Last week, Princeton University released the findings of a very interesting research project. The study involved showing participants a pair of faces for a very brief period of time – as short as a tenth of a second. After viewing the faces, the participants were asked to reveal their “gut reaction” as to which face appeared more competent.
The faces shown were actually the images of individuals running against each other in political races. If a study participant recognized any of the faces, their input was thrown out of the study. In the data that remained, researchers made a startling discovery. Roughly 70% of the time, the face selected as “more competent” was the face of the winning candidate in recent senate and gubernatorial elections. While the study only proves that facial recognition is a decent way to beat the odds in predicting election winners, it begs two questions. First… “How in the world could I have lost that 7th grade Student Council election to Billy ‘Crazy Eyes’ Cunningham?” Second… “How do we truly make decisions that affect our lives?”
From a political standpoint, Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the
Don’t get me wrong. Not all “gut reactions” are bad. Still, they can be problematic – especially in today’s organizations. Take the following dialogue, for example.
Joe: “Why did you decide to hire Susan?”
Kelly: “She seemed like the best fit for the team.”
Joe: “What do you mean by that?”
Kelly: “I don’t know. Just something in my gut that tells me she’s perfect.”
If Susan ends up being a star employee, then this rationale may be adequate for Joe and Kelly. However, if Susan turns out to be a terrible employee, then poor Kelly is left holding the bag. She must account for this decision. She has to explain to everyone impacted by her decision that the ¨something in my gut¨ was valid reasoning and measurable criteria instead of just some bad shrimp scampi.
Many of us have been in this position where we arrived at a decision, sometimes a group decision, and later on, the choice doesn’t pan out. We must answer to someone. Unfortunately, this is very difficult when “gut feel” is involved.
Though some may be able to recall bits and pieces of why we chose this marketing strategy or that location for a new call center, if we failed to expressly identify the criteria involved in our decision, then others are more apt to second guess us. In many cases, this can seem quite unfair if our “gut reactions” were based on years of experience. For instance, Kelly might say, “When we have hired employees like Susan in the past, they turned out to be star employees!” When pushed, we can often dip into this well of experience provide rationale behind our gut feelings. However, when we do this in response to someone questioning why a decision was a poor one, such descriptions seem more like excuses than criteria.
The key to an effective decision making process is describing your decision criteria in detail before you enter into the decision itself. Assure that everyone understands not only what will be the factors in the decision, but which will be most important. Is cost more important than quality? Is speed to market more important than impact to our existing customers? If a decision making team can reach consensus on these issues, then the decision itself becomes much easier when you can see how each alternative measures up against the criteria you have established. What’s more, after the decision is made, others can clearly see the rationale behind the decision, and are less likely to challenge the initial choice.
So… back to casting your vote.
In the end, you may find data that support the fact that more “competent-looking” people are truly more effective in political office. Maybe they get more done? I doubt it. But, if it’s true, then at least people can see there was some merit behind your gut reaction. This will lead to more effective decisions, and greater buy-in from those affected by the decision.
Just don’t assume people will take your decisions at “face” value!