The elites in charge of organizations and institutions like to think they take into account the opinions of experts, but as this pandemic has shown, that is often not the case. The pandemic response in many countries is political, not guided by the best public health knowledge.
“On any particular issue, people at the bottom can usually claim the most expertise; they know their job best. And when someone at the top has to make a difficult decision, they usually prefer to justify it via reference to recommendations from below. They are just following the advice of their experts, they say. But of course they lie; people at the top often overrule subordinates … Elites like to pretend they were selected for being experts at something, and they like to pretend their opinions are just reflecting what experts have said (“we believe the science!”). But they often lie; elite opinion often overrules expert opinion, especially on topics with strong moral colors.” —Overcoming Bias
If there is a moral aspect to the decision, elites feel even more justified in their decisions for doing the ‘right’ thing in spite of contrary evidence.
“People often engage in motivated reasoning in situations where there are good moral reasons to adopt a belief that is not supported by their evidence. Do people think that they and others are believing poorly in these situations, or do they believe that moral reasons are legitimate grounds for belief? The present findings show strong support for the latter. Across three studies, many participants prescribed motivated reasoning to others, reported that morally beneficial beliefs require less evidence to be justified, and that, in some circumstances, a morally beneficial belief can be justified even in the absence of sufficient evidence. These results overturn a long-standing assumption that people believe others ought to be impartial, and base their beliefs on the evidence, under all circumstances. These results also suggest another reason that motivated beliefs emerge and persist: People think that they ought to.” —Morality justifies motivated reasoning in the folk ethics of belief (2021)
The only way to counter these human biases is to create systems that ensure multiple perspectives are heard and evaluated.
In the book Systems Thinking: Managing chaos and complexity, J. Gharajedaghi provides an example of decision-making by indigenous people of North America. The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora) had given specific roles to its member tribes, namely Wolves (Pathfinders), Turtles (Problem Formulators), and Bears (Problem Solvers). Solving problems went like this:
- Wolves — Set direction, and identify relevant issues
- Turtles — Define the problems
- Bears — Generate alternatives and recommend solutions
- Turtles — Check on the potency of the recommended solutions, and only these
- Wolves — Integrate only the recommended solutions, keep the records, communicate the decisions
Could a variant of this model be incorporated into our current organizations so that the CEO does not have the final say in every decision?
- CEO — Wolf
- CLO — Turtle
- COO — Bear
Power is distributed and the roles are clear in this model. It also builds in peer reflection through the process.
“Using different attributes and characteristics for each of the three symbols of turtle, wolf, and bear, the culture, to its credit, had identified and separated the three distinct roles of pathfinder, problem formulator, and problem solver. The role played by the wolves is that of pathfinder / synthesizer. Wolves display purposeful behavior by setting the direction, dealing with the ‘why’ questions, identifying relevant issues, and defining the agenda and context before they are presented to the turtles, the problem formulators, to define them. The defined problems are, in turn, passed on by the turtles to the bears, the problem solvers. Bears generate alternatives and recommend solutions. Solutions are returned to the turtles to check on their relevance and potency before referring them back to the wolves to check on their relevance. Wolves are finally responsible for integrating the solutions, keeping the records, and ratifying and communicating the final agreements. Wolves keep the fire alive by motivating and monitoring others”. —J. Gharajedaghi
Perhaps we can learn from history.
Related post: pathfinders-problem-formulators