Perilous real-time decision-making

There is a type of perilous decision-making:

 real-time decision-making

that I have wanted to blog about for a while. However, the most vivid example I have in recent times involves me nearly ending up in a heap trying to get out of my shower and I’m a bit reticent to share that experience in a business blog!

Studying Control Theory, I recall being amazed to learn about the real-time control algorithms that enabled inherently unstable systems to operate in a stable way (e.g. Eurofighter, Segway etc.). If you are travelling in an inherently unstable jet at just below Mach 1 you really want the computer to be in control of interpreting the requests of the pilot and adjusting the engines and wings to safely execute those commands.

But what happens when it’s your brain that is in charge of getting you safely from one place to the next?

In my household I do my share of the house-work including washing the bath mats each week. My shower-related perilous real-time decision-making started as I went to get out of the shower one day. Typically I towel down first and then step out of the shower. Sadly this strategy, (a), is to minimise use of the shower mat so that it does not need to be washed so often. The alternative strategy, (b), is to exit the shower and towel down while standing on the bath mat.

Which strategy do you choose?

In my experience there is no problem while one strategy or another is clearly being followed. However, a few weeks ago I experienced the tricky situation where my brain changed its mind about which strategy to follow half-way through my exit manoeuvre. I.E. It initially selected (b) but then when I was on one foot and leaning outwards it suddenly changed its plan to (a) – with the result that I nearly landed up in a heap on the bathroom floor.

A trivial moment of confusion?

I don’t think so.

I think it was more of a skirmish between intuitive System 1 & logical System 2 (see Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” 2011) that I allowed to surface in daily life. System 1 just said; “Get out of the shower now”. And System 2 was a bit slower than usual at chiming in with the more logical set of rules that said; “Nope. Stay put and get dry first.” I don’t like my mind playing ‘switch tactics’ on me in real-time without my permission. It almost ended in a painful fall.

But then any of us could get ‘hurt’ by our mental reflexes responding in real-time to our personal situations if the logic and intuition parts of our brain don’t have the same outcome in mind.

How often does that happen?

My experience is that once you become aware of these micro-processes it is evident that they are operating all-day, every day of our lives. All might be well if reason and gut-instinct are aligned. But when they differ we find ourselves suddenly in the realm of;

perilous real-time decision-making.

A mix of awareness, agile response and good fortune may see us through. But if we are caught unawares, lack the flexibility to respond dynamically or just don’t have sufficient time to react – we might end up in a whole heap of trouble.

Perilous Real-time decision-making…better in the shower-room than in the Board room.

Business Decision Design® can help us to both manage risks and harness creativity when it comes to handling perilous real-time decision-making.

Link to this weeks picture.

I hope you have a dry week.

Nigel Stock


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