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How to Harness the Wisdom of the Alternative View in Times of Crisis

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

Blog 1 of 5 on excellence in decision making. 

In this unprecedented time there are many opinions and no clear obvious way to proceed. This is a real example of what complexity means. There is no simple and obvious answer to what should we do in response to this pandemic, and every choice has both foreseen and unforeseen consequences. Conflict is a natural result with charged views on both sides of the argument. The untenable debate which is raging right now all in South Africa, and in fact across the globe, is saving lives versus saving the economy. The popular sentiment seems to be weighing in on the savings lives side, whilst the protagonists, who to me are in the minority, are saying what is the point of saving lives if many will die from starvation. These are those who are deeply concerned about the economic impact. This is an impossible dilemma which leaves the decision makers between a rock and a hard place.

We need to remember that this is not a matter of simplicity

which calls for an either-or answer.

As I reflect on this, I wonder how it would be if the decision-makers considered using the 4th step of decision making that we teach in Deep Democracy? This step occurs at the point of making the decision. It acknowledges both the potential loss/cost of deciding and the emotional pain of being the loser.

At this stage the decision is to lock down, and therefore is on the side of saving lives. The loser is the economy.  The way step 4 works is to ask the side that has lost the vote (ie: the saving the economy side) a very specific question.  It would go something like this:

"We are really sorry that you have lost the vote, but after following the process, it has been decided that it is more important for us to save human lives, and therefore we are going to extend the lock-down for another 2 weeks. We do however acknowledge that there is wisdom in your view which we would like to harness, so what will it take for you to come along with this decision?

Who knows what may come from this? The wisdom of the alternative view is added to the decision and it could look something like this:

We are happy to go along with this decision provided we do the following.......

We urgently work on specific measures that will protect employees and those they come into contact with, from spreading the infection;

We allow a phased approach to businesses re-opening, especially small businesses;

We identify high-risk for contamination industries and keep these closed for longer and so on...

I trust that our leaders are doing the very best that they can, and that they are fully cognisant of the costs of the lockdown, and are doing their best to mitigate. I just wonder how much better it might be if they approached it in the elegant way that this method offers. It also seems to me like the scientists and academics need to seek the wisdom of the real people on the ground  more than what they are doing at the moment.


More to follow on this topic in the next few days so watch this space. If you would like to learn more about this innovative decision making method please email and we will be in contact.



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