Decision Making: Thinking First, Seeing First, Doing First

As a manager or leader within your organization, how do you make decisions? In the second module of the International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM), entitled the Analytic Mindset, Professor Henry Mintzberg focuses on how managers make decisions. The participants in the IMPM take part in a workshop based on the following materials which Mintzberg has outlined in his biweekly twog.

Thinking First

Most managers follow roughly the same process in decision making. First they diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next they design (identify possible solutions), then they decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally they do (carry that choice into action). The four D’S: Diagnose, Design, Decide, and Do. In other words, they think in order to act: Mintzberg calls this thinking first.

Seeing First

But we know not all decisions are made after such a formal process. To take an example from everyday life – you may stop for a pastry or coffee based on an ad in the shop window. There is not a lot of analysis that goes into that decision but, seeing the ad triggered either hunger pangs or simply the desire for something sweet. Mintzberg calls this seeing first. Even some rather formal decisions happen this way—for example, deciding to hire someone two seconds into the interview, or buying a company because you like the looks of the place. These are not necessarily whims; they can be insights.

Doing First

Finally there is also a slower and sometimes more sensible way to make decisions which Mintzberg calls doing first. When you are not sure how to proceed—often the case in making decisions big and small—then you will just have to do, in order to think, instead of thinking – you need to act. You try something in a limited way to see if it might work, and if it doesn’t, you try something else until you find what does work.

In the IMPM classroom, participants work through the different decision-making processes by using challenges they currently face in their companies. By trying to address a challenge in a different way, new solutions can be found. Several years ago, through an improvisation session, a manager from a large telecom company realized their mobile device was not only a product but was also a solution – it could be sold as an answer for emergency situations. This idea came not from the “thinking first” process but rather from the “doing first” or “acting first” practice.

As a leader or manager within your organization when you have an important decision to make – before you begin the analytical process – Look around! Do something! Then you can think about what to do.

Reference: Henry Mintzberg and Frances Westley “Decision Making: It’s Not What you Think” MIT Sloan Management Review Spring 2001

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