Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why are Many of the Worst Mistakes Made by the Most intelligent People?

It takes wisdom, not just the intelligence to make better decisions.

There’s a very interesting debate activated in EA forum recently: "Why are many of the worst mistakes made by the most intelligent people?". Of course, the world is full of intelligent people besides Enterprise Architects, some may even argue: “Show me a person who has never made a mistake and I'll show you someone who has never achieved much.”

Still, all people want to know how to avoid unnecessary mistakes, especially the worst ones. As some bad decisions made by leaders can cause fatal damage to business and society. But, practically how to avoid such worst mistakes?

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

The important part of decision making is listening (to the right people). And the right people to listen to are those with their hands on the work (processes) that will be changed. What decisions do you make that have such a broad impact? Are they the strategic decisions or tactical decisions? Are you making decisions that are actually the responsibility of others? 

  • ‘Worst mistakes’: EAs are not talking about mistakes they may have made in the technological sense; rather than developing wrong assumptions in terms of stakeholder requirements (by not listening/questioning /understanding) and losing buy-in by not communicating EA value in humanistic terms. Or at the way, EA focuses on what the Exec wants but forgets to think about (or a question) what that EA might mean to the companies end customer. Generally speaking: It is important to keep the context in mind of the people who come to you for solutions. 
  • Communicate with colleagues in common language. The solution would be communicating and talking to the people at all the ends of the problem/solution right from the sponsor to the end-user with rolled-up sleeves. Sometimes "communicate" means different things to different people (architects). And to communicate, you need a common language. It is much better to ensure that you use terms/words that are in common usage in the enterprise, rather than try to introduce a new term; Speaking different ‘dialect’ in organization & society is one of the root causes of miscommunication. 

2. It Takes Beyond Intelligence in Making Decision Right

Making the right decision is both art and science, it needs to both "think fast and think slow"; it takes not just IQ, but also EQ; not just intelligence, but wisdom to make the right decision at the right time:

  • The importance of critical thinking - that implies critique, playing devil's advocate, and trying to challenge one's logic and assumption. Asking other intelligent people for the critique is crucial. Making big changes step-by-step, and incorporating learning from each piece into further work allows avoiding going too far down the broken path.  
  • EQ Matters: Are you thinking about mistakes around understanding people rather than processes? Empathy and judging character is the core skill for EAs. Decision-making that relies only on intelligence and does not take advantage of experience can also have some fairly disastrous outcomes. Yet, if a mistake does happen - it is because it had to happen. ' the intelligent' - will term it as an 'intelligent mistake'  
  • It takes wisdom, not just the intelligence to make better decisions. There is a difference between intelligence and wisdom. Intelligence may come through the single lens; while wisdom is multi-dimensional pursuit; intelligence could be hindsight while wisdom is perception; Intelligence is more like science while wisdom is paradoxical via whole-brain thinking. Wisdom knows that we cannot fix everything nor everyone, wisdom knows that we do the best we can with what we have and that this is good enough. And more importantly, though a wise person also makes a mistake, however, he/she won’t repeat the same mistakes and learn from it quickly.   

3. Intelligence is not a Gift. It's Responsibility

The more intelligence, the higher responsibility, the bigger mistakes one can make, the higher responsibility, the more intelligence needed... The vicious circle. Intelligence with humility may help make better decisions

  • Finding the right balance between confidence and humility, sometimes it’s one’s arrogance which causes mistake; other times simply the belief in one’s infallibility. Or sometimes, that's not intelligence itself which makes the problem, but a recognition of the intelligence. Once you are recognized by others as being "intelligent", they lower their level of skepticism towards your opinion and stop validating it. Thus, you get a higher risk and higher responsibility. 
  • In addition, culture & decision process matter: The result will possibly be a spectrum of relevance relative to the prevalent business culture & decision-making process. Analytics & big data will just take them to new levels of science-driven business management.  
  • Responsibility needs to be shared: In some cases, the consensus is a blame avoidance technique used to dilute the accountability of a decision. Responsibility should be shared, and that those who act on and rely on your advice have a responsibility and typically accountability for their decisions and actions, too. 
Leaders are all facing pressure to make either strategic or tactical decisions every day, be intelligent with humility, keep the right balance between information & intuition, don't fear to make a mistake, but be wiser to avoid the same or worst mistake if possible.


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