Escape Tunnel Vision for better Decision-Making


The impact of poor decision-making capability is felt far and wide in organizations, often leading to unintended consequences. Typical organizational decision-making feels like it’s occurring in a constrained dark tunnel: narrow context, short-sightedness and limited or bounded thinking all contribute to this pain. People are often left thinking “What is happening?!”.

We blindly fumble our way through the tunnel constrained by our thinking, resulting in makeshift solutions, bandaids, mediocre delivery or performance, flavour of the month changes and methodologies. We are all familiar with these types of frustrations, many of us have even made these types of decisions because it felt like the only way, at the time. In hindsight, these rarely result in “real progress”. 

Decisions are “how choices are made” and ultimately, how things get done in our lives, in our organizations, and in the world. 

Small changes to how we approach decision-making could have a big impact. If decision-making was more effective, organizations would simply perform better because more value would be created; both immediately and over time. The humans involved or impacted would be happier and more engaged. Their work would be more fulfilling and less stressful or mundane. Strong relationships based on trust and respect would be built, allowing for even better, faster decisions throughout the organization. This could mean making the tunnel wider and taller, illuminating the tunnel or choosing an alternate route.

3 key shifts can help you escape tunnel vision to “see more” for effective decision-making. 

Context Perception:  Shift from a narrow view to the bigger picture and potential impacts 

  • What’s not working:
    • We use past experiences to fit current situations or problems into patterns that are recognizable, easily understood, and quickly accessible. This is what we call a heuristic. In fact, heuristics are what most people in organizations use to make quick and easy decisions that are based on overly simplistic models our brains have built on past experiences. Heuristics are great for getting us through daily mundane tasks efficiently and effectively. They become a problem when they lead to misdiagnosis of situations or implementation of incorrect solutions, which results in damage to the creation of value within our organizations. 
    • When are heuristics more harmful? When we are stressed or under pressure our focus narrows and we tend to look for more familiar and certain outcomes (i.e., familiar solutions from past experiences). In these situations, we struggle to step back from the situation to think more critically and consider new solutions. We may also narrow our focus to be on the threat of the situation rather than new opportunities.
  • How to make it better:
    • When we recognize limited or narrow thinking/focus, call a time-out or stop the conversation from moving forward. Use communication skills, such as active listening to reduce social threat and ensure others feel like they are valued contributors. Ask everyone to examine the available information and discuss potential solutions. Remind them that no solution is wrong or out of line. An “I might be wrong”, or “what’s the bigger picture” mindset is useful here to expand your field of view. 
    • Note: If you do the work to see broader context and invest in building trusting relationships with individuals, you will be able to navigate these situations more quickly and effectively.
  • The Outcomes this enables:
    • Involving individuals will build a sense of ownership of the decisions and the outcomes. 
    • Better decisions will be made because the decision will be based on more information rather than quick and simplistic thinking. As a result, individuals will engage in more complex thinking to diagnose issues, experiment and design solutions. The longer term outcome is that the decision capability of all is lifted and can increase value delivery and speed. 

Time Perception: Shift from “right now” to seeing the longer term view and impact 

  • What’s not working:
    • The default for most people in organizations making decisions is “now” – this week – this month; for the organization itself maybe “this year”. This does not allow for a view of longer term outcomes and leads to decisions which inevitably have repercussions later on. This leads organizations to solve problems that don’t necessarily even need to be solved; we don’t see that there might be a shortcut to a longer term outcome if we can see that time horizon. We fix a part of a process that we shouldn’t even be doing… It’s wasted energy because we’re looking at the immediate “emergency” we are immersed in. 
  • How to make it better:
    • Instead, look farther into the future for the potential impacts and outcomes. It may or may not matter in the future, but either way, looking at it in a more expansive time horizon will lead to better decisions with broader perspectives. Stretch thinking beyond the current time frame to avoid coming up with bandaids, and to be more likely to solve below the surface problems that are creating symptoms. Instead of just trying to solve a problem (which is “Now”), try to make progress towards an ideal outcome (that’s farther in the “Future”); often there can be hidden solutions we can discover. 
  • The Outcomes this enables:
    • More of an abundance mindset, less scarcity and fear because decisions are anchored on long term outcomes rather than fear in the moment.
    • Allows better problem solving and innovation as it looks more broadly at the bigger outcomes not just the problem immediately in front of us. 
    • Looking farther into the future in a more expanded time perception enables the brain to see more opportunities and better solutions. 

Path Perception: Shift from seeing tradeoffs “just A to B or A or B”, into seeing more options based on outcomes “what could be possible” 

  • What’s not working:
    • Most people and organizations have a craving for certainty, which leads to decisions that oversimplify the environment, solve the wrong problem, or decisions that don’t make sense down the road. We inevitably narrow the options early into “tradeoffs” when in reality there are many different options, which could prove to be useful and beneficial. We often manipulate towards our own agenda out of a need to know, or to be right and lose our roles as stewards to make good decisions on behalf of the organization. Our brains try to fit things into our existing neat little boxes of perception and experience, but that doesn’t match the complexity of the environment we are operating in. 
  • How to make it better:
    • Instead, look for opposing ideas, alternate options, and different points of view – not to narrow others to your original thinking, but to see if it’s possible to create new ways forward. Engage different people, embrace diversity of thought, and seek new truth. It can be helpful here to get people to silently ideate on possibilities then share ideas aloud. You can take the opportunity to co-create the outcome to identify the options – “what’s the outcome we’re actually aiming for” and then “what are some different ways we could get there”, “what might be our first experiment to see if this is going to take us down a path that makes sense”. 
  • The Outcomes this enables:
    • Better options to choose from, experiment with, and make decisions on. 
    • More innovation and faster change can occur here as there may be alternatives that are much better than the initial tradeoffs that appeared. The team becomes much more engaged as co-creation also creates shared ownership. 

SUMMARY:  3 simple shifts detailed below enable better decision making.

Problem / Symptom Solution / New Lens 
CONTEXT ShiftNarrow.
When we feel pressure, stress, or threat we tend to narrow the field of view to make things more certain.
Width & Depth. 
Look for the bigger picture, a broader view and what’s underneath beyond the decision itself.
TIME ShiftOversimplified & Short-term. 
When we oversimplify things that are inherently complex and broad the result is short sighted and narrow decisions.
Broader Impact & Longer-term. 
Look for the broader impact the decision is intended to create, not just the short term. 
PATH Shift Tradeoffs. 
We like to have certainty (A to B or A or B) and we oversimplify. 
Invest in expanding your complexity of thought, and creating thinking to see more broadly and more options. Then narrow to tiny experiments executed quickly towards the desired outcome.

Take a moment to zoom out for better decisions, then zoom in to act in small steps quickly. 

This doesn’t have to take a lot of time, it could mean simply hitting pause for a second to look at the bigger picture. Build trust with teams and practice depending on each other and executing together in small steps. Strengthen relationships and build the skills of ownership and decision-making. Develop the complexity of thinking of the team and practice managing heuristics.

Better, faster decisions mean better performance, increased value delivery, more meaningful work, and happiness for all.

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