Today’s Decision Making Climate 

 We live in a postmodern world where everything                                                                            is possible and nothing is certain. Vaclav Havel.

 One definition of climate is: the prevailing condition or set of attitudes in human affairs.This blog is about the prevailing conditions and attitudes in decision making today. I have studied decision making for many years, and I believe it is hard to imagine a more          difficult climate for a personal, political, social, business, or organizational decision.

I believe today’s difficult climate for deciding will continue in the future and probably increase in difficulty. Today’s decision making climate is complex because we now know that everything is interconnected to everything else in an unbroken wholeness. This is what makes the decision climate complex. We don’t see the wholeness; we can’t know the wholeness. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe, JohnMuir. We only see what we pick out. Our view of reality is restricted. We are “visually impaired” observers. This impaired vision is the result of interconnectedness.

Systems science taught us that the whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts. Andthat each part IS the whole. How do we understand that? Finally we learn: Reality may not be structured in any way the human mind can objectively discern, Quantum Physics. Today’s complexity apparently is too connected for the subjective human mind to understand. The problem of dealing with this problem may be the way we see the problem.

Maybe we should see the connectedness of complexity as a mystery. Life is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived. Thomas Merton. We could use the metaphor, “Life is a mystery” as an illumination method to help overcome the problem of not knowing inter- connectedness. Mystery is defined as “something not fully understood.” To accept something not fully understood does not mean to stop trying to understand, but stop pretending we do.

This would help us approach the difficult decision making climate differently. To see life as a mystery is to have an investigating mind; the eye of a good detective sees with an open, searching, seeking mind, with the ability to observe a “climate” without prejudgment, bias, or certitude. It allows the mind to be creative. This metaphoric thinking tells us two things.

  • We don’t and can’t know everything.
  • We have to make life decisions not knowing everything.

If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention. Tom Peters





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  1. Jim Bright says:

    Thanks for this, HB, this is in part what inspired our Chaos Theory of Careers (e.g. Pryor & Bright 2003, 2011) where we cite your Positive Uncertainty work. Re the quote “life is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be explored” – I have heard Dave Snowden of Cynefin use this quote in talks. I have been unable to find the Thomas Merton quote – do you have a source, as I like to reference properly whenever possible. Cheers Jim Bright

    • hbgelatt says:

      JIM: Thanks for the response. I have the Thomas Merton quote on a small “poster” on display in my office. The quote is: “Life is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived.” However, I can’t find it on goggle. It is a mystery to me.

      Regards H B

      • Jim bright says:

        Thanks for the response.. the only googled ref I could find is a quote from Merton denying it is a mystery! From
        Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.
        Attributed to Merton in a number of sources, the earliest located being Studia mystica, Volumes 5-6 (1982), p. 76. This does not attribute a direct quote to Merton, but says “To use another of Merton’s favorite distinctions, for Furlong Merton’s life is seen principally as a problem to be solved, which it was, in the final analysis, successfully, rather than a mystery to be lived”. The next-earliest source located is the 1998 book The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding the Dragon by Mark Bryan and Julia Cameron, which attributes the exact quote to Merton on p. 152. In reality this seems to be a slightly altered version of the quote “The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved; it is a reality to be experienced” which appeared in the 1928 book The Conquest of Illusion by Jacobus Johannes Leeuw, p. 9.

  2. hbgelatt says:

    Thanks Jim. That makes me feel a lot better.

    H B

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