How not to make a Decision
Halfway through this post you are going to wonder why the world needs to hear this story. Read through to the end and you’ll see I have an actual point to make.
This fine Saturday morning I had finished my tall Starbucks coffee and decided breakfast would be a good next step. Denny’s and Village Inn were the best nearby choices but I couldn’t decide on which.
Engage the (mechanism!) decision-making processes.
I pulled out a quarter to do a coin flip. No, wait. This isn’t a 50-50 proposition because I’d prefer Denny’s this morning. Slightly. Say 60% to 40% for Denny’s over Village Inn. That translates to 3 out of 5 so I’ll do a best-of-five series of coin flips with Denny’s (heads) getting a one flip head start.
First flip is tails so now it’s tied 1-1. Denny’s advantage lost. Then comes a heads followed by a tails. 2-2.
The final flip is tails so Village Inn it will be! No ifs, ands or buts. The rules of the coin toss were decided beforehand and executed faithfully and executed with a quarter not a cheap zinc copper-coated penny. The decision is final. It’s Official. Done. Decided.
As I drove out of the Starbucks parking lot I worried that if I went to Village Inn I would end up splurging on one of their delicious pies–French silk pecan something or other. For breakfast; this would be bad.
So I changed my mind and started to turn left (west), towards Denny’s. But I then I reminded myself that the coin flip series had been constructed and executed faithfully and the issue decided fairly. Thus I changed direction, turning the wheel from left to right and proceeded out toward Village Inn.
Heading east now. Early Saturday morning. The dawning sun was low on the horizon and directly in my eyes. Dammit!! I hate that! So I made a quick right and then another right putting the sun at my back. Here I am now at Denny’s. It was an arbitrary decision, which is all right after all, when mere breakfast choices are involved.
The All-American Slam was delicious and I’m posting this while working on a fifth coffee refill.
My decision-making algorithm was ridiculous of course. Yet from what I know of the goings-on of the Federal bureaucracy I am confident that far more hilarious and spaghetti-like examples of silliness exist there. I’ve met former government functionaries with horror stories to tell.
A few days ago the Federal goverment denied permits for the Keystone Pipeline project. The first application for approval was submitted in 2008, four years ago. A long, spaghetti-like process followed. There were studies commissioned and hearings conducted by an alphabet soup of federal agencies. The Department of Energy was involved as was the Department of Interior, the Departments of Commerce and Labor, and finally the State Department because the pipeline would cross the international border with Canada.
Any project has to go through such rigamarole these days. A streamlined process would obviously be so much better, the only consolation being that in a popular republic an arbitrary decree would be so much worse.
Barack Obama made such a decree last Wednesday when he instructed the State Department to deny those Keystone Pipeline permits.
Like me, Barack Obama made an arbitrary decision because he had the sun in his eyes. He would not stare into the glare of environmentalist’s wrath in an election year.
For Obama, no processes matter. He makes his decree law, and that’s no way to run a country.