Sunday, April 13, 2008

Case Study on Open Decision Making by John Robb

Regional disasters of all types, from natural to man-made, are similar to warfare in that they are:

# informationally (low levels of information flow, rapidly changing circumstance, and high levels of novelty),

# morally (who should you help first, how far should you go to help, etc.),

# and physically (the scale exceeds means) complex.

Therefore, disasters in extremis should provide an excellent opportunity to compare the efficacy of different organizational decision making styles and their applicability to the escalating complexity of modern warfare.


So, how well did the respective decision making styles do during hurricane Katrina? Fortunately, Steve Horwitz, from St. Lawrence University, has already done this work with an excellent case study on the topic. He found that organizations with open decision making systems, both public and private, greatly outperformed those that didn't. Across every measure of success (in particular, the feedback from locals) the Coast Guard, Wal-Mart, Home Depot stood in stark contrast to the miserable performance of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency).

NOTE: All three organizations that were successful used Boyd's approach. Strong organizational cultures and training were used to harmonize orientation for local decision makers. This common outlook in turn allowed decentralized decision makers to quickly optimize their actions to meet the requirements of rapidly evolving local circumstances without specific guidance from a centralized leadership or written regulatory framework.

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