because they are objective (universal), there are observations, suggestions and preferences, all of which are subjective (personal).
In attempting to make a decision, especially a decision involving a group of peers or near-peers, it is therefore important to establish the premises and agree upon the facts. Then alternatives can be generated which are both realistic and which tend to achieve the goal. Every member of the group can consider the alternatives, weigh them as they see fit, and discuss the relative merits of the alternatives and perhaps generate hybrid alternatives which have broad appeal.
Instead, I am constantly finding myself on the wrong side of this cycle:
- There is an issue, usually not a critical one from my perspective
- Someone senior announces a solution
- Many someones junior voice objections
- Objections are countered with simple denial
- "You are wrong, that is a not a problem"
- "Your problem exists, but it will handled by the solution"
- The solution fails along the expected dimensions
- Juniors are trained to pretend that the seniors were right
- I am asked to join in the pretense while providing a non-pretend remedy
I am unclear as to why anyone would want to pretend that all problems have a clear, simple, perfect solution. This pretense is obviously absurd and continually contradicted by everyone's life experience. One of the primary skills of adulthood is the acceptance of imperfection and the pursuit of the as-good-as-possible. Why pretend that when at work, suddenly perfections are possible and always achieved by the right process?
This is particularly frustrating for someone in my position, the position of actually having to make systems work in the real world. Unlike senior management, I do not have the option of simply insisting that my work is perfect and that all criticism of it is invalid.
Now that I write that out, I can see that appeal: how awesome that would be! Except for the constantly failing part, which I would hate, even if I could browbeat people into never mentioning it.
My current working hypothesis is this:
- We live in an age of astounding possibilities and baffling large numbers of choices
- Our culture prizes confidence, at least in men, and rewards the confident whether or not they are correct (Often in error, never in doubt)
- In order to be determined confident in complex, uncertain situations, one must be simplistic; keeping it simple is not enough
- In order to be simplistic, one has to ignore complicating realities
- Voila! we end up where I find myself: listening to falsehood asserted with authority