When Binary Decisions Are Elusive

Decision processes intrigue me especially as I’ve moved into positions that require far more complex decisions on issues that have larger impact. There is the self-reflective part of the process – why do I make the decisions I make – that I’m examining through the most excellent book Thinking, Fast and Slow (and if ever there was a book to make us question why we make decisions, that’s the book).

There’s also the process of decision making in a group context. Decision making in a group context can be hard. When anything is hard, I always try use frameworks. Sometimes frameworks need tweaks. Let me explain.

Yes / No Required?

New to the job, I’ve always tried to take complex issues and break them into “if/then” and “yes/no” decision branches. The idea is to force some kind of decision so that progress (or something) can result. I can then plan accordingly.

Say the district has a one time, unique chance to order a couple of dozen Flux Capacitors for special instructional buses that would allow us carve out a few extra months of school for our students (this would solve the unfortunate consequences of the gazillion snow days we’ve had this year).

The decision process would look something like this:

Decision Making 1a

And indeed, sometimes it works this way. You go with yes or you go with no – but either way you move in a particular direction. The job then becomes dealing with the good (or bad) outcomes of the decision.

But it’s Never Truly Binary

There is always a third branch in a yes/no question.

Copy of Decision Making 1a

This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, not answering the question spawns complexities. One of the more enlightening things I’ve learned is that this is sometimes a legitimate and prudent course of action. This issue is that I haven’t learned to decipher well when this is prudent. It’s also quite maddening for me because I tend to be action oriented. In my inexperience, I’m left wondering questions like:

  • Crap, what political implications did I miss? (And if I missed them – is a “not answer” a polite way to communicate to stop asking the question?)
  • Did I not explain the if/then scenarios clearly enough?
  • Is not making a decision protecting the group and/or district in some way?
  • Did I totally botch the timing of asking the question?

The flowchart is a bit miss-leading because not answering questions produces outcomes as well (sometimes outcomes that are remarkably similar to the yes/no outcomes). To me though – a not answer seems to result in less controllable outcomes. And that can be scary. Even when it may be the best course of action.

I Like It’s Simplicity: OKRs

Slate has a short write up on Google’s internal grading system and I’m intrigued. They’re called Objectives and Key Results and their simplicity appeals to me, especially given the amorphous nature of this wonderful job.



Maybe I can get Keith to try them with me?

New Year Goals: 2013

Because it’s always a good thing to write down.

1. Write More

Always number one on the list. To be honest, 2012 wasn’t too bad of a year, especially given the fact that I started a new job. That said, I want to write (blogging or otherwise) 5 times a week. By the end of the year I’d like to have at least 180 posts on ArdenLane or MisterV. Keeping the fingers crossed.

2. Practice and Encourage Gentleness and Patience

These are virtues as a father that I always want to build. I don’t have super trying children (although at times they can be difficult), but they grow slowly and steadily with a gentle and patient hand.

These are all virtues I so want my daughters to have as well. Live by practice.

3. Increase Discipline

There is, to some extent, more freedom that comes with more responsibility. My new job requires a steady discipline of focus and a strong dose of self-control in achieving (and setting) goals. In this day and age this sometimes feels ever more difficult (what with tweets, emails, gchats and headline feeds), so I’m adding it to the goals list this year. Practical discipline.

4. Learn HTML5 and JavaScript

I already know decent bits and pieces of both. The goal is further the knowledge.

5. Develop Leadership Skills

To be honest, adult leadership has never really been a focus. Now, as a Director, it’s front and center. I always did pretty well at getting my students to follow me…working with teachers and administrators is a different matter. There’s much to learn here.

The Art of Web Design

There are rules, guidelines at the very least. You can’t just create something the morning of class, pick your favorite colors, throw in some clip art or stolen Google image search results and expect magic. Aesthetics matter.

We live in the world of screen. Our students live in the world of interactive, clamoring for attention, screen. Not paper. Paper is increasing quaint. Worksheets in a popular 1990s font detailing the Mar’s rover landing screams, well, anachronism.

And this isn’t change for the sake of change. There are some real problems the guidelines address. Problems that get at the heart of teaching – that is, how do I help the learning process?

This is important. Teachers will always create learning objects for their students (as will students create their own learning objects). Increasingly, those objects will be digital.

It’s good to have context on quality.