Two of the five aspects within the ELECTIA framework for decision-making are Bold and Pragmatic, and they share a particular relationship.
A large number of research studies with animals have identified a common continuum of behaviour that exists in over 100 species. On this continuum, individuals within a given species range from being highly “reactive” to highly “proactive”, where reactive individuals are timid, cautious and risk-averse, and proactive individuals are bold, aggressive, exploratory and risk-taking.
The scientific evidence suggests that this natural variation between individuals in their level of boldness and risk-taking exists because in nature circumstances sometimes favour bolder individuals, for example when predators are scarce, while at others times different circumstances, such as there being many predators, will favour more cautious types.
Fewer research studies have been conducted with people, however there is evidence to suggest that the same reactive-proactive behavioural continuum exists in humans. And in addition to our natural inclinations, some circumstantial factors may influence our behaviours in terms of our boldness and risk-taking.
The upshot of this is that when making decisions, we may sometimes be too timid and at other times too rash. Let’s consider each of these possibilities…
First, we may at times be too timid. Reasons for this may include:
- A natural disposition towards caution and risk-avoidance, as described above.
- Fear: This is a basic human emotion that I discussed in “Decision or default?”. Fear in response to uncertainty or to perceived risk makes us cautious as an evolved survival mechanism.
- Inertia or resistance to change: This could be the case if, for example, we were very comfortable and secure.
- Cognitive biases: There are a number of cognitive biases that may make us more cautious in certain situations, including:
Alternatively, when making decisions we may be too rash, particularly by not thinking through all the possible outcomes or the potential consequences of our actions. Possible reasons for this include:
- A natural disposition towards “proactive” behaviours including risk-taking, as described above.
- Anger: Think about the phrase “blinded by anger”.
- Impulsiveness: For which acting too rashly might just be a definition.
- Cognitive biases: Once again, there are some cognitive biases that are relevant here, including:
So how does the ELECTIA approach to decision-making address these behaviours?
The aspects Bold and Pragmatic within the ELECTIA framework for decision-making address the possibilities of us making decisions that are too timid or too rash respectively.
Bold within the ELECTIA framework is about having enough ambition when we make decisions. It is about thinking big, pushing limits and challenging ourselves. Very importantly, it is not about taking risks.
Pragmatic within the ELECTIA framework is about making decisions that are sensible. It is about thinking through the various possible outcomes and consequences of the different options that are available to us. It is about assessing risks against benefits and making choices on the basis of known, acceptable risks.
These two aspects of decision-making are intentionally placed on the two opposite hands of the figure of Vituvian Man that forms the basis for the ELECTIA framework for decision-making, not because they are opposites, but instead because they are complementary.
People often assume wrongly that being bold and being sensible are mutually exclusive; that is, that it’s not possible to make decisions that are both things at the same time. This is almost always because they have assumed that ambition and risk are related when very often they are not. These people fail to ask: How can I achieve that to which I aspire, without suffering that which I fear?
So thinking again about the two hands of the figure of Vitruvian Man, anyone who has assumed that boldness and pragmatism are mutually exclusive is effectively saying: “Well, on the one hand I could do this, OR on the other hand I could do that.”
But in the same way that our hands have evolved to work together and we are therefore more effective when we use both hands for a manual task, so we can make better decisions when we allow ourselves to be both Bold and Pragmatic, ambitious and sensible.
This idea of shifting of mindset from a focus on “either / or” to a focus on “both / and” is an example of managing apparent paradoxes, one of the enabling capabilities that support the ELECTIA approach to decision-making.
So how much better would our decisions be if we were both Bold and Pragmatic?
To close, I have a fun, visual way of illustrating this idea of “using both hands” by allowing ourselves to make decisions that are both Bold and Pragmatic.
The Rubik’s Cube is a three-dimensional combination puzzle game that was popular in the 1980s and to this day is considered to be the world’s best-selling toy. Solving a Rubik’s Cube obviously involves making lots of decisions; at least one for each move. So I’d like to use solving a Rubik’s Cube as an analogy for decision-making.
The link at the end of this sentence will show you a number of videos of former world record holder Feliks Zemdegs solving a Rubik’s Cube using just one hand. Take a look.
14.41 seconds… amazing, eh?
Now watch Feliks solving a Rubik’s Cube using both hands…
6.65 seconds… less than half the time it took him to do it one handed.
Just think how much better your decisions could be if you allowed yourself to use both hands.