Dial up the Resistance to Optimize your Decision Making

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In a physical aspect resistance makes us stronger. That is why we exercise and move. In a cognitive aspect, resistance in the form of opposing viewpoints, healthy conflict/dialogue, and deliberate concentration can strengthen the critical decisions we make. While not every decision ought to be scrutinized, there may be an opportunity to increase the level of resistance on yourself to optimize your decision making.

Speaking of fine adjustments. Please try this exercise. Point your index finger on your left hand straight up and move it one or two degrees down. Now try to do this again this time with the index finger on your right hand providing some resistance. How much easier was it to perform the exercise with a counterbalancing force? While the prior exercise was a physical example of making a fine adjustment, cognitive resistance may also provide a similar counterbalance and thus ease execution.

In this article I offer some methods and sources that you can use infuse resistance to increase your effectiveness. The heart of resistance is to consider the role of opposition and how you can leverage that perspective for your benefit.

Infuse Resistance: Delineate between Opposition and Conflict

“If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load that is laid upon it. For thereby the parts are joined more firmly together.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Increasing a load is to increase the resistance on the structure. Your creative thought, decision making, and team interactions can be enhanced by infusing intentional resistance. Productive resistance can be thought of as an opposition, disagreement, discontent, and a different opinion. Improved decision making that is cognizant of different perspectives can result if a team uses resistance in a healthy way. When opposition becomes personal, conflict can arise. A leader or a facilitation may choose to promote opposition without getting into conflict to get an increasing sphere of perspective.

Resistance can also be added when you are working individually on a task. The following are questions that you can use to add resistance to the work you do.

· Who in your organization or in your life brings up thought provoking considerations for the issues at hand? What about those external to the industry?

· What about those who have completely opposing viewpoints — how might those be relevant?

· What is your confidence interval (I.E: What is the upper and lower criteria at which your decision will be ineffective)?

· What would cause you to unbelieve your idea?

The Adversarial Collaborator

An adversarial collaborator is a person who will oppose you in your thoughts and ideas with the goal of strengthening your ideas and mitigating against the risk of overconfidence. Daniel Kahneman, author of ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ suggests that overconfidence that is supported by pretended knowledge, emotional, cognitive, and social factors sometimes lead people to take risks that they would avoid if they knew the odds. We all know of current political, economic, and engineering events where experts have made decisions that have backfired and have resulted in costly consequences. To counter the undertow of risk and uncertainty that is inherent with overconfidence, adversarial collaboration is a vital tool to your decision making process. Adversarial collaboration can be received through your team, a mentor, a trusted friend/advisor, or an unbiased professional such as an executive coach.

Kahneman proposes the idea of a ‘premortem’ to reduce overconfidence by reducing group think and legitimizing opposition to ideas. The premortem is a way of increasing your resistance to look at the situation in a wider perspective. To use the premortem please consider the following exercise in the context of a significant project, plan, or task:

Imagine that you are a year into the future. You have implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disaster. Please take 5 to 10 minutes to write a brief history of that disaster.

Be creative with your reflections. Take time to write down the disasters that could result. Writing has been proven to enhance ideation fluency as opposed to only mentally performing the exercise.

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Infusing resistance can help with your decision making. The awareness questions can help you when you want to develop your strategy for resistance. People that have an opposing viewpoint or one that does not have an interest in the decision can also serve as a collaborator to focus your thoughts. Optimizing your decision making could make all the difference between telling your story with a sigh or with the success that you originally envisioned. 

This article is intended to be descriptive and not prescriptive. I hope you find this content interesting enough that it encourages you to do your own research, ask questions, generate a dialogue with others and integrate your learnings into action. What are some of the ideas that connected for you? Where do you have a different option or a technique that works for you? Where do these techniques fail to work? Please comment below to share your thoughts.

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