To Action: The Benefit of the Doubt

As a (somewhat) typical Australian boy growing up in Western Sydney, I played cricket. This meant plenty of Saturdays spent in the sun, wearing clothes & protection that were clearly designed for a British climate – not a 42°C (108°F) Australian summer. Unfortunately I wasn’t particularly good. I could bowl, throw, catch and hit well enough – just no better than anyone else around me. Very much the middle of the bell-curve. Overwhelmingly average.

*Not me – but I wore similar gear in all-too-hot Australian summers – usually standing the fielding positions that rarely saw action.

But one thing that cricket gave me was the concept of the ‘benefit of the doubt’ – or more specifically the rule is that: ‘the benefit of the doubt goes to the batsman’ (batswoman??). In circumstances where the umpire (cricket’s version of a referee) is unsure about whether or not a batsman is out – the batsman is given favour.

It’s a simple rule – but it’s a surprisingly powerful one. It’s a matter of balancing a risk imbalance. The logic behind the rule is simple: the batsman has only one chance in the game, whereas the bowler gets multiple attempts to try to get the batsman out.

This week across a couple of my client conversations, the need for risk-appropriate decision making arose. Situations where the time and effort spent making a decision was out of whack with the related risk of the decision.

To put it simply: simple decisions were taking too long to make.

This is an even more painful realisation if you’ve read my book – because human decision making only beats mechanical decision making in one arena – Speed. If we aren’t capitalising on that element – then why in the world do we have a human making the decisions?

Thankfully the solution is a simple one.

Decide on an appropriate level of risk. Empower your staff to make decisions within that risk level – and back them when they do so. If there’s doubt in their decision making – take a note from the game of cricket and give them the benefit of the doubt.

As decision making capability in your organisation improves – so does the scope of decisions (and associated level of risk) that you can shift their way. This creates a positive change cycle. And that’s a very good thing.

So this week:

Consider where there is there a risk/decision imbalance in your organisation – Then figure out how you can empower your staff to realign it.

To Ponder: Are They All Idiots?

Picture this.

My first day working with a client’s organisation a few years ago. The client had asked me to help realign their project support team from ‘waterfall’ to ‘agile’ thinking.

I am introduced to the team and given a walkthrough of their tools and systems. I am then informed, quite matter of factly, by their 2IC that:

“The project managers are all idiots.”

Now, how’s that for project support!?

Now the reality here was that this support team had no agile or project delivery experience. But rather than viewing this disconnect as a learning opportunity, this team had formed a toxic ‘us vs the world’ culture. (Thankfully after our work together, that attitude changed quite notably… )

But this isn’t an isolated incident. Presuming idiocy rather than a lateral solution is a trap that’s all too easy to fall into. There’s a great story in Hans Rosling’s Factfulness that illustrates this beautifully. To paraphrase:

If you were to visit Tunisia, you might come across houses that were half-built. You might then conclude that Tunisians were lazy or disorganized.

But you would be wrong.

The Tunisians have found a brilliant way to solve several problems at once. Some of these families often do not have access to a bank to put their savings and cannot get a loan. So, to save up to improve their home, they must pile up money. Money, though, can be stolen or lose its value through inflation. So, instead, whenever they can afford them, these families buy actual bricks, which won’t lose their value. But there is no space inside to store the bricks and the bricks might get stolen if they are left in a pile outside. Better to add the bricks to the house as you buy them. Thieves can’t steal them. Inflation won’t change their value. No one needs to check your credit rating. And over 10 or 15 years you are slowly building your family a better home.

So instead of assuming that the Tunisians are lazy or disorganized, assume they are smart and ask yourself, How can this be such a smart solution?

This week, ponder:

Where are you assuming idiocy is at play – when in fact it may just be a smart solution that you don’t fully understand?