Two Cars

Imagine a two-lane road connecting two places and two automobiles each containing drivers who want to go from the one place to the other in good time but safely. One driver has driven the road many times and is following the other driver. The lead driver is driving the road for the first time. As the two drivers are coming to a blind curve, the lead driver slows to navigate the turn. The following driver, who would have taken the curve at a higher speed, decreases the distance between the two cars.

Assume the curve is blind such that nothing can be seen of the other side of the curve until half-way through the turn. Why would the drivers differ on the appropriate speed to traverse the curve? The following driver who has driven the road many times knows what the road is like after the curve and, having previously not encountered an obstacle in the road hidden by the curve, is willing, based on that experience, to go faster. The lead driver does not know the road and does not know whether there is an obstacle in the road hidden by the curve and goes at a slower, and undeniably safer, speed.

Now, let us expand the hypothetical by saying that the following driver is accompanied by a passenger, his spouse, who comments, “You are getting too close to the car ahead of you.” The following driver sighs, realizing that his prior experience and impatience has had an effect, and increases the distance between the cars.

Suddenly, as the first car goes around the curve, the first driver sees a deer in the road. The first driver brakes hard, and as the car slows, the deer moves out of the road and an accident is avoided. The following driver, having re-established a safe distance between the cars, sees the brake lights of the first car and is able to slow down to avoid hitting the first car – the words “I told you so!” in his ears.

The decision-making of the following driver would have caused an accident if it were not for the participation of another decision-maker in the determination of the distance to be maintained between the two cars. The following driver, influenced by the emotions of arrogance and impatience, made a very normal but bad decision. Fortunately, the decision was corrected by someone not so affected by emotion.

Planning involves setting a goal, determining an action plan, executing the plan, and evaluating the result. In the case of the hypothetical, the goal is to travel the road safely. The action plan is to drive the car along the road in a safe manner. The drive is the execution of the plan. The events occurring on the drive are the basis upon which the plan is evaluated.

The decision-making involved a group – the two drivers and one passenger. While one person might take a risk without a bad result and realize success, is that a basis for always taking the risk? Where a person has had objectivity altered by experience, especially after successful taking a risk, then due to the emotions of arrogance or impatience, the quality of decision-making often will decline. Where there is no group, what will counter the effect of these emotions?

Extending this hypothetical to the next week, if we were to find the same two cars in the same order approaching the same turn, but this time the following driver is alone, would the following driver maintain a safe distance or close the gap in the absence of a correction? What if the next week, the following driver finds himself traveling the route without a car ahead of him? We can imagine varying results.

This simple hypothetical illustrates that group decision-making will consistently produce better decisions than individual decision-making. Business decisions, whether they be strategic or operational, are more complex than the decisions made in the hypothetical, and it is much more important that group-decision making be an ingrained part of the process of making decisions. The decision-making process should involve establishing adequate time for making the decision and a method of accumulating the appropriate information needed for an informed decision, but the most important element is that the decision involves a group of people knowledgeable about the issue and affected by the issue.