Decision-Making: The Rule of WYSINATI

When it comes to making successful leadership decisions, what you see is rarely all there is. Harvard Business School Professor Max Bazerman writes about this in his book, The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

I’ve posted about common decision-making errors here and here, and how leaders can improve the skill of noticing.

More than a decade of research shows that when leaders take no notice of critical, readily available information in their environment, catastrophic outcomes can occur. This happens when they have blinders on, focusing on limited information they’ve predetermined to be necessary to make good decisions.

Making successful leadership decisions require vigilance. Leaders often fail to notice when:

  • They are obsessed with other issues or crises.
  • They are motivated not to notice.
  • Other people work hard to prevent them from noticing.

A catastrophic lack of vigilance occurred at JPMorgan Chase in September 2013, with estimated trading losses of $6.2 billion. CEO Jamie Dimon said he was unaware of the impending debacle, later telling the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, “It morphed into something I can’t justify.”

Responsible leaders notice when things are going seriously wrong in their organizations. Failure to do so is unacceptable. We must ask the right questions to anticipate avoidable catastrophes.

Unfortunately, leaders often act as though “what you see is all there is,” according to Daniel Kahneman, a 2002 Nobel Prize winner. They neglect to identify and obtain the additional information they need. Complacency lulls them into acting on only the most basic data provided to them.

In The Power of Noticing, Bazerman coins the term WYSINATI: What You See Is Not All There Is. With forethought and knowledge, we can learn to identify when and how to obtain missing information.

When I’m coaching leaders, they’re often surprised to find out they haven’t been asking the right questions and they don’t have all the information necessary to make truly informed decisions.

What are you not seeing? I’d love to hear from you; you can contact me here and on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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