💀 Principled decision making


Principled decision making

May 28, 2019

A friend expressed interest on twitter about applying stoicism to agile, which can be a ripe environment for exposing all sorts of organizational drama. I replied that stoicism's been -- for me -- a good fit, because its decision-making tree is simple.

I look at Stoicism as a framework designed to bootstrap systems. Its emphasis on perspective and prioritization is baked-in through daily journaling (like this newsletter) and daily practice, so that in in times of need that habit of thinking -- that system -- takes over. I emphasize this process of system creation because I trust systems more than I trust intentions. Good user experience research is always first to cut when budgets are tight, deadlines are looming, and stress is high - unless it's baked into the system of how the company works.

In our creative work we can - and should - systematize our decision making process, too. Decision trees make life easier, and when they're well constructed they are more likely to lead to sound and successful decision making at a high rate, making for scalable decision-making.

Marcus Aurelius had two steps prior to taking action (remember, the decisions he made were regularly, literally, life and death):

"The first thing to do - don't get worked up. ... The next thing to do - consider carefully the task at hand for what it is, while remembering that your purpose is to be a good human being."

I adapt this kind of thinking into even more obvious steps thaaaat I'm going to dub right here and now the memento mori / malorum loop. In Latin, class: memento mori, praemeditato malorum, memento mori. Make a calm decision structured around strong principles.

1. Memento mori (1): is this decision really that big of a deal? Unless you're about to die, or - through inaction - you're about to kill your users, friends, and colleagues, you have space to breathe. Relax.

2. Praemeditato malorum: what's the worst that can it happen if your team botches this decision?

3. Memento mori (2): does that really matter? Probably not. You have time to do this right.

I take this further in design specific work and apply my design-validated discovery system:

4. Is [feature/bug/problem] valid? Is the demonstrable need for this thing and its solution/approach represented in our research / feedback catalog?

The answer to this question determine whether a discovery phase is kicked off or we can start work on the deliverable. Then, let's say that deliverable is code, it runs through other decision making systems:

5. Does this code pass code review?

6. Does this feature pass build and regression tests?

7. Is this feature accessible?

8. Does this feature pass QA?

Et cetera.

These kinds of decision making systems probably already exist in one form or another in our work, existing to make decision making less fatiguing and scalable (even automatable). Systematized stoic principles designed to evoke clear-headedness adapt comfortably to any of these.

Craft virtuously,

Michael Schofield

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