Why building a tool to help group decisions ?

An account of the rationale behind S.elect

Human Intelligence Needed

AI is all the rage nowadays, yet creativity and specificity remain firmly the monopoly of the human mind, and these are the very qualities required to deal with crises and changes. Which are the staples of life.

Our ability to think out of the box, importing new solutions from life experience in seemingly unrelated fields, or even dreams and desires, can’t be matched by machines. That is, unless they are programmed to.

And since there is a first for everything, the unprecedented can happen. Analyzing it requires more than the capacity to crunch data, because then there is no data from which to learn.

Thus we strongly believe that we humans cannot avoid our responsibility to solve human problems. And historically we did that by working together.

Every Worker Needs A Tool

At the individual level, we are essentially empowered by our tools : shovel, hammer, weapon, pen, logic, etc. Beginning with the last century, we saw the rise of the processes that are collective tools. These processes  empowered organizations to scale beyond the imagination of the time.

Yet almost every organization process is geared toward execution, while decision is constrained to a handful of people – sometimes a single one. The exception to that was the quality process : by including operatives in the solving of production problems, it made quality levels soar.

For the strategic thinking, the last few decades have seen some collective procedures appear – brainstorming being the most well-known. However, these procedures aim at formalizing different possibilities, and once they are are laid out, it is up to the the leader to pick one.

In the end the decision is taken by one person, and this why AI is so alluring to many people : a personal decision tool should match the human intelligence. As to whether it is actually feasible or, if so, desirable, is out of the scope of this article. What is in the scope is the other option : how to make the decision collective.

Enterprise Culture Is The Battlefield

The main multiplier of human intelligence is the meeting of minds. We can achieve truly amazing things when we work together, and that is because our minds are different, each one being the source of a new perspective for all the others.

Of course, it also means that working together is hard, especially regarding decision-making.  Overall the Think Twice, Act Once strategy is cheaper and faster than the other way around, but easier said than done ! Almost everybody can recall countless hours spent in pointless meetings, hundreds of mails achieving nothing but to protect the sender from eventual blame, and son on.

The absurdity of some situations has sprung a whole cartoon industry with Dilbert as the main hero. Sadly, some of these cartoons are the reflection of real life. The absurd level was reached because for decades personal strategies and human behavior were seen as the source of organizational problems, and procedures proposed were all designed to control people more and more ; which in turn triggered more alternative personal strategies to circumvent the controls.

After trying more technology, such as knowledge-sharing platforms, the current consensus is that the work culture is what makes the difference. Agile methods change who can make a decision, and they made a difference. But that is merely returning the decision to the right person.

Proposing to actually share the decision that is habitually taken by the leader is highly disruptive for the work culture, by changing personal implication in the group.

The Way Forward

That said, our role is not to drive a culture change. We are merely there to provide a tool to make collective decisions easier, in the instances where the consensus is very important and the decision-making is paramount – such as executive committees.

S.elect focuses on three goals

  • ensure getting something decided ;
  • promote the participation of everyone ;
  • focus discussion on topics directly impacting the decision.

To achieve that, S.elect proposes a collective decision process in which the tool only role is to assess the level of consensus achieved so far, and to point to the discussions that may strengthen it further.

This is how we plan to bolster Human Intelligence by helping make group decisions.