Surely technology makes it easier to make decisions?

Just look at all the artificial aids we now take for granted:

  • Ubiquitous mobiles and other hand-held devices that ensure everyone is accessible 24/7
  • Instant news on countless broadcast channels, on mobile, in the street, and at transport hubs and reception areas
  • Text, email and messaging services (as well as phone lines) to speed up conversation with colleagues and associates
  • Video and tele-conferencing
  • Skype
  • Social media
  • The vastness of the internet to speed up research

So why do so many people in organisations and in their non-work lives still get it wrong so often and in so many different ways?

Regular readers know that I lay considerable blame at the door of our commitment to the meeting culture that gives us all the illusion of ‘moving things on’, when so often meetings serve no useful purpose, and absorb billions of people hours that otherwise might have been productive.

The meeting is an intrinsically low-tech phenomenon, born out of the gregariousness of home sapiens. I see it as generated by social instincts, not commercial ones.

So it is ironic that technology has now given us the automated invitation system that has institutionalised meetings to an even greater extent.

From the department of invented, but plausible, statistics I believe that 50% of all meetings take the participants no closer to a decision, and that more than 60% of the people hours are wasted.

But the meeting is not the only villain of the piece. Here are five other contenders:

  • Conference calls (non-video). Catastrophically flawed whenever you have more than four participants, and/or when the people on the call don’t know each other
  • Email language: limiting, prone to emotional and irrational overlays, and can easily provoke over-fast (and misguided) responses. It is also easy to give the impression of working by simply exchanging emails!
  • Facebook and Twitter – potentially time-wasting and narcissistic, unless used judiciously. They are as dangerous for taking people’s eyes off the ball, as for inciting riots
  • The tendency to phone and text people who are not with you, instead of engaging with the people who are
  • The unreliability of so much data that your researches can turn up. This can be, as Simon Hall of Savvy Friends (formerly founder of BHWG) says, because it is so easy to skew and bias it for commercial reasons. It can also be because of what David Aaronovitch in The Times today (p.19) calls ‘Bad Science’.

It wouldn’t take you long to add to my list.

We would be lost without our whizzy tools. But I am far from convinced that technology has overall advanced the cause of making better decisions, better.