distributed decision-making

People in organizations make decisions all the time. This is sometimes a time-consuming or unsatisfying experience. We want to empower employees to make better decisions faster. Some organizations use a technique called the Advice Process. Here’s a summary of how it works. 

when you identify a problem
When you see a problem, you can do (at least) three things: 

  1. Solve the problem yourself 
  2. Identify a person who could better solve that problem 
  3. Log the problem for others to review 

solve the problem yourself
Before you can make a decision, you need to understand the problem. How would you describe the problem? Who does the problem affect? Who does it affect the most? What problems have we already solved that are like this problem? Who solved those problems? Ask yourself, “Am I the best person for this decision?” 

Once you describe the problem, you can then collect advice. Find time to talk about the problem with the people it affects. Use their experience and advice to inform your decision. Consult people who might also have experience you can use. Then, make the decision. Share your decision with everyone you consulted. Thank them for their input. Make yourself available for feedback. 

identify a person who could better solve that problem
If you see a problem but think someone else is better able to solve it, you might be a person affected by the decision. Explain the problem to them and ask for their help. “Hey, I see this opportunity. What do you think? Given your role should you initiate this?” Give advice based on your experience and perspective. Let them decide according to the framework above. If the person doesn’t have interest or capacity to do this, anyone can. If no one does, the issue is not important right now. Log the problem so you don’t forget it. 

log the problem for others to review
If this problem needs a decision but you don’t have time to make it, write it down! Post problems in a public space with your name and the date. If someone wants to take on that problem, they can write their name next to it. This person might make a decision or form a task force. Anyone can take on this problem if they follow this process. If no one does, the issue is not important right now. Keep the problem on the log so you don’t forget it. 

task forces: when the problem is too big
Some problems may need solving through a team discussion. Generally, the bigger the issue, the more people you need to consult. Complex problems may need several decisions. In this case, you can form a task force or workgroup using the guide above. Bring together the people affected by the problem. Also invite people with relevant experience. There is no leader in a task force, only a convener. 

Discuss the problem. Talk about potential solutions. Talk about who should make decisions. Talk about who can do what. Ask who else the decision-maker should consult. Ask what else the decision-maker needs to move forward. Decide if you need a second meeting. 

I adapted this material from Reinventing Organizations. There’s even more detail on the wiki.

boom times

“Everyone thinks they live in a boom time,” I turned the words over and over in my mind like I was polishing them for something. I was looking for hope within them and kept finding none, but I couldn’t stop. I’m standing in one of the three different lines at the spaceport, watching the different people lining up. Watching the wealthy elites casually submit to a blood scan, the thin probes flicking into their skin like a snake tongue, watching them brush it off like it’s their burden in this world. 

I watch the snaking line of the discount class straggle through their inspection. The ones who didn’t pay the extra ten thousand or so dollars to precheck their suits are dragging their crumpled person-shaped husks along with them. The empty suits are varied in their conformity, mirroring the unique styles and tastes of their owners, as if each person in line was holding a dehydrated clone of themselves. Some of them have activated the built-in drink sack holders on the front of their suits, and bulging sacks from Starsbucks peek out from the molded hard plastic. 

The third line is full of mechs and the dispassionate faces of the permanent gig workers. They’re standing in for the people relaxing in lounges nearby, ready to swan aboard their vessels when the hours of processing are done. There is, of course, a fourth line that nobody on this side of the terminal will ever see, the ones who believe that things have gotten better for their societymates. There is no line for them. They skim the headlines and note that protests are down, prisons are full, and they sit with placid contentment knowing their investments are secure. 

Things have gotten so bad out there that some of us don’t even leave the spaceport between our visits to distant lands. A seat with a VR port is only 20 bucks an hour, and personally I’d rather clock out for a few days than pass through the endless stops and checkpoints so I can get home. Sometimes I wonder where it all went wrong but I know that it happened decades before my lifetime.

Things are better than they’ve ever been. I’ve seen the holos before my time, the people who talk about how it used to be. I’m glad that we’ve made so much progress in just 500 years since slavery ended. I know that we all were slaves once, at one time or another. I realize that we have so much freedom now to envision a bright future that our children’s children can enjoy in another 500.  

I toss my empty suck bag into a container nearby as I make my way forward. Everything is made of seaweed now, and everything composts on a long enough time scale. I saw a holo recently about the jellyfish colonies that live in the plastic piles of older generations, and I marvel at the wonders of nature. I don’t know how I would’ve survived in another life. I don’t know what kind of world that would be.

It’s so hot here. Maybe I would have hated the cold. The waters are great for the seaweed, and the jellyfish get turned into food for our aquaponic fields out in the newer parts of the coastline. Some of the best fruit used to come from the equator, and we can grow that stuff anywhere now. Mangos are such an extravagance, though they’re honestly not even that good. When I see them languishing under lights in stores I think about how the best versions of them can be tasted anytime through VR. It’s no contest. Every molecule of every scent has been preserved in vast memory banks I can access for half the price. Only the rich crave the excesses of produce that can go bad, experiences that are uneven. I think they love the variety. 

But the phrase, again, hangs on my mind like a tendril. If everything is a boom time, how can anything be? And if this isn’t a boom, what would be? The thoughts linger for a moment, then the line moves forward and it is forgotten. 

radical innovations

radical innovations is a place where i can envision and refine new ways for people to work in systems together. devil’s advocacy is not welcome here.

we must work together to take radical approaches out of theory and into practice. we want to do more than envision a new world: we will work to make it. we share definitions for terms and concepts to spread common understanding.

we can’t wait for the future to arrive before we act. we must be the future we are waiting for.