Thursday, May 21, 2009

Emotions Triumph: Role in Decision Making

Management does not work. It is more suited to forms of life lacking the ability to think. OUCH!

A new book Management Rewired By Jacobs, Charles S. (ISBN: 9781591842620), has been released that should of great interest to the management scholars and practitioners. This book is subtitled: “why feedback doesn't work and other surprising lessons from the latest brain science.”

This book has been reviewed in the Financial Times today (Thursday, May 21, 2009). According to the Review in the FT: / Business Life / Management - Science of managing monkeys: "Management doesn’t work. It is ill-conceived and badly carried out. It is, literally, inhuman. We are all wasting our time.
This is the basic thrust of Charles Jacobs’ new book. Inspired by the latest discoveries of neuroscientists and armed with some startling scientific data, Jacobs, a management consultant experienced in advising blue-chip companies, lines up a series of shibboleths and orthodoxies, takes aim and tries to destroy them.”

The FT’s conclusion is that with this book, Jacobs “succeeds, up to a point. Much of what he writes is persuasive."

I have not seen this book yet and am waiting to get hold of it. Based on the reviews and the information about the book at the library web site it seems that the premise of Jacobs’ book seems to be fairly similar to the evidence of neuroscientists based on brain scans that was recently compiled and presented in the book:

The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation by Drew Westen.

I am only halfway through the Westen book. Drew has done remarkable primary research into the relative impact of emotional and cognitive constraints on people’s judgments in the political domain. The results of his research are startling. He seems to have done away with the dispassionate voter engaging in a complex calculus to reach a decision. The emotional constraints help to predict which way people would decide, in the examples he studies, as much as 85% of the time. The cognitive constraints unlike the emotional constraints (i.e., feelings associated with the conclusions) seem to account for barely 3% of people’s judgments! Truly astonishing. And this dominance of emotion seems to be true for about 80% of electorate. The rest 20% of the electorate with changeable minds are the key to winning elections. Westen then moves into researching as to what helps this critical group of voters change their mind. Looks like Drew Westen has become quite successful in helping craft strategies based on emotions for the electoral success.

Now it is Jacobs’ turn to spin the research of brain science into gold for himself. The roles of emotions is so innate and possibily predates the development of cognitive analysis that both Westen (and now, Jacobs) conclude that we, the vast majority of us, whether in our roles as consumers, citizens, politicians, judges, and now even (ahem!) managers, allow emotions to make our decisions. It is only then that we employ logic to justify the emotional reactions. Since the research of neuro-psychologists seems to indicate that cognitive reasons rarely matter in the political arena then the interesting question is what are their relative roles in domain of management? After all, we are managing humans (who are genetically almost exactly like chimps). Looks like the answers even here are not something that we will like. Your reactions to these books would be interesting. In particular, how do you harness the research results and prescriptions in them to be more effective? Oh, but…wait. Since we too are bound by emotional constraints in the first place, is that too a task that we are doomed to fail at? See you on the comment pages.

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