Monday, June 01, 2015

Finding the Right Question

Fast Company's Stephanie Vozza has an article this week about Phil Mudd's new book The HEAD Game: High-Efficiency Analytic Decision Making and the Art of Solving Complex Problems Quickly.  Mudd is a former CIA and FBI executive - an expert on counter-terrorism.  I interviewed Mudd numerous times while working on a series of Harvard Business School case studies about the FBI's transformation after the 9/11 attacks.  Mudd offers a series of interesting tips regarding how to make better decisions.  I found this first point especially important to highlight here.  Here's an excerpt from Vozza's article:

People often focus on the wrong question because they assume questions are self-evident, says Mudd. Focusing on better questions up front yields better answers later.  "Good questions are hard to come up with," he says. "We typically overinvest our time in analyzing problems by jumping right to the data and the conclusions, while under-investing in thinking about exactly what it is we want to know."  Start with what you’re trying to accomplish and work your way back, instead of moving forward and making conclusions.  The right question provides a decision advantage to the person at the head of the table. Mudd says you can find the right question by looking backwards. Start with what you’re trying to accomplish and work your way back, instead of moving forward and making conclusions.

I agree with Mudd here.  I've argued in my work that leaders need to be careful about jumping into problem-solving mode.   I advocate stepping back to "decide how to decide" - i.e. think carefully about how you will organize your team and the type of decision-making process that you will employ to make a tough call.   If you do not decide how to decide, it's natural for many teams to encounter groupthink.   Mudd makes the case that you also can end up solving the wrong problem.   How you frame an issue often drives the type of alternatives that you consider.  Getting the framing right is a key first step an effective decision-making process.