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?

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It’s Christmas time, but allow me some sombre thoughts.

Sometimes I stop to wonder how extraordinarily different our lives are to those of our parents and grandparents. I may be a fully paid up citizen of the twenty first century, but I actually arrived on earth a generation late. I was born towards the end of the Second World War. My father and six uncles fought in the First World War. Both my grandfathers were born in 1860.

So in my family ties and memories go back a long way.

I am currently just over half way through a very powerful book, All Hell Let Loose. The World at War 1939-1945, by Max Hastings. It is quite shocking in its depiction of the full horror of many theatres – particularly Russia, China, Germany, Italy, the Balkans, Greece, South East Asia and France. I strongly recommend this enormous tome – both as vivid history, and as a terrible warning about what can happen on a global scale when extremists take power, ideology obliterates democracy, and mass brutality rips away the veneer of civilisation.

Wise decision making is essential on the micro scale that encompasses our personal and business lives, as I have tried to illustrate in this blog during 2011.

But read All Hell Let Loose, and you will convince yourself how vital it is that Britain and our allies decide at almost any cost to avoid war over Syria, Iran, North Korea, or whichever flashpoint happens to be dominating the news bulletins. The Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya involvements have been bad enough. But at least – terrorism aside – they have been more or less contained. World War Two was notable for the contagion, not just of war, but also the casualty rate, destruction, misery and degradation it caused in its wake.

My holiday reading? Hastings’ “The First World War. 1914-1918” .

The Great War was after all the War that failed to end all wars.

Happy Christmas.

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