Dome of the Belgian royal greenhouses in Laeken (external). (c) E. Forrest Christian

Time Span of Discretion and Naturalistic Decision Making

E. Forrest Christian Decision-making, Reviews - Books 1 Comment

Klein, Gary. 1997. Making Decisions in Natural Environments. Alexandria, VA: Research and Advanced Concepts Office, U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.

I’ve been reading up on Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM). Klein and his colleagues studied how experts such as fire commanders actually make decisions. In turns out that they don’t, if you think of formal decision making strategies, as they never do that. What they do is size up the situation (situation awareness) and then either pick the first solution that they think of, matching it with their experience, or they cycle through solutions and imagine their outcomes, until they find one that works well enough.

The “well enough” is the secret: people who have to get things done don’t bother trying to find the best solution. They satisfice and move on.

He’s also written an amazingly useful article on executive decision making forAcross the Board (Mar/Apr 2003) where he shows how you might deploy the different decision making strategies, including formal ones, in a real executive environment. Highly recommended that you find “Not All Decisions Are Created Equal”.

I noted that he mentions time horizons citing the work of T. Owen Jacobs and Elliott Jaques:

Time horizons. One finding of NDM [Naturalistic Decision Making] research is that more proficient soldiers and officers can see further into the future in planning their actions. Therefore, we can establish as a training requirement the design of scenarios, exercises, and feedback around chains of events to enable trainees to anticipate more effectively. ARI [Army Research Institute] has taken the initiative in exploring ways of improving the time horizon of commanders as a way of improving leadership (Jacobs & Jaques, 1991). [p. 18]

I think that what Klein meant was that the Army was investigating ways to reduce the necessary time horizon of the tasks required. If I can take what is a very complex tasks and reduce the complexity through automated systems and heuristics, I might be able to seemingly increase the time horizon of the people. All I’m really doing is reducing the tasks’ time horizons.

[UPDATE: No, the Army was really looking into ways of extending time horizons. I should have read more of the articles.]

I don’t know that I’ve read any of Owen Jacobs’s writings. I’m sure that they’re fascinating: the military is a very interesting set of decisions. Combat soldiers’ decisions are different from the supply train soldiers, and both have to be done well in order for a military engagement (war) to succeed for them (defeat the enemy’s military power).

Belgian royal conservatory, external. © E. Forrest Christian

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 1

  1. Manasclerk, recognising your interest in work levesl and computer systems, you might be interested to know that, among other contributions, Owen Jacobs developed an ‘abbreviated’ form of the CPA (Career Path Appreciation). The CPA is probably the most reliable, and certainly the most widely used approach for appreciating the capability of the individual, the complexity of their work challenge and the role that they occupy. CPA was developed by Gillian Stamp at Bioss. I understand that Owen Jacob’s approach is now widely used in a computer based system to help folk understand their relationship to the levels of work complexity.

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