Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Do we make better decisions - or just more decisions faster?



The last three days I have been holding a series of seminars about service orientation and SOA for one of our customers together with my colleague Leo Cutlip. Urban Nilsson, a former colleague of Leo who is now working for EDS, held the opening session the second and third day. His session was a look in the back mirror of the IT revolution, putting some light on the short history of information technology (considering that information technology is a new thing in human history, it is hard to call it anything other than a revolution). The purpose of the session was to put the recent developments and such concepts as SOA in a historical context.

A reflection that I made during his session was about how fast non-verbal communication has become during the last two decades, mostly due to the fact that e-mail has come to replace regular "snail mail" for many of communication purposes. The speed with which we now can send and receive information digitally has definitely changed our perception of time. It has also lowered our acceptance level for how long we can accept to wait for a response, a level which is constantly getting lower as we get more mobile and can read and reply to email and instant messages basically anywhere and anytime. If we send an email, most of us expect to get a response within a number of minutes, at least during office hours.

Looking back just a few decades ago, an employee could write a memo to another colleague, put it in an envelope and then send it with the internal snail mail system. At best, he or she could receive an answer to the memo in a few days.

In this sense, we have become much more efficient in how we distribute information to each other thanks to email and the Internet. The increased efficiency in information distribution - both in terms of speed and bandwidth - inevitably leads to that more information being sent and received, which in turn makes us act on information more often. The time between the moment when we receive the information and the moment when we decide to act or not to act on it has definitely also decreased. But has the quality of our decisions gotten better? Maybe the pure speed by which we make decisions nowadays actually increase the number of bad decisions that we made? If that is true, then it is likely to assume that what we gain in one end by having become more efficient in distributing and consuming information - more or less - gets lost in the other end due to an increasing number of bad decisions.

What do you think? Do we take the time needed to reflect enough on the information we receive before we act on it? Is the quality of the information that we send to each other via email or other digital means even close to the quality of the information sent in handwritten or printed memos being sent via internal snail mail a few decades ago?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting question. There are many ways to grasp the situation :

    - People who makes decision : there are people who are more or less good at making decisions. It's a human question, that not depends on technology.

    - The information people have to make decision : we can suppose people can now have more information so they'll have a better view of the context so they would be supposed to make better decisions. This will be more and more true as social media will spread through organization. But it supposes people take time to take every available piece of information into account, are able to search relevant information and (see the previous point) are able to analyze all this to make relevant decision. According to me the point is here.

    I'm not sur that the fact we can send and receive information quicker and the fact we don't take time to analyze it are linked. It's just about deciding to take time, mastering one's information supply chain instead of being overtaken by it.

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