This is particularly important when we try to reduce everything we do to making decisions and acting on the results of those decisions. In this regard I need to draw attention to (and recommend) the book Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers, by Richard Neustadt and Ernest May. This book is basically a series of case studies, each of which involves an act of presidential decision making in a time of crisis. The theme behind the entire book involves the way in which Neustadt and May characterize what they mean by "thinking in time." Basically, it involves asking two fundamental questions:
- How did we get into this situation?
- Given a course of action to consider, what will be the consequences of following that course?
This also brings in an important reflection of decision support technology that goes all the way back to the pioneers of that technology: Peter Keen and Michael Scott Morton. Their first book on the subject, Decision Support Systems, begins by drawing the distinction between efficient and effective decision making. The punch line, of course, is that it is always necessary to strive for the latter, rather than the former. I believe that one of the hazards of the way in which specialized education is taught (if not of the subject-matter itself) is that efficiency tends to get the upper hand over effectiveness, simply because it is easier to evaluate efficiency, while evaluating effectiveness demands all the subtleties of "thinking in time." (We are back in the world of looking for your keys where the light is better, even if you know you did not lose them there.)
So perhaps there should be some corner of our educational process that makes sure we do not forget that it can be all right to just live in the world, without necessarily controlling (or feeling you can control) it. I do not mean this as a granola-based go-with-the-flow philosophy. Rather, to reflect on the quote in my Blast, you should be able to live in the world without "fear, superstition and pettiness," because the world throws so much at that stuff in our path that we should delude ourselves into believing the the only way to deal with it is to control it!