Decision-Making for the Fainthearted

When I sat down at the computer to begin work on this little session with you, I was torn in a number of directions. Should I write about something interpersonal, something technical, or something from my career in the fire service? I had trouble making...


When I sat down at the computer to begin work on this little session with you, I was torn in a number of directions. Should I write about something interpersonal, something technical, or something from my career in the fire service? I had trouble making the decision. My mind tossed and turned as I battled the demons of writer's doubt. Then it came to me in a flash! If I was having trouble making a decision, then maybe it was time to write about decision-making. 

However, since I wasn’t sure, I pondered for a while; then I rethought the concept. When it seemed right, I decided to start writing. Then I stopped for awhile. Hence my choice of the title for this visit with you. Actually my wife suggested that I am not the one to discuss the concept of decision-making. Jackie says this because it took me six tries before I decided to add onto our home back in the 1980’s when the twins came into our lives.  She laughs like crazy every time I share an email from one of you who actually has the audacity to suggest that I have common sense.
 
The decision tree for the house assessment went something like this. Move; don’t move. Add on; don’t add on. Don’t move; do add on. And so it went for a number of months, during which time, the twins continually grew bigger and bigger. To make a pathetically long story somewhat shorter, we stayed and we added on. Let me tell you that I was one mentally exhausted fire guy by the time that the process was completed. It was truly a learning experience.
 
Just when I started to get comfortable with my choice the town announced that they were considering the widening of the road where our house is located. The side line for the road project came ten feet into our home or just about dead center to the Lazy-Boy chair where I live, breath and think.   You can imagine how poor this made my decision look. Fortunately, they did not widen the road and I am writing to you from that very home today.
 
Now for the critical part of this article; How does one go about making decisions? 
 
To begin with, a decision is a conscious choice that is made in response to a given situation. In Management in the Fire Service, Carter and Rausch stress that, “...it is necessary to recognize that a decision is rarely a single act. Usually it is a process because making a single decision is not the important thing.” Rare is the time when a situation occurs in a vacuum.
 
It has been my experience that it is more important that one’s decision making skills manifest themselves in the construction of a series of successful decisions, where one small decision is linked to the next. These decisions chains can form the basis for success in any aspect of fire service operations.
 
These chains fall into one of three distinct groups:
 
·                     Problem-Solving Chains
·                     Opportunity-Exploiting Chains
·                     Project-Management Chains
 
In the case of the problem solving chain you are forced to face situations which are not what you expect. Carter and Rausch state that these, “... frequently emerge when a difference is observed between ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’. A problem exists and it must be addressed.” Quite simply, something is wrong, and a decision is needed to make it right.
 
The need for decisions under the opportunity-exploiting chain normally do not have the same level of urgency found with the Problem-Solving Chain. In this case the decision is driven by the “difference of ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’.” In just about every fire department, the potential exists for improvements. A good decision involves the maximization of benefit for the agency. In order to be effective, the decision must be based on a reflective review of the organization, as it actually exists. 
 
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