Readers of FARSIGHTED, Steven Johnson’s riveting new book about decision-making, will almost assuredly find themselves saying, “Where was this book when I really needed it.” For me, that was the fateful spring of 1999, when I chose to sell a beloved Nantucket home to invest in the dot.com boom (losing several hundred thousand dollars of profit in the process).
At the time, I was confident in my “Ben Franklin” approach to decision-making: weighing a list of pros against a list of cons—and crossing out those of seemingly equal weight. But, to paraphrase Johnson, I was a “hedgehog,” settled in my one big idea. Clearly, I was swayed by the red-hot market AND the fact that our home had increased in value by over 80% in 30 months.
“When… the whole lies before me, I think
I can judge better, and am less likely to make a rash step.”
— Benjamin Franklin
The founding father’s method of analysis wasn’t to be done in one sitting, explains Johnson, but rather, as Franklin himself explained, “During three or four day’s consideration.” That longer view would have allowed me to consider if Nantucket real estate values might continue gaining (they did); and whether current U.S. markets were optimistic at best (boy, were they). Certainly, there were people to interview and resources to study to gain a better picture. My wife foresaw we might not be able to buy into the Nantucket market again—a thought that could have weighed heavily in our decision. Convincing myself that the market in Nantucket had surely peaked, I failed to understand that Franklin’s tool was meant to be a means of mapping out a larger perspective.
Memories of that error made 20 years ago still sting, since I’ve almost always believed I should be “smart enough” to make the right decision—no matter the magnitude. (Interesting, because I would never imagine I was smart enough to write a client’s communications strategy without due diligence.)
Johnson’s book helps you understand that throughout history the smartest people in the room have often made the wrong decisions by seeking to reduce options and invest in one path forward as quickly as possible—as opposed to broadening their outlook.
The most important work lies in the way we frame the decision, the strategies we use to overcome all of the challenges of bounded rationality: exploring multiple perspectives, building scenario plans, identifying new options.
—Steven Johnson, Farsighted
Some leaders have impressive track records in what Johnson describes as the “scenario planning” approach to decision mapping. I am honored to know one of them—Lorraine McGowen, a restructuring partner at the top-ranked global law firm, Orrick. As the lead bankruptcy attorney representing creditor, Toyota in the global restructuring of Takata Corporation (following its sale of defective safety systems), Lorraine incessantly sought new paths and solutions before making exceptional recommendations on the best way forward. All parties were commended for their work in such an “extraordinary” and “remarkable” case when the Delaware Bankruptcy Court confirmed Takata’s U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan.
If it seems like Lorraine can see into the future, it’s because she focuses, just as Johnson recommends, on the “long view”—leaving no stone unturned as she considers legal probabilities, multiple ways for proceeding and the best financial outcomes for her clients. To use Lorraine’s own thought she is truly a “Pathfinder.”
One thing Johnson and Lorraine both place great value on is engaging diverse participants during the discovery process. The more diverse the better. Lorraine is a known champion of the business case for diversity, believing, “Diverse teams are more creative, collaborative and successful.”
As a seasoned international attorney focused on business outcomes, Lorraine’s perspective on Johnson’s book would be enlightening. As for me—I am eager to use the approaches Johnson so clearly explains in every business decision I make going forward. – LANGSTON