Interestingly, it was those targeted for repression that often had and acted on the best, most timely information. They had to because their lives depended on it. My family certainly did and I had an important part to play because kids were the best gatherers of information. I was told what to look for, such as people who had become supporters of the regime, and report back as much as possible. It was my mother who debriefed me and gave me new assignments. I came to recognize and take pride at a very young age that we usually knew more about what the regime was up to, than they knew about us.
Decades later, after escaping to the US and becoming an engineer, I worked with a variety of clients improving their business processes. Information was going digital in the early 1990s, and the paradigm of organizational power and influence was quickly changing from hoarding to sharing most of what we knew. I wrote software, built databases and designed networks for various clients. Optimism reigned supreme during this period as many of us saw a future of better informed, wiser decision-making. That optimism was magnified by the public Internet’s debut in 1995. My own expectations and excitement were boundless – then reality intervened.
I have worked during the past two decades in nearly every position within information management: software programmer, database architect and administrator, network engineer, business analyst and decision-making system designer. I’ve been engaged by clients in the public and private sectors, including retail, pharmaceuticals, academia, nuclear weapons laboratories, homeland security and the US Air Force. These experiences, combined with years of research and writing on decision-making lead me to understand the role and limits of information as promoter of good judgment and effective decision-making.
Information has the capacity to enlighten, clarify and confound at the same time. It can promote thoughtful and thoughtless decisions, or paralyze leaders in indecision. These contradictions run counter to our early optimistic visions of the future, where computers were always ready to serve the right combination of facts so leaders could save the day. I came to call our notion that the best-informed decision-makers also make the best and wisest decisions The Star Trek Fallacy.
Thankfully, I also found in my work and research a brighter side in leaders and organizations that masterfully used information to drive decisions, performance, quality, and profits. Some surprised me in how efficiently they applied time sensitive information to decision-making, and in their broader definition and use of information. These organizations thrived by using qualitative information and cultural norms to fuel their awareness and decision making. Their stories added to my own experiences and helped me craft the distinct products and services my company offers.
My work continues to expand as new technologies enter the marketplace, although its focus remains the people who ultimately make and are held accountable for their decisions. I am particularly interested in how leaders, organizations and nations cope with uncertainty, our increasingly complex technical and social environments, and the potential for profit and mischief in systems that exploit social cues to influence decision makers. This type of work requires personal insights and collaboration among those interested in our evolving role as leaders and decision-makers. If you are interested, then I encourage you to become part of the conversation by subscribing to our members list. You will benefit from members only presentations, papers and opportunities to contribute to future research.