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AREA Method: What President Trump & Tom Brady Have In Common

What do President Trump and New England Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady have in common? A knack for rapid decision making. That’s a risky proposition, given that decision making for complex issues deserves time and attention. But that’s also in part why Sunday’s Super Bowl was so exciting and why our President’s recent actions are so problematic.

During the Super Bowl we witnessed an unbelievable example of what can go right with quick decision making. There was quarterback Tom Brady, who is no stranger to the fourth quarter comeback –after all he steered the Patriots to victory that way against the Rams, Panthers, Eagles and Seahawks in previous Super Bowl victories—engineering perhaps the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history against the Atlanta Falcons. In a matter of seconds after the football was snapped he repeatedly identified opportunity, made decisions and executed them. And it worked. And it was a sight to behold.

The fact that the Patriot’s win was so improbable was a key component of why the game was so exciting. But rushing to judgment rarely works that way, and it rarely works perfectly because it heavily relies upon luck. We can’t count on perfection and shouldn’t count on luck when it comes to an uncertain and important future: ours.

When decision making is rapid-fire –and in today’s technology-paced world we are all under pressure to decide quickly– it too often results in poorly executed decisions such as some of President Donald Trump’s recent urgent decisions. In his few weeks at America’s helm he’s decided to bar certain refugees from entering the country for months and amp up detentions and deportations of unauthorized immigrants. He also blocked federal funding for global health organizations that provide or discuss abortion. And, he officially abandoned of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

While these are all high-stakes and controversial decisions, we, the public have no window into President Trump’s process. For Brady, we saw him looking around and taking in the field of play. But what does Donald Trump look to, or look for, or whom does he seek guidance and information from when making a complex decision?

All of the President’s decisions have great import not only on our country and its values, but also on many of our lives personally and professionally yet we don’t have a understanding of the President’s process-or if he has one. The newspapers report that many of his decisions have been made with little consultation from people with direct responsibility in the areas where they will have impact. For example, CNN reported that it wasn’t until the day the order was signed that career staff at Homeland Security were looped in the final details of President Trump’s immigration order. CNN wrote that “numerous officials told CNN the traditional inter-agency process had been side-stepped and the White House largely worked on the order in isolation.”

What factors influence President Trump’s decision-making? How does he prioritize them? When does he, or does he, second guess himself? Is he worried about his own mental mistakes, the cognitive biases that help us make small decisions easily but may impair our ability to pry open cognitive space to make complex decisions well?

Decision-making is the most visible example of the use of power and understanding someone’s process for decision-making can be an important way to build or destroy trust. The point of the AREA Method is to have a process that not only enables us to build trust in our own ability to make our decisions well, but it can also be repeated, followed and therefore can be verified by others if need be.

Importantly, AREA doesn’t just follow a logical progression, it also builds critical cognitive space into its step-by-step system; it has a series of strategic stops, pauses integrated into the decision making process where we reflect and consolidate our learning. The goal is to make thoughtful, successful decisions. That way we don’t have to depend on the improbability of ‘fourth-quarter Tom Brady’ and we can avoid Trump-ing a thoughtful decision.


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