But sometimes people make really bad decisions

In my last post I made some excuses for what I called “mistaken mini-decisions” that can happen during a sequence of events, but without the whole project ending in disaster.

On the other hand, most books on decision making feature a catalogue of nightmares that belong in the Chamber of Horrors. Obvious examples might include:

• Barbarossa – Hitler’s invasion of Russia that cost him the war. Main Decision Trap – Condemned to Repeat the Experiences (failure to learn from Napoleon’s equally catastrophic campaign)
• The Bay of Pigs – Kennedy’s fiasco in Cuba. Decision Trap – Group Failure (refusal to accept that a group of seriously bright people can all be wrong)
• The collapse of Enron. Decision Trap – Delusion (Lay and Skilling convincing themselves they wouldn’t be found out)
• The Brown Government’s management of the country’s finances. I have only room for a few Decision Traps:

o Undue Optimism – Optimistic about outcomes and blind to potential disaster
o Downside Delusion – Underestimating risks, and assuming too much control over future events
o ‘What if’ Wearout – Not being rigorous enough in looking at possible scenarios
o Outcome Blindness – Failure to accept bad news when it is staring you in the face
o Policy Pride – Sticking to a policy when it had obviously failed

These were celebrated BAD decisions.

I also worry about questionable decisions that can make bad situations worse. This very morning, and within minutes, Chris Huehne has had to resign from the Government, and John Terry has been stripped of the England Football Captaincy. I am not writing about any bad decisions Huehne or Terry might or might not have made.

What links these two high profile characters – apart from the awkward fact that neither is particularly popular or loved? Both have been charged with a criminal offence. But their cases haven’t come up yet– and they have absolutely not been found guilty of any wrongdoing.

We used to have the presumption of innocence until found guilty. When did we lose that principle? And why?