Common Sense in decision-making

Have you read ‘Managing Public Money’? It’s a Treasury publication of the rules and guidance that public bodies and their Accounting Officers must follow when managing public money. Don’t be put off by the 217 pages – the main body of the text is only ~ 70 (the rest being appendices). In particular I like the Foreword. The one that says:

“Above all, nothing in this document should discourage the application of sheer common sense.”

I enjoy the sentiment but if it’s really ok to just apply common sense then why do we need 217 pages of guidance?

 Anyway, I’m really interested in common sense decision-making.

Largely as I think that common sense is a way of resorting to lazy decision-making where you don’t have to do analysis or to consider diverse inputs. But I experienced the full weight of common sense decision-making last week so here it is as a mini case study:

We have a brand new car. Well, 8 weeks old with only 1,300 miles on the clock. It’s a hot day. My wife has been using it to run errands across the city. An orange engine light has lit up on the dashboard . No further explanation is offered.

The car comes with ‘Assistance’, telephone numbers on a plastic card. I call the UK non-emergency one and explain the situation. There is a pause. I’m told the vehicle needs to be recovered (from our home driveway) and taken to the dealership 30 minutes drive away. They cannot send someone out to look at it first. (Grrr). I’m having a very busy day.

 Contingency allowed in my day to deal with brand new car going wrong = zero

But that’s ok, they provide a replacement car. The replacement car may not be delivered before the other one is taken away (Grrrr). They outsource their replacement car provision so I need to go through a process of filling in a hire car application. (Grrr). Including finding all the details of licenses and points etc. Oh, and the replacement car is only for 3 days – then we will have to make our own arrangements with the dealership beyond that. (GGGGGRRRRRRR). The operator has been well trained and is patient and polite but does not seem to understand that I’m being buried in a landslide of common sense which is preventing me from participating further in this pre-packaged process designed for major catastrophes (not an orange light).

“I bought a top for the range new car three months ago. It had its 3 month QA check at the dealer last week including a software update. There is a general low level warning light on and you cannot tell me why. You cannot get someone to come and have a look at it. You want to confiscate my car, subject me to a bunch of bureaucracy, make me spend time swapping car seats around, making multiple calls to the dealer and inevitably an hour out of our day at some point to get it back !”


Common sense won.

It managed to knock me off the ‘process’ that I had invoked with the phone call to Assistance. A choice I made because I thought it would provide the easiest, lowest hassle way to get the problem sorted, but in fact just put me into a process that was not an appropriate response to the situation.

 I hung up.

Luckily the recovery truck had arrived (like it had been waiting around the corner – spooky!)

Remembering my own advice about seeking diverse inputs to decisions, I explained my dilemma; the polarity between what the manufacturer wanted me to do next and the common sense landslide. Tony whipped out his eobd reader (phone sized device with SCART type cable attached). Tony is not from the dealership he’s a recovery truck driver. But his box of tricks yielded a standard code that we searched on my iPhone. It immediately tells us that there is some form of issue with the exhaust and the way it is recycled around the engine. I apply a newly retrieved piece of past experience: cars that have been carefully tuned by manufacturers to meet stringent emission targets can report that they are getting upset if they have even stuck in traffic on hot days (It’s happened twice to me in the last 10 years).

This is not a jump to answer moment but it opens another line of enquiry. I call the dealer and get through to John in Service. John is professional and helpful. He tells me that if the car is not behaving oddly then it is ok to drive so no emergency reaction required. (Phew; what remains of my day is safe). He also advises that Tony’s gizmo might be able to reset the warning light which will come on again if there is an ongoing problem. We reset the light (Phew, Phew). John then serves up a suggested cure – take the car for a blast – it might just have got a bit carbonised doing short slow journeys in the heat. (Now I’m smiling).

 I’m really grateful to Tony for being helpful and enabling me to pivot out of a process I had unwittingly got into with what seemed like a reasonable decision to call the Assistance team. I forgot that they were likely to be administrators with no access to engineers. They were solving a logistical issue while I wanted to understand the technical issue.

So, I’ll try and remember to recognise my common-sense alarm bell sooner when it starts ringing and to be active in seeking different inputs to find alternative decisions and solutions. It will improve my real-time business decision design®.

Picture of eobd

Ps – I have invested in an eobd – just £12 from Amazon

Have a better week…


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