The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus & Roman Tschäppeler
(Profile Books, £9.99, 2008)
(This is the fourth in a regular series reviewing books outside of the realm of education, and looking at the impact they could have in a learning environment.)
Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking
What a clever little concept that has probably made a fortune for the two writers. They have distilled a range of popular, pithy and scientific models to aid decisions. Cunningly designed as a notebook, it has the feel of something you might want to write elegantly in, or even scribble down notes.
It is hard to review this book individually, as there are such a range of strategies it is possible to examine, but as a collection it is actually very clever. A cursory glance will give you ideas for quick decisions, long strategic views, ways to look at implementing something from another perspective, and even ways of developing pros and cons. It is a little like an advice book, where you can dip into to get guidance, and is a brilliant springboard for kickstarting new thoughts on what could otherwise become quite a stale topic.
Schools being as they are, great ideas are regularly trapped under a myriad of blockades, worries and concerns, and it can sometimes feel like you are dragging an initiative behind you like a boulder, rather than bringing something useful and exciting to the table.
It is very easy for schools to develop a culture of decision-making which is hard to (in the best sense) ‘disrupt.’ Any new Head will dread the words ‘but we have always done it this way’, and while protocols help in ensuring nothing is missed, sometimes they can stifle momentum, enthusiasm and innovation. This book gives a range of ideas suited to all sorts of business models, but the mutinae of decisions that are made every day in schools across the country could well benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.
More importantly, some of these models could help to break the cycle of ‘choke’ which is all to regular an issue, where a decision has been delayed or ended in a stalemate, and is unable to progress. The enoromous danger here is bigger than the item in question – if no decision can be made regularly, how does that reflect the decision process as a whole?
The Management Angle
The central joy as an SMT is that you are charged with making the decisions no-one else wants to make. As Barak Obama said, ‘anything that ends up on my desk is a problem no-one under me can solve.’ We have all felt like that. A gut instinct can work incredibly well for much of the time, but does it give us enough of an evidence base to fight our corner?
I looked at this model in light of several key decisions that had to be made, and although at this point none of them changed my decisions, it really helped to clarify for me how I had innately come about my decision, and also, with more focus, the various implications my decision may have on others. While I wouldn’t advocate using new models all the time, it is useful to be familiar with strategies which are unusual for your normal mindset.
The Teacher Angle
Brainstorms are great for spilling out everything a pupil knows about a subject, but they tend to run into difficulty afterwards. How do you organise this information? How do you evaluate it? What gaps have you missed?
The opportunity to look at data a little differently can also produce more critical thinking within pupils, and certainly changes the emphasis from ‘how much do I know’ to ‘what can I do with what I know’, which in turn reflects a learning style from something fact-based to something skill-based. Many of these models would turn simple Q/A type activities on their heads in class, and can be used (as I have done) as a source of inspiration when you have a lesson objective, but find the method for achieving this to be awkward or ineffective. One strategy would be to examine a topic you have little enthusiasm for, and skim through the book. I would be surprised if you didn’t find something of use this way.
The Pupil Angle
Which child wouldn’t want to think better? In terms of personal growth, there is a genuine benefit and reward to teaching thinking skills to pupils, as they can then begin to apply them to a range of other problems. Informal studies have shown inside a classroom that while methods may lock into place, especially in Maths, it is when these methods needs to be transferred to a different, unfamiliar environment that cognitive ‘choke’ tends to occur. The key here would be to offer children tools to allow them to make transitions from method to practical use. Throwing pupils a range of different scenarios is quite different to equipping them with an effective transfer strategy.
“A person who wants to think outside the box is better off thinking inside a box.”
What is the biggest influence in how you make decisions? How much control do you have over this influence?