On a daily basis we all contribute to the making of decisions – from how we improve our instructional practice or allocate our resources, to how we develop our everyday interactions with students. Often we prioritise a linear and rational approach of decision-making, assuming that it is the key to making the most considered and strategic decisions. We use rational thought processes and words to consider and define an issue, to design a solution and to implement. The assumption behind the rational decision-making is that decisions are made objectively, logically and without emotion.
But in your experience, do people always make decisions in this way? Is it always so clear? Mintzberg and Westley see decisions to be more mysterious and far messier than a step-by-step logic. They offer a model that embraces this conceptual thinking but alongside our intuition and action-oriented forms of decision-making. The three approaches are: thinking first, seeing first and doing first. They argue that the use of all three approaches can improve the quality of decision-making and therefore, of our learning as practitioners in education.
The first approach to decision-making is thinking first
, which often leads us to think in a linear and categorical way.
We see ourselves using conventional frameworks, such as pros and con lists, cause and effect, and so on to help us to think and understand the situation and form a response. This approach can be helpful when we are clear about what the issues are, when the data and information that informs our decision-making is reliable, and when thought can be pinned down. However, this structured, more formalised approach can sometimes reduce opportunity for exploration, imagining and visioning.Seeing first
provides an alternative, where making decisions can be based on what can be seen. Understanding of situations can be visual as well as conceptual. Qualities of this approach are around imagining and visioning, and formulation of ideas. Working through decision-making can be done by using visuals, like creating pictures or collages to work through common issues or concerns. Four steps to this type of creative discovery are:
Mintzberg and Westley have found that when people experiment with this approach, the interactions amongst teams became much more collegial and solution-focused. Making a picture means that a group needs to reach a consensus. Seeing first approach to decision-making brings high energy and emotional responses, like laughter. It invites creativity and results in deeper integration of ideas and a capturing of the core issues at hand. Further, the impression lasts longer. We remember pictures far more easily and more accurately than we retain words.Doing first
, another approach, may also be helpful for particular scenarios like when you are stuck - you can't think it and you can't see it. As Aristotle put it, "good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions".
This approach is about experimentation - trying something so you can learn. This means doing various things, finding out which among them works, making sense of that and repeating the successful behaviours or actions, while discarding the rest.
Using this approach, Mintzberg and Westley found that people respond to one another more intuitively, letting out concerns held back when thinking first and seeing first. When we act in the moment we often lose our inhibitions, which means that humour, fear, anger can surface but also that we can lose our sense of fear in acting. The key to doing first effectively is openness to signals from others and recognition of opportunities for improvisation, which can increase our capacity to learn. Rules around relationships can help people move forward in a coordinated but spontaneous way.
Each of these approaches cannot be seen in isolation, but rather they are all relevant to certain situations and contexts. What is the most effective way to make a decision in your educational setting?
For more information: Decision Making: It's not what you think