Comment Of The Day
But, sometimes not every day. Check the archives.

Wednesday, July 22, 1998

The Rules Of Selection.

It is often unfair, but it doesn't have to be. And, in these matters, wrong choices are made as frequently as right choices, sad to say. Is it any wonder that the skill to make consistently good decisions is a highly-sought after (but seldom found) management quality?

If we make our choices based on presentation rather than on performance, on promise rather than record, or form rather than substance, we allow ourselves to be in the position of the ticket-buyer at the lottery window who thinks he is making an investment in his brightening future, rather than simply entertaining himself with very, very, very remote probabilities of a favorable outcome. That kind of self-delusion is not healthy, but it very common.

If you are apt to believe what you want to believe (and you are), remember you are in a world full of people, institutions and organizations that have built hugely profitable businesses on this frailty: they are consummate experts at getting you to believe exactly what you wanted to believe in the first place.

The thrill of being right is a drug that few can resist. That is the first rule of selection.

But consider a busy city street with pedestrians everywhere. See how they walk? What is the typical "right" way to walk? Or to carry a bag, or get into a car, or to dress, or to do anything? Someone once said, given the choice between two evils, choose neither; between two goods, choose both. That is the second rule of selection. It takes courage, but it can be done. It should be done.

And, remember that given the choice between action and inaction has created many a bad selection. The laws of inertia apply unevenly here: a body at rest tends to stay at rest more vehemently than a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Inaction is much more attractive to most, than action. This is the third rule of selection. And, choosing inaction is far less risky, seemingly. "He who aims at nothing always hits his mark." Those who do nothing always seem to achieve their goals immediately. While for those who choose action, the jury is out for a time, sometimes a long, long time.

You probably see a lot of this around your place of work. But take someone who is highly activated, aiming at achievement and working hard in many ways to hone his or her skills. He or she will make mistakes on the way. True? So in your selection process look a record of mistakes, wrong turns, things learned should be a positive indicator, not a negative one. This is the fourth rule of selection. Because a real and genuine search for a good selection pput you are in a world of action and reality, where things can and do go wrong.

No one will actually show you exactly and precisely what you are looking for. This is the fifth rule. If they do, they are prevaricating, paltering. I have read many times after the selection of a contractor, an advertising agency, an architect, a school, or even a town in which to live: "It was exactly what I was looking for." even Magellan searching for routes to Moluccas was surprised at the discontinuity between his expectations and reality, and most of us are no Magellans. Why not hope for something even better than you were looking for? Why not go out into the world exploring and testing and expanding your expectations? If all we ever get in this world is exactly what we were looking for, wouldn't we all be very disappointed in the end. The fifth rule of selection is, never, never rule out the unexpected, never rule out surprise.

And, the sixth rule is: the best selections are two-way selection. But this is hard to judge. If the prize is pecuniary, and especially long-time-pecuniary in rewards, then many complicated and interwoven things are at risk: careers are made and ruined on good and bad decisions about money. The sycophantical element creeps into the process at this point,, doesn't it? It can and probably will appear to be "exactly what you were looking for." It can also appear to be a readiness and an eagerness that is a mile wide but only a quarter of an inch deep. In the heyday of sailing, great sea captains, those great decision-makers, were held in the highest esteem, and rightly so. They were clearly of their own mind. No one could talk the Captain into a wrong turn, or into a stupid mistake, no matter what the pay, no matter what the incentives. There on the deck of their ships, they knew that to master their universe they must take great care and rely only on their own experience and judgement. In fleets, these great captains were at their best, working together without wireless communication and navigational aids. They shared experience, ingenuity, and the honest humility before forces they knew too well were way, way beyond their control. They went forth not with "expectations" but with ability, vigilance, and all of the skills necessary to be truly innovative on the fly.

If you acknowledge that you don't really know, and can't know, what is going to happen next, then
the one person you really want to have by your side is someone who is comfortable in chaos, someone who has a ton of skills in many different ways and means, someone who has made a lot of mistakes on the way to experience, and someone who can think of things that work in the midst of whatever shit is happening. So, the seventh rule of selection is: always choose innovation as the most useful skill.

And the eighth and final rule of selection is: the decision-maker must be the sort of person that a healthy selection process is looking for: non-egoist, courageous, action-oriented, not afaid of mistakes, embracing the unexpected, mutual and open in all things, highly innovative, and eclectically talented, because in the end, the fig tree cannot bring forth apples. See you next time.