veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

decisions, decisions

veryard projects > kmoi > decisions
we offer scope available material links
education, training and skills transfer

model reviews

information and advice on methods and tools

supporting materials - including patterns

In order to understand what is involved in supporting a decision, it is useful to consider what is involved in making one. Pitfalls of decision-support --
Hamlet and the Delphic Oracle

Lecture Notes on Decision-Making (pdf)


contact us

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Decision Frameworks

veryard projects > kmoi > decisions > frameworks

Decision-making can be punctuated in different ways, in order to emphasize different aspects of the process, and this yields three contrasting frameworks or views, each dividing a decision into three parts.
Herbert Simon Geoffrey Vickers Jacques Lacan
Focus Rational Choice Value Time
Parts Search (Intelligence)



Value Judgement (Evaluation)

Reality Judgement (Appreciation)

Action Judgement

Instant of Seeing

Time for Understanding

Moment of Decision

The IT (decision-support) agenda has been dominated by the Simon view, and has neglected alternative views. Vickers emphasises the subjective and value-laden nature of intelligent judgement. Lacan offers a useful way of understanding haste and delay in decision-making.

> procrastination

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Decisions: Haste and Hesitation

veryard projects > kmoi > decisions > procrastination

One of the key aspects of decision-making is timing - judging when to commit yourself to something.

Two contrasting styles/cultures can be identified
Delay / Hesitation / Procrastination Haste / Impatience
It is always possible to find a reason (excuse) for deferring a decision.
  • More information needed
  • More options could be developed
  • More stakeholders consulted
Some individuals / organizations take ages to reach a decision.
  • Committees and subcommittees
  • Referrals and due diligence
Because it is always possible to find a reason for delay, some people / organizations are inclined to dismiss such reasons, or are reluctant to take them seriously.

Some people / organizations are impatient with anything that inhibits action.

  • JFDI - "just xxx do it!"
more Lacan's Theory of Time
Robert Louis Stevenson’s motto, that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, was probably taken from a Japanese proverb. An extended literary version of this can be found in Cavafy’s poem ‘Ithaka’. His advice to the seafarer has been summarized as follows:

Pray that the way be long, that your journey be full of adventures and experiences. You must always have Ithaka in mind, arrival there is your predestination - but do not hurry the journey, better that it last many years. You enter harbours never seen before, and rich with all you have gained along the way, do not expect Ithaka to give you riches. Ithaka has given you a lovely journey, without Ithaka you would not have set out.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Pitfalls of Decision-Support - Hamlet and the Delphic Oracle

veryard projects > kmoi > decisions > hamlet

Here are some literary examples of decision-making, which illustrate some of the pitfalls of decision-support.

Shakespeare's plays are full of decision-makers, and of persons offering good and bad advice. Probably the most indecisive character is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. His problem was the mysterious death of his father, quickly followed by the marriage of his mother to his uncle and the coronation of the latter. What should young Hamlet do? He used a decision-support system with a supernatural mechanism -- state of the art in mediaeval Scandinavia -- he consulted a ghost.

The ghost of Hamlet's father gave him an analysis of the situation, and advised him to take his revenge. I don't want to reveal the ending, since this might spoil the play for you if you don't  know it already. Suffice it to say that six people die instead of one, yielding an efficiency ratio of only 17%.

Several reasons can be offered for this unsatisfactory result. Firstly, Hamlet doesn't fully trust the ghost. The reliability of the analysis and advice depends on authenticating the ghost's identity -- is it really his father, or is it the devil playing tricks? Secondly, maybe Hamlet doesn't ask the ghost the right question. (Freudians argue that he should have asked about his mother, since that was his primary anxiety.)

The Deplic oracle can be criticized on the grounds of ambiguity and obscurity. The oracle was sometimes used to provide advice to individual decision-makers, sometimes to arbitrate in disputes. The priestesses would receive a percentage of a successful army's spoils. Because both sides would consult the same oracle, accusations of bribery and corruption abounded. King Pleistoanax of Sparta was alleged to have bribed the Pythian priestess to give specific advice to the Spartan delegation.
A good decision-support system justifies its analysis and its advice, so that the decision-maker is not distracted from the primary problem onto secondary ones -- how reliable is the advice, how authentic is the source of the advice.
A good decision-support system is open and transparent -- not surrounded in mystery.
A good decision-support system prompts the decision-maker to consider all aspects of the problem -- the quality of the advice does not depend solely on the decision-maker's ability to think of the right questions.

On these criteria, both Hamlet's father and the Delphic Oracle can be regarded as failures.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change veryard projects > kmoi > decisions
This page last updated on June 25th, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Veryard Projects Ltd