Bryan’s Blog: Fear and Bravado in Decision Making

I was reading an article by Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day. He was discussing how the media is driving us to believe the world is in much worse shape than it actually is. As he explained, we are programmed to check for threats to our well-being and hence the news we are most drawn to is the bad news. Consequently, the media has found the easiest way to keep their distribution and website statistics up is to feed us plenty of bad news stories. Hence the “fear factor” heavily influences our decision making and why some people won’t swim in the ocean (sharks), won’t go into the bush (snakes) or won’t travel to certain destinations (plane crashes or terrorism).

Similarly in the public sector, fear of reputational damage is a driving force. In fact it is fear in particular of being one of the bad news stories the media will run with that impedes good decision making. Even so, it is amazing how governments can still get it so wrong from time to time.

On the other side of the fence in the private sector, the opposite is true. While reputation is of course important, bravado reigns. There is much more of a can do, must do attitude. Our bravado blocks us from seeing some of the realities of the business we are running or the external environment in which we are operating.

What should you do to counteract these influences? You need to do what I call the “hard-smart” work. That is the work that helps us really understand the likelihood of the possible events being considered. (For an interesting discussion on this topic, see this LinkedIn post by James Bone). I call it the hard-smart work because it often takes time and effort and only the smarter decision makers do it.

How do you do the hard-smart work? Analysis, data collection, research or all three. In reality it’s pretty obvious, however, it is skipped because decision makers think they know enough.