Intuition, brain and business in bad English for English readers (2)

IMG_4538In Holland my book ‘The high speed brain’ appeared at the end of March 2015 and has reached the top 10 in my country. Until now there is no English translation. Some English speaking people asked me if it was possible to do a translation in English. My  English is not so good so I took the Google translator. Which still means that I have to spend much time on translating. But I think I managed to do it in understandable English. I hope you can see it as a service.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to Become. Everything else is secondary “- Steve Jobs

‘Like artists inventors and writers more and more managers are impressed by intuitive hunches and by’ Flash ‘ decisions as they are also called. Yet there is a difference, whereby a large part of the managers is reluctant with intuition. Choosing a different color for a painting or a different way of making music has not directly the result of a financial debacle. A mental choice can have far-reaching effects. When you’re one of the 12 publishers who rejected JK Rowling on the basis of an inner voice, you will better understand the value of well balanced decision and won’t advise people to follow their hearts. Because your heart has been whispering that JK Rowling was not something really special.

(Did you notice that in this chapter different studies show different results. That’s right and it is a conscious decision. We namely run against the limitations of data. We see opposites in the three examples above. Can you imagine how this will be with thirty, fifty or a hundred examples. It only shows how difficult it is to get the right data.)

Decision making, intuition and inhibitory factors.

Although the number is growing, only for a small minority of the decision makers intuition is more important than dates. So why would you worry about it in the first place? Why should business people expanding their knowledge about this subject anyway? It may be so that artists and musicians are raving about the phenomenon, but you as a business man have to keep your company going, or your team with its unruly professionals. You know an everyday delusion with its news of the day, in which decisions are to be taken. And you just can’t take a risk that can lead to losses.

Yet you take those risks probably more often than you would like to. Dozens of times a day. In your work, but also when you’re getting married or divorced, when you vote for a President or Prime Minister, when you buy a house or when you are looking for a school for your children. That might explain why people in research indicate such a low number, when you ask them how many decisions they make on the basis of intuition. 4% is not really a lot. Apparently we think that we are not using out intuition so often when we take important decisions. At a time when decisions have to be taken quickly, many people find that that is too few.

That they find this is not only due to the positive feeling that they have on intuition. At present it seems intuition is one of the few alternatives to the rather time-consuming analytical approach. The question that arises is: is intuition the only alternative? Or would we be able to accelerate decision-making in a different way? And what alternative offers than most security? I would imagine that you would like to know. Just go on reading, is my advice.


  1. Be aware of how you take your decisions, and try to maintain the quality of those decisions, despite the speed.
  2. Let decision making be a real quality of your determination. From now on take at least three conscious decisions a day.
  3. Try to improve your knowledge and the quality of your data. If you don’t manage to do this, be honest about it and follow your intuition.
  4. Very often you take unconscious risks when you make a decision. Develop your dare to take decisions. It is necessary.
  5. Be honest about your expertise in a certain area, so that others know how to estimate your contribution.

Chapter 2. Success and pitfalls in decision-making

We humans tend to remember exceptions better than the usual things and rituals. Our brain stores information with an emotional charge better than events that are commonplace. This is also the case with intuition. When our intuitive hunches are correct and deliver success we have the incline to enlarge that. We make a rule of the incident.

There are quite a few examples of people who took illogical and intuitive decisions that had a good effect. You’ll find some in the book Smart and wise of Navi Radjou and Prasad Kaisa, which I will discuss with you to show that intuition can turn out pretty good. They show that also data can show the wrong direction. For example, IBM’s CEO Sam Palisamo put the toppers from his company back in a beginners role. They had to tap into new business areas and start at zero again. IBM then changed from a hardware company into a (still thriving) service company. It sold its traditional products, such as PCs and hard disks. And that turned out good, especially for Palisamo, who initially was not taken totally serious.

A second example concerns Infosys. That company had a top executive in 1999 with an ineffable name. Narayana Murthy was he called and he decided – based on his intuition-, against any good advice, to share his knowledge with his domestic Indian competitors. Until then that was not usual in India, where competition frustrated international success. With his plan Murthy was hoping to improve the globalist position of Indian IT companies. And he managed.

The third example is Mehul Choksi, who ran a company in affordable diamonds and jewelry: Gitajali. He put on a factory in the South of India. There were no experts and specialists, so he decided to recruit poor people with disabilities from the region. No one took it seriously. One acclaimed the philanthropic nature of Choksi’s decision but no one was counting on real success. It picked up good. The company is good for $ 900 million and it employs 2,500 people. 11% of them is disabled and was poor before. Their productivity is higher than that of the average workforce.

People like to carry this kind of examples, because they surprise us. 95% of us follows leaders, according to surveys and we often have a lot of respect for the 5% that takes the lead; especially if those 5% are successful. Those 5% ‘ is not always guided by common sense, sensible roadmaps and their ratio. Their intuition leads them against the main stream and with success.

But the following examples will show that not everyone has luck with intuitive choices.

-Masterfoods rejected a proposal of Steven Spielberg to use their M & M’s in the film ET. A decision with tragic consequences. Although Spielberg in 1981 was already a well-known filmmaker, the CEOs of Masterfoods, John and Forrest Mars didn’t dare to take the risk of promoting their product in a movie with aliens. They couldn’t know of course that ET would become a movie of billions. However, their intuition pointed in the wrong direction.

And Hershey Foods Corporation, an emerging competitor to Masterfoods, profited a lot. Their product Reese’s pieces were at once a famous candy in the United States of America. It was launched through ET and made an advance that must have been very frightening for Masterfoods. Hershey paid only $ 1 million for the mutual promotion. Within two weeks Hershey had earned 3 million dollars. The unfortunate decision of Masterfoods is not the only example. There are more people whose intuition cheated them.

-At Decca for example they rejected the Beatles in 1962. This decision was taken by a man with a great pick for stars. For example, the Rolling Stones was one of the many successful bands that he discovered, so with his intuition it was allright. But despite that intuition, he made a huge error of judgement at the Beatles.

-J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter’s writing multimillionaire, was initially rejected by 12 publishers. 12 of them are no longer operational.

-Kodak had already developed a digital camera in 1975, but the company was afraid that the product would compete away their film products. They didn’t develop the camera. Others did however. It is hard to figure out what Kodak’s price was for this lack of well-aimed intuition.

-20th Century Fox rejected in 1977 the later million seller Star Wars. Once again successful and experienced people who were let down by their intuition.

-Madonna and U2 were rejected by record labels that made other bands great. They made the wrong choice in spite of the intuition of their experienced and succesfull people.

-TMG, publisher of the Dutch paper De Telegraaf, bought in 2010 under the leadership of Ad Swartjes some sort of Dutch Facebook called Hyves for 53 million, but that turned out to be a bad buy. The Group had to write off 36.5 million euros on Hyves. It was a major cause of the 15.7 million loss at the publicly traded company. Hyves fell back from 10 million visitors to 2.8 million visitors.

-Ross Perot got the chance to employ Bill Gates in his organization. But he said Bill’s price was far too high. It came to an amount of 40 to 60 million; peanuts compared to that what Microsoft would deliver later.

The list can be expanded easily when you consult the top 10, top 50 or top 100 of bad business decisions on internet. Ahold, Firestone, Motorola, Lehman and Enro, are all examples of wrong choices that are made by people with knowledge, experience and a good intuition. It would be interesting for the decision makers, but also for you and me to watch what kind of mistakes they have made, on what moments it went wrong. And that leads to a shower of questions. Was it arrogance? Was there too much self-assurance on the own market position? Were people too convinced of their review of the future? Were the top guys too much focused on the positive aspects? Were there bad counselors? Did they take technological developments too little serious?

Answers to these questions are not easy to find. Apparently it is easier to be open hearted about successes than about mistakes. Very pity, because making mistakes is human and being open about them gives others the chance to learn from it. No one is omniscient. Also not CEO’s. And according to Nobel Laureate and psychologist Kahnemann the CEO’s contribution to the operating profit is much less significant than we think. Just like in the sports world there are few exceptional stars. You won’t find many copies from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. However, they also made errors which have cost a lot of money.

Why a decision ends up wrong is not easy to discover. People should discuss mistakes much more than they do now. Mistakes are tucked away, covered up, no one claims the responsibility, preferably we erase them from the collective memory as soon as possible. Yet experts have thought about the pitfalls that can occur when a decision is to be adopted. And these pitfalls seem a consequence of our ability to manipulate our brain. We are misled by our brain. When someone understands the art to present us a lie in such a way that we find it attractive, we swallow it as if it is the truth. If we take decisions, there are a number of mistakes that we can make, whether we decide with our intuition or on the basis of analyzis and data. It can be useful for you to know the pitfalls for then you can avoid them. The Dutch lector Verhoef mentions as many as eight. Check out or get them to recognize yourself, because we’ve all suffered from.

  1. Poor framing

If we talk about data the first trap that threatens us is something that is called poor framing. What do you do with poor framing? Well, you lay the emphasis on the negative side of a case. If someone says that the probability that a decision will be succesfull is 70%, he is more willing to accept it than when you say that the probability that is not successfull is 30%. However, in fact you say the same. At decisions you’ll be misled by this kind of texts. We are easy to manipulate.

An example. On december 12, 2012 the Rabobank let the press know that there was a chance of 30% on TomTom’s acquisition by Apple. The share went up prompt. But had this also happened when the Rabobank had said that there was a 70% chance that TomTom was not taken over by Apple? No, then there would have been another effect. We humans are susceptible to this kind of convenient misrepresentations. It is a manipulation of the imaging that influences your judgments. And then people take a decision that is not waterproof. So be careful, if someone performs magic with numbers.

  1. Recency effect

People remember the most recent data and events best. Imagine you have a fantastic job interview but at the end you say something awkward. Then it may happen that you are remembered negatively. People tend to give too much weight to the end of an event. That is what you call a recency effect. In Holland there was a good example of such a recency effect after the World Cup Soccer Tournament of 2014. The Dutch football players played very well in Brazil. International top clubs were immediately interested in the players. Everybody had suddenly forgotten the earlier performance of Feyenoord players Janmaat, Martins Indie and The Vrij. Based on their WORLD CUP performance they were suddenly attractive for clubs in Spain, England and Italy.

When there is a recency effect people strongly emphazises the most recent data. Too often decision makers are looking to them. The most thorough data analysis doesn’t win, but the recent data and so therefore the analysis wins which is the easiest to imagine. The problem is that they aren’t aware of this. Especially when they have to decide quickly.

  1. Primacy effect

A primacy effect is the reverse of a recency effect: you give too much weight to the first impression, this means the first information that comes to you. There are beer lovers who are drinking Heineken only because their first reminder of the brand was positive. For the same reason companies choose the same supplier, regardless of whether their quality is diminished. They usually choose large companies that have proven themselves in the past. We already gave the example of Nokia, which underestimated the impact of the smartphone and even ignored it. By the time the company recognized their error, it tried to restore their mistake and presented itself a smartphone. The operating system that they equipped their phone with, was not the popular Android, but an old favorite of the Nokia-CEO, namely Windows. That CEO stuck to his first impressions and did not believe in the new brands Adroid and Apple.

What it shows, is simple. When you have formed a first impression of something, then it is difficult to change it. I often hear people say that their first impression is correct; they claim to have a “infallible intuition ‘. Scientific research shows, however, that this is a not correct. In decision-making are first impressions a big pitfall. They guarantee nothing. So don’t stop at your first impression. Give something or someone a second chance.

  1. Low probability estimation

We overestimate known good events known and underestimate unknown risks. At one of the Dutch flowers auctions where I worked before the merger, there were people who had trouble with changing the work methods.

-We do it here for 50 years, and for that reason we avoid risks, was the answer.

But something changed. New technology overpowered the flower auction. With the result that more and more people were replaced by machines. Parts of the auction were closed later. All as a result of technological developments, which were not provided even by their CEO as a risk. How is this possible? The employees overestimated known events and underestimate unknown developments. This is what you call a low probability estimation. Low probability estimation is also common at large innovative projects. People look than too optimistic and underestimate the risks, a form of wishful thinking. Don’t think that something will go exactly as you think it will go, simply because that is likely to be.

  1. Willingness to take risks

NASA calculated that the chances of a disaster with the Challenger rocket was 1 out of 100,000. The confidence that NASA officials had in their own expertise, turned out to be unjustified. The history showed that the chance of exploding rockets was 1 at 57. One year after the optimistic calculation the Challenger exploded.

This is a nasty example of too much trust in your own perception and numbers. Verhoef calls this overconfidence. What he describes is that upper and lower educated people are all too sure of their expertise. That because of this decision making can turn out wrong this goes without saying. So it is important to review your ideas and plans with others. And don’t avoid the critical people for they really improve you.

  1. Stubborn sticking to chosen rate

When an expensive IT project is chosen, an organization will make every effort to make this succeed. I have experienced this in the distant past at the train traffic control of the Dutch railways. The Train Traffic Control Department implemented a system with the VPT (TBT in English) that stood for ‘ transport by train ‘. It happened regularly that something was added that didn’t work optimally. Then there was a replacement wanted. Over time, people started to call that the system was unsound. But the Executive Board decided that the chosen way should be followed.

Verhoef: ‘ We talk about the unwillingness or weakness after a decision to depart from a chosen way. People find that very difficult, and therefore they will ignore negative feedback that indicates the failure of today’s value. You certainly will know the arguments. We have already spent so much money now that it would be a pity to stop. But nothing delivers more money than leaving the wrong way. ‘ Thus, if necessary dare to leave the things that you had planned.

  1. Association bias: sticking to old methods

Before the call centers came that were treating customer complaints, companies already had customer service departments. Letters were answered there. Some with letters, others by phone. In those years 50% was answered by letter, 50% by phone. The managers wanted to introduce only a phone system and stop the letter writing which was elaborate and expensive. It would be better when the complaints could be dealt with more quickly.

But there was resistance. The current method was perfect, some employees objected. There were form letters that could be adjusted. This worked quickly and adequately and was more personal and also neater than phone. These were sentimental arguments and not rational considerations.

However, there was every reason to switch to call centers. Efficiency for example. The increase in cell phone calls. And faster processing. Yet several employees sticked to a method from the past. They didn’t take into account the contemporary context. This is called association bias. Another example of association bias are coffee machines that are loosing their positions on the market because of new devices from competitors.

To protect the position of such an older coffee device companies will be built new gadgets in the existing device. They think that there should only be add something extra at the existing device and than it is ok. The result is distressing. A worse device. The decision to hold on to something old because that was a success in the past, picks rarely useful, and is a typical pitfall when you take decisions.

At the moment I write this the media are publishing articles on the coffee company of Douwe Egberts. Their Senseo machine is loosing much popularity by Nespresso coffee machines. A marketer says: ‘ that Nespresso machines are becoming more beautiful and better, while the Senseo always remains the same. ‘ It looks obvious that Douwe Egberts sticks too long to a concept that has had its best time. But the company is smart and will not last too long. There is something new coming up I am sure. And this won’t last very long. Douwe Egberts have to. A year ago the company namely lost 6% of its turnover.

So don’t stuck to old ways, when they are overtaken by new ones. And do not be blinded by the fact that a method has always worked.

  1. Groupthink

It can really go wrong if you want to take a decision and always want to adapt to the group’s opinion. Therefore we are so fond on independent thinkers. The big problem with consensus is that you take decisions on the basis of harmony in the group. However, no good decision is guaranteed.

Hitler attacked Russia after consultating only a small group of people with whom he took his decisions. This group consisted of people that always agreed with each other and Hitler; something you see often in homogeneous groups. Because there was no criticism on the Russian naziplan, things were overlooked. The American war against Iraq in 2003 is another example of groupthink. The raid of the Americans in Cuba at the beginning of the 1960s as well. The weapon scandal under Reagan, Irangate, is also in the list. The groupmembers support each other time and again in taking a decision and it appears in these examples that they are wrong. The Group is just not always right.

There are many examples of groupthink, not only from politics or from the history of the army. The phenomenon also exists in the business world. Eelke de Jong of the Radboud University mentions the IMF in an article. The IMF admitted in 2011 that it had made mistakes. It said that it had been blind to risks in the world and in the financial systems. We know where it has run out by now. The cause was groupthink. Financial experts never believed that financial stability in the West would go out of balance. Because this was disputed by no one experts had closed the eyes for risks.

Groupthink can sometimes turn out alright but there is a big risk that things go wrong. It is therefore a huge pitfall in decision-making. Especially in short term decisions the danger is absolutely there that it will go wrong.

These were the pitfalls in decision-making. Of course, these pitfalls appear also in combination with each other. They lead to wrong decisions, to bankrupt stock, to high costs and sometimes even to the loss of human lives. Later in this book I will delve deeper into this subject. But let all see these pitfalls: we are no objective people, none of us holds the absolute truth and regardless of our education level we are all exposed to many misleading points of view. And the thing is that we ourselves think that we don’t recognize the misleading.


  1. As an intuitive decision turns out good, that’s no guarantee that such decisions always work well.
  2. Dare to take a decision based on your own idea and don’t be misled by someone who deludes the matter more positive or negative than it is. Try to guess where someone wants to go.
  3. Also realize that champions make mistakes. So you will do it too. It is beautiful as you dare to share them.
  4. Do not rely only on your first impression, but also not just on your last.
  5. If you have deployed a course, dare to step from there if necessary.
  6. Keep critical on that what the group says. Don’t be a blind follower.

Chapter 3. When we take our resort to intuition?

Decisions based on data, have many disadvantages. They cost a lot of time, the good data are not available on a regular basis, and if they are you will treat them probably less reliable than you would like. Imagine that you will get popular with someone who is important for your career, when you omit a particular fact. If there would be enough time, you could opt for a thorough datadriven decision-making and you could take the time to convince that person. However, there is not always time enough. On the contrary: there is usually too few time.

Thus I absolutely don’t want to overestimate decisions on the basis of data research. I realize that the right data improve the quality of your choice, but the right data are often not available. You saw in the previous chapter how we treat that information. Sometimes we put too much emphasis on recent data, sometimes on too old data, we are too influenced by the group and there are still more barriers.

But to do then? Because you have to do something. As we saw the following of our intuition seems to be a convenient alternative to data analysis, and this is exactly what all kinds of management thinkers advise us to do. Follow your heart, not your head, they tell you. And actually that’s what we do in many situations. Or do you pretend you’re your decisions are based on on the very best analysis that ever have been made? Probably not. How well you have thought things out, chances are very high that you are making thinking mistakes, incorrect assumptions and that you are overlooking something. You don’t to be ashamed if you don’t even registate these things. You’re in good company. Even the best scientists make these sort of bloopers.

Our brain has the misleading incline to suggest that it knows things that it doesn’t know. You and I are not aware of this, according to various studies. As we probably are unaware that we are making a choice based on feeling in those cases. We do a ‘wet finger choice ‘ or with a term of Daniel Kahnemann ‘ a mental hail shot ‘, and it’s interesting to see in what situations we do that. Let’s have a look at those situations.

-If a situation is very difficult to predict with analysis, for example because there are a lot of factors that can influence the course of events. You see this for example when people want to predict an earthquake. This is virtually impossible. There are just too many things that affect the emergence of a quake. To prevent human suffering, we are doing attempts to make predictions and then we pay attention to shocks, slow movements along the fault lines, changes in the chemical composition of the groundwater and a few other things. But it doesn’t improve our predictions.

This is also the matter with long term weather predictions. There are too many factors that affect the weather, making it impossible to do accurate long-term weather forecasts. And in those cases we follow our hunches, impulses and intuition. We actually gamble.

-If the proposed solutions offer too little certainty. You will then discuss the possible solutions with each other and look which one is the best. If that is difficult to determine you make an unsubstantiated choice. This example illustrates what I mean:

I have worked more than 10 years ago at a railway company. On a particular pitch there was much unrest over the Executive, Cor Grimbergen. At some time there was even a train rolling around which read that Cor was a dirty traitor and ‘a 1st class asshole’. Dismissing Cor was not an option. He did what his management asked him to do, and if it sacrificed him the people would win who worked against the changes.

Another idea -to give Cor and his colleague Barry an adapted task division- turned out to be nor an option. Than Barry would interfere with the people, and Cor with office work and relations with externals and with management. This would mean loss of face for Cor and his executives.

A third suggestion was addressing the hard core of the group. The problem was only that the group was very homogeneous. They would not have accepted if one or two of the people addressed would be punished. A fourth possibility was research. An external agency would do interviews to find out who had written the unsympathetic texts on the train. Also here the expectations about the effect weren’t high.

Then Barry said something.

-It might be crazy and I can’t substantiate, but I have a feeling that attention can do a lot.

-Attention?, the others called puzzled. Then they get exactly what they want.

But Barry held firm.

-I really think it’s the solution. We see those men far too little. They have the impression that it doesn’t matter whether they do good or bad work; the management doesn’t see it anyway.

After some time the regional manager said that they had to try it. From that moment on, Barry and Cor were far more common in the workplace and occasionally came the regional manager was there too.

Later I asked Barry how he had come to this idea. His response was that it came from his ‘feelings’. When I continued asking he said that he had witnessed such resistance before. In that situation they had not operated clever from his point of view. Eventually he did not know why, but the only thing that he could think of was that they had to give their people more attention. A wonderful example of someone who comes with a mental hail shot, when other solutions don’t work anymore. And this mental hail shot comes close to what we call intuition. What the example also shows, is that a mental hail shot surprisingly can be right. It looks a bit like throwing the die. When you throw enough, in the end you’ll certainly will throw six.

-If the number of facts is limited, you often turn unwillingly to guessing. I have a splendid example. One of the ministries was looking for a coach for his management team. Three coaches were invited and after the conversation the selectors would fix who would be chosen. The one they chose was good at acquisition and could sell well. The interviewers found him inspiring. And because there was otherwise little known about the coaches within the Ministry, the decision was based on feelings. However, it proved to be not a good choice: half way the process the chosen coach was asked to stop with its contribution. One of the interviewers regretted that they had not taken any of the other coaches. One of them knew one of them. She had good experiences with him. Afterwards she could have relied more on that knowledge then on a vague feeling about the inspiring character of one of the coaches.

Also when you put a product on the market you have facts that sometimes just lack. Tricky, because you have to know everything about the characteristics of that market. How many potential buyers are there for a product? How many competitors do you have? What are the alternatives for your product and how popular are those? Is your product not overtaken by a more convenient product? Or by the technique? If facts are limited, you have to make a choice. And that happens then on the basis of intuition.

An example of a failed product launch is Coca Cola’s C2. In 2004 Coca Cola launched -for men from 20 to 40- a product that contained 50% less calories than regular cola. The product flopped. A number of facts was not yet known. Namely that the target group didn’t want 50% reduction of calories but 100%. That is a fine example of choices made on limited presence of dates. Of course people want to avoid these sort of errors. It’s a pity but this won’t work always. In spite of the fact that you don’t always have the correct information, you have to make a choice. In this case it was a flop, but ultimately the C2 initiative delivered the idea of Coca Cola Zero. The idea that there would be an audience for low-calorie products was right. But before the experiment they couldn’t know this.

And here I like to conclude something. When there is a lack of facts and data, you have to make a choice. There is no other option. Only afterwards you can determine if the choice was right. And actually that’s beautiful. Because this means that sometimes you can only gamble. And then there may emerge something beautiful from the gambling. You discover something by doing something! That’s the power of experiments. And if it works, then you get that pleasant feeling that Steve Jobs often had. However, bear in mind that your experiment can fail. Don’t be afraid for such a thing! Have courage. Coca Cola did it also in the 1980s, when their New Coke flopped in the fight with Pepsi. And the same applies to the so-called chic Mac Donald’s hamburger Arch de Luxe, in which was pumped 200 million. However no one was interested. Both Coca Cola and Mac Donald’s are still popular. Because they dared to enter into an experiment. Because they had courage.

-There is another reason to go into guessing: if the number of facts gives no clear direction. You have a set of facts but they don’t tell much. Program makers that focus on crimes are regularly confronted with this. They are seeking solution of murders, that keeps the police in the dark. Yet you have information that gives you a feeling. Information that creates the presumption that there is going on more, that you are dealing with the suspect of a murder case. However this is not what the facts themselves tell. And then all of a sudden there is intuition.

And then it’s just wait and see if you are right. A lot of murders remain unsolved. Despite intuition and years of experience no one will find a perpetrator, a weapon or a motive. The facts simply don’t tell anything. That drives us to despair so that we even turn to fortune tellers. Our former minister of security and justice found this a good idea. In certain circumstances it’s an option to use these kind of unorthodox detection methods.

Here you can see a parallel with business. In business you often need facts to be able to make a decision. Social developments, changing regulations and new technology can have a significant effect on the sale of a service or product. In order to have a picture of those things knowledge of facts is very important. But if the facts tell you nothing about those developments they are useless. Then you take your resort to a mental hail shot. Because you have to go ahead. Competitors don’t wait.

-If the analytical data are of little use people choose for experimenting or gambling. Of course you can analyze, but if they have no use for the choices you want to make you put them aside, and make a choice based on your feelings. That’s how it goes. I remember one example from my working period for the Dutch Railways (in Holland this is the NS). In the 1990s one report after another was passing. They often disappeared in drawers, after the management established that the data didn’t really contribute to a choice. Simply because they offered no conclusion about the choice.

Later I also saw that at other organizations. Very many failed products are marketed which afterwards proved of little use. CDI-players, mini disc, TV stations, V2000-video, the finger toothbrush, DCC (digital cassette by Philips), Windows Vista, a floppy with 100 Mb, green ketchup, in short: it is full of products that weren’t succesfull. These choices are usually made on the basis of data analysis, but even if one does that, it still often happens that there is a choice based on a sense. One ignores the data or selects only the data matching with the emotion that one has in a particular case.

-If there is more than one good solution, it’s not easy to choose. Watch for example operational supervisors that have to deal with resistance among employees. They can respond on it as well rigorous and directive as understanding and accommodating. Both methods have proven themselves in the past, a teamleader said to me. But it’s not always easy to determine which approach works best. There are also disadvantages.

Are you accommodating and understanding, you win the people for you. But there is one drawback, and I see this unfortunately too often at compassionate executives: they don’t give management frameworks. In tune with their employees they are not clear about the expectations of the company.

We have experienced this type of executives in Holland for a long time, until about 2000. The idea has risen in those years that employees needed a lot of freedom. This is reflected in the opinions of people over 50. The consequence is that that generation has great difficulties in accepting commands and management frameworks.  Our country is a country of ‘polders’ and of consensus culture. Already in the days of the Romans our ancestors had problems in accepting authority. This is what you can read in the works of Tacitus.

Are you a strict manager people maybe will do what you want and you get your result. But the atmosphere and relationship between management and staff will not be satisfactory and this will come back later in the so-called employee satisfaction survey. Sometimes it is getting worse. Several times I’ve seen that criticism on a directive manager had to be discussed with the management because the Works Council had complained. And the worst thing that I’ve experienced, was a rather partisan HRM-Complaints Commission. If employees wanted to complain about an Executive they could go to the Complaints Commission. That happened all the time. For team leaders it was very difficult to make good results

To be continued

Bert Overbeek is personal and team coach and into management development. His work is much based on recent research about the human brain and mind. 


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