Focus on decision-making, not decisions

(Reading time: 1m, 46s)

In yesterday’s letter, I described how people within an organization can reach an impasse over design decisions, and I used improving a particular web page as an example: One person says the best way to improve the page would be to add more copy. Another person says no one will read it, so don’t bother. Without any framework to reference, people turn to the boss for an answer.

I should be clearer: The problem isn’t that the boss doesn’t know the answer.

The problem is that the boss shouldn’t know the best course of action because the decision, in and of itself, isn’t worth her time or attention.

It’s just one decision.

The decision itself usually doesn’t matter in the big picture.

But the cumulative effect of design (communication) decisions does matter — the decision-making process and model (or lack thereof) does matter. A single wave doesn’t matter, but the ocean’s movement will shape the entire landscape.

I thought about this off and on throughout the day yesterday. In the evening, I was reading When Coffee & Kale Compete by Alan Klement:

Favor progress over outcomes and goals. Customer goals and outcomes are only the results of an action. The ball went into the net; that is a goal. Did you win the game? Are you becoming better at making goals? No one knows.

Measure progress instead. Making a goal today isn’t as important as becoming better at making goals in the future.

Now, re-read that and swap “goal” for “decision”:

Measure progress instead. Making a decision today isn’t as important as becoming better at making decisions in the future.

I often write about how design research can be used to achieve better economic outcomes. Design research allows organizations to measure the economic impact of communications decisions, which then lets the organization stop guessing and start experimenting.

But, in focusing on outcomes and goals, we can become hyper-focused on individual actions — Were more or fewer tickets purchased this week?

And then you wind up forgetting the cultural benefits of design research — The fact that there are fewer and fewer moments when everyone turns to the boss, seeking an answer to a question the boss cannot and should not be able to answer.

What do you find more appealing — The economic gains that can come from design research or the cultural benefits like greater autonomy and more efficient decision-making? Let me know in a reply; I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle