In a nutshell: describes the distinctive character of decisions managers or executives must make on a weekly basis.
It is a curious fact about the English language that the second most common word (“of”) occurs about half as often as the most common word (“the”); the third most common word occurs 1/3 as often as the most common word; and this pattern holds pretty well for the first 1000 words or more.
This pattern, known as Zipf’s Law, or more generally a power law distribution, occurs for a suprisingly diverse range of phenomena, from cities (the bigger they get, the fewer there are of that size) to earthquakes to price variations.
I don’t know of any any measurements to verify this, but it seems plausible that such a pattern would hold for business decisions as well. These decisions can be rated in terms of their level of significance, ranging from the trivial or everyday (Where should we go for lunch? Use “Yours sincerely” or “Cheers”?) to the truly momentous (Should we pay bribes to Saddam Hussein to sell more wheat?). In a given period, the typical manager or executive would make a great many everyday decisions, very few momentous ones, and a generous handful of “mid-sized” decisions.
Making everyday decisions would generally take only moments or at most minutes; momentous decisions might take months or years. Somewhere in between are decisions that the typical decision maker would make regularly but not everyday; she might make a few a week, and each would be thought about over a period of days or weeks. We might call these “everyweek” decisions (as opposed to everyday decisions).
Examples might be:
- Who should we hire for this job? (Should we fire Jones?)
- Should we revamp the current website, commission a new one – or what?
- Should we pay for a booth at the XX tradeshow?
- What legal structure should our US subsidiary have?
Everyweek decision problems tend to have the following properties:
- They involve considering a number of options, and “weighing up” the considerations bearing on these options.
- The weighing-up is done intuitively, i.e., without using any strict rule or calculation.
- Each option has various pros and cons.
- The pros and cons are heterogeneous, i.e., very different in nature.
- The pros and cons are generally qualitative; it is impracticable or even nonsensical to put numbers on them.
- The pros and cons may need to be backed up by evidence.
- Indeed, the pros and cons are often disputable; we may need to consider the arguments for or against them, and the debate may get quite complex.
- Generally not all the options, or pros and cons, are immediately apparent; it will take effort to “uncover” or generate them.
- Everyweek decision problems are made under time pressure.
- The time pressure rules out doing lots of research or investigation; we have to “make do” what what knowledge or beliefs we have already, or can access quickly and easily
- Everyweek decisions are collaborative, i.e., there are multiple people involved in thinking through the decision.
- These people may be remote, i.e. far away and in a different time zone
- The decision maker is “accountable” for the decision.
- In particular, the decision maker may have to justify the decision, i.e., explain the thinking behind it
It seems that the great majority of the non-trivial decisions the typical business decision maker has to make are “everyweek” in scale and nature.
I’m hoping, in subsequent posts, to discuss a number of issues related to everyweek decisions, such as:
- How everyweek decisions are generally made;
- What problems or “pain points” there are in everyweek decision making;
- The lack of good tools to support everyweek decision making
- The direction we (Austhink) are taking in addressing these issues.