Thoughts on quality & productivity, in and out of the office.

Wired to favour red decisions


When making decisions we often decide out of pain. That is, we decide on a path forward that solves a short-term problem, often leaving or even worsening the underlying issue over the long term.

For example, a manager might cave to the pressure of upcoming deadlines and cut the recruitment process short, selecting the best candidate available at the time. His focus is firmly on the short-term pain points looming on the current project. The candidate appears to have sufficient skills to keep things moving but culture fit has to take a back seat this time.

Of course, we’ve all seen how this plays out. The project gets finished but the excitement is short lived. Cracks start to appear. The teams’ quality of work isn’t up the usual standard and complaints start to roll in. Friction builds and tensions rise as re-work is carried out. The project is 4 weeks late and morale dips as it becomes apparent that the new person really isn’t geared to work to the same set of values as the rest of the group. But it’s too late now, they’re in and they can’t easily be replaced. A darker cloud builds above the next project.

Solve enough problems in a short-sighted manner and it’s easy to find ourselves inundated with much larger ones as a result.

Of course, in reading this it seems obvious, the decision was the wrong one. Tackling the problem head on and negotiating a 2 week delay up front to find the superior candidate was the green decision. Yet we find ourselves making red decisions every day on scales small and large. And each time we find ourselves drawn toward the solution that avoids short term pain. The pain that is closest and therefore easiest to visualise.

Fight the urge: Solve problems right, not twice.

The key here is to remember that there is always pressure, and that we’re hard wired to apply more weight to short term losses than longer term gains. Psychologists call this well-documented tendency Loss Aversion and we’re all prone to it.


Thoughts on quality & productivity, in and out of the office.

Recent Posts