Three traps that snare every CIO’s decision making skills

In writing these posts I sometimes search the net for “alternative sites”, places where you find the most unlikely sources of information that offer a fresh look at the CIO environment, uncluttered by the Wood For The Trees Syndrome. The Accidental Successful CIO is one such site which is run by Dr Jim Anderson, a 20+ year veteran in IT consulting.

One of Dr Anderson’s more intriguing posts covers how we make decisions and points out that the reality is that we don’t always made decisions based on careful analysis of available information with a dash of past experience thrown in for good measure. He says there are three key reasons why CIOs – and any other manager for that matter – make bad decisions. These are:

The anchoring trap

This where we make “heuristic” subconscious patterns that I suspect are like mini neural programs which state a+b =c that have worked in the past and then scuppered when Murphy’s Law kicks in by static if something can get screwed up then it most certainly will. Apparently we give too much weight to information we first receive and this anchors our decision making process from thereon in.

Solution: You can deal with this problem by taking the time to try to view each decision that you have to make from multiple perspectives. Remain open minded; see the thoughts of others in your company who may be better positioned to view this issue from a different angle.

The status quo trap

This, to quote Francis Rossi and Co, is where we go “down, down, deeper and down” into the pit of trying to keep things as they were, into a comfort zone. Research into why we fall into the status-quo trap shows that this is a deeply ingrained part of who and what we are. We are actively looking for ways to shield our ego from anything that could result in damage to the way that we see ourselves.

Solution: Don’t worry, you don’t have to go to the Burning Man Festival to get wasted on whatever psychotropic substances you can find to get a fresh viewpoint. Dr Anderson says: “While making a decision CIOs need to remind themselves about what their goals are: what do they really want to accomplish. Sticking with the status quo might be the right way to go, or maybe it isn’t. It’s never easy to move from the status quo to something else, but it might not be as hard as you are imagining it to be.

The sunk cost trap

According to Dr Anderson a sunk cost is something that we’ve spent either time or money (or both) on in the past that we can never hope to get back. The problem that CIOs run into is that once the cost has been realised, it can cloud our future decision making. Rather that realising we may have made a mistake in the past or fail to recognise that “that decision” was right for “that time” and cut loose the past, we continue to reinforce our past decisions at the expense of the current situation.

Solution: The past is the past, it may or may not have any relevance to the decision you need to make today. Our subconscious heuristic program may take into account what has occurred last year or further back but we must have the strength of mind to discount them if fresh eyes and a new scenario deem them irrelevant.

It could be argued that CIOs are only as good as their last good decision and Dr Anderson argues that being aware of these three traps will help CIOs in ensuring that the flow of fresh and innovative solutions continue to flow.

Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.