Advice & Analysis

How to seek advice and things to consider

Asking for advice

Decision makers are free to gather advice in whatever fashion they think is appropriate. Wherever possible, we recommend asking for advice as part of a conversation – whether it’s face to face (ideally) or Slack/phone, one-on-one or in carefully moderated small meetings. This is because we want people to have a meaningful two-way exchange, in order to increase:

  • Our sense of community and the richness of our peer relationships (the act of saying “I need you” is powerful)

  • The learning opportunity, especially for the decision maker (discussing the pros & cons of their decisions with other people)

For the same reasons we’ve touched on above, we recommend to not use electronic tools to receive the advice itself, whenever possible. Instead, tools should be used to moderate the process and to record the decision (for transparency and learning purposes).

People should use their best judgement in order to decide who is best to ask advice from. We recommend to never ask everyone in the office for their advice, even if the decision is wide-ranging enough to warrant it. This is true even if the decision does affect everyone.

Why? Because we want the decision maker to feel accountable for their decision, as well as avoiding the trap of falling into consensus-driven decision making.

Instead, we recommend asking a representative sample of people in different roles (both consultants and business operations), with different levels of experience and tenure (both old hands and new). We also recommend recording who is asked, so we don’t end up asking the same people over and over again.

Managing Scarce Resources

Resources have to be used wisely, and the decision to proceed needs to carefully take this into account.

Practical advice, borne from experience

  1. Get feedback on your AP doc before publishing it on Slack. A recommended approach is to only publish it once you’ve received feedback from those you’ve asked for advice, so you’re reasonably confident with your potential decision (if you opt to use a dedicated slack channel to gather feedback, please use the prefix ap-*, as per our Slack naming guidelines).

  2. Timebox how long you’ll receive/process unsolicited feedback for. After you publish your AP on Slack, give yourself one week (for example) to receive feedback from people you might not have considered to ask. How you process people’s feedback is entirely up to you though, because you’re the decision maker. You’re also accountable for the decision, so take due care and consideration in handling all feedback.

  3. Make really fast decisions (in less than an hour) by using the AP template as a checklist for actions you need to take, then write it up and publish it afterwards. We don’t want bureaucracy at EE, but we also want to avoid people shooting from the hip. We expect people to carefully consider the consequences of their decisions. The Advice Process does not add effort; it provides some of the necessary checks and balances that replace top-down decision making and potential micro-management.

Hints & Tips

What are some of the patterns for making good decisions?

Making good decisions is like playing poker

Poker is a game of incomplete information. It is a game of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty over time. Valuable information remains hidden, and there is an element of luck in any outcome. You can make the best possible decision at every point and still lose the hand, because you don’t know what new cards will be dealt and revealed. Once the game is finished and you try to learn from the results, separating the quality of your decisions from the influence of luck is difficult.

Paraphrased from Duke, Annie. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts (pp. 30-31). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Advice from a group: making it better than the sum of its individuals

The advice from a group can be better than the sum of its individuals, but only if you seek advice from the right team.

We can improve the quality of decisions by promoting exploratory thought. So don’t just select people who are going to agree with you!

Complex and open-minded thought is most likely to be activated when decision makers learn prior to forming any opinions that they will be accountable to an audience (a) whose views are unknown, (b) who is interested in accuracy, (c) who is reasonably well-informed, and (d) who has a legitimate reason for inquiring into the reasons behind participants’ judgments / choices.

Lerner and Tetlock 2002

Introduce diversity to challenge bias thinking. As Jonathan Haidt points out in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion:

If you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth.

Combine these two ideas and you get a blueprint for the type of people in a group you should seek advice from.

  1. A focus on accuracy (over confirmation bias), which includes rewarding truth-seeking, objectivity, and open-mindedness within the group;

  2. Accountability, for which members have advance notice; and

  3. Openness to a diversity of ideas.

An agreement along these lines creates a common bond and shared fate among members, allowing the group to produce sound reasoning.