Joe: I'm excited to welcome our guest today, Lee Failing. Lee is an Engineer and Partner at Compass Resource Management, where she practices as a decision analyst, facilitator, and advisor on complex social and environmental choices. She's also the co-author of Structured Decision-Making: A Practical Guide to Environmental Management Choices and The Decision Playbook: Making Thoughtful Choices in a Complex World.
More recently, Lee has been working with teachers to bring decision skills to the classroom. I was fortunate enough to meet Lee a couple of times, about two years ago, as we were talking about how best to support teachers up in Vancouver who were trying to bring decision skills into the classroom. So when we thought about putting together a podcast about Decision Education, it seemed pretty obvious that Lee would be one of our first and most exciting guests.
I'm thrilled that she's here today. Lee, could you just tell us a little about what you do and your path to getting here?
Lee: Sure, absolutely. Thanks, Joe. Thanks for having me on the podcast. I'm really excited to be here. As you said, I'm a decision analyst and a facilitator. And if that sounds like a mouthful, what it really means is that I help people make hard choices together.
Mostly choices about the environment and natural resources and how we might live more sustainably together. I run a small consulting company in Vancouver, Canada, as you mentioned, and that has as its mission to raise the bar for the quality of decision-making in civil society. So I divide my time between research and writing, training people in decision-making skills, and consulting.
As a consultant, I'm typically hired by some government agency who finds itself in the middle of a conflict or controversy over how we manage land or water or some other public good, and our job is to help make sure people have what they need to come together to make informed choices and deliberate effectively together.
Joe: Thanks Lee. My recollection is that your interest in decision-making actually started with a project, helping people talk about resource management. Is that right?
Lee: Oh, yeah. I'm guessing you want me to talk about Lesotho. I didn't start my career as a decision analyst, I started as an engineer, which you mentioned and I still think of myself as a recovering engineer.
But I had my sight pretty firmly on science and technology as being the solution to all the environmental and social challenges that we see. And it didn't take me too long, working as a conventional engineer to get a little disillusioned. I won't go into that story. I don't have time for that.
But the point is I had the opportunity to shift gears and I worked as a village water supply engineer for an international NGO. I spent a couple of years in Haiti and another couple of years in Lesotho, too in Southern Africa working to bring drinking water to remote villages. So to your point, on one of my first days on the job in Lesotho, I attended a community meeting, what's called a pitso in Lesotho. It was outdoors in the village square. And everyone in the village turned out to make decisions about the water system we were building, where the pipes would go and the tanks, and most importantly, where the tap stands would go, where people would collect their water and how they would organize themselves, how they would manage and pay for maintenance of the system, all of these things.
I didn't understand much of what was being said in the meeting, but it wasn't hard to see that it was a pretty hot topic. Voices were loud and a little angry and it wasn't obvious it was going that well until at one point an older woman stood and spoke quite softly and briefly, and the tone changed completely after that.
And a few more people rose and there were a number of much more civil exchanges. And the meeting eventually broke up with smiles all around. And I asked my colleague what the older woman had said. He said [that] she said, we're losing our way here. And she reminded us of what the pitso was for, which is: it's for listening, not just talking and it's for deciding, how do we want to live together?
And Joe, I have to say those words have really stayed with me through the years. I did eventually come back to Canada and go to grad school. And through all my experiences, I've reached the conclusion that the pathway to this more just and sustainable future we're searching for is a lot less through science and technology and a lot more through our ability to make wise collective decisions.
So yeah, I started a tiny company with a big mission to raise the bar for the quality of decisions in civil society. And I surrounded myself with people that share that passion.
Joe: I appreciate you telling that story. I have heard it before. I absolutely love it. But you also told it this summer to a number of Decision Education Fellows, teachers that were trying to develop lessons around some of these concepts.
But the thing that struck me about it when you first shared it with me was your insight around the importance of productive collaboration and group decision-making. So much of the work that I had looked at up until that point as an advisor for our organization was around improving individual decision skills.
I just thought that that was a fascinating insight. Then you transformed it into a company and a mission for how you go about your work. So one, thanks for sharing the story. And two, thanks for that insight. Because it definitely changed the way I thought about what we were trying to accomplish and also what places we might be able to engage in the education system to make the experience more engaging for the learners. So I'm wondering once you formed that company and had that mindset about what you were trying to do, [were there] any memorable projects that came up where you began to learn the lessons of what you were going to focus on with the business?
Lee: Yeah, I guess maybe I'll start by just talking more generally about what kinds of decisions we typically work on. Some of them are more memorable than others. They're all basically public or societal decisions. We're usually hired, as I said, by some government agency, that's at the center of a big controversy and we're asked to help people find a way forward.
And so this could be anything. I mean, recent ones are working with the city of Vancouver and it could be any coastal city, thinking about how you respond to rising sea levels. Vancouver's not falling into the sea anytime soon, but I mean, over the coming decades, like many other coastal cities, there’s huge decisions to be made about how we protect the city.
Are they big walls? And what would that do to our lifestyle? Which parts of the city do we protect and which do we abandon? How do we look after vulnerable people in the city? I mean, these are really big questions. So we make lots of decisions like that and sort of how cities face big challenges.
We do loads of work with water management. Large rivers are so essential for many species and ecological services, but we also use water for power agriculture, and industrial activities. So just think of all the big rivers, the Missouri, the Platte, the San Joaquin, here in Canada, the Mackenzie.
What’s the best way to share water across all these different human uses and ecological needs? We have such powerful emotions around water. Water is life. How do we bring diverse people together to work on these problems? And I guess a lot of the practice that we have as a company came from maybe 15 or 20 years ago in British Columbia (BC), the government decided to review how they manage water at 23 different hydroelectric facilities in the province.
They decided to focus it around a good decision-making process. That was a time when it wasn't that common to use decision science in a multi-stakeholder kind of situation like with actual real people. There were 23 to do in the province in five years, and it was a bit of a playground of just figuring out how do we take these methods that have been developed by people way smarter than me about how to make good decisions, [and] transform those into ways to help people have better conversations together so they can actually agree and work through conflict.
Joe: Just to be concrete about some of it. Who's sitting around the table or in this room? Who are the stakeholders? How did they get there? How are they being identified? For the audience in the United States, this would often be the Environmental Protection Agency that might reach out to an organization like yours or a state government that might do so. Who is reaching out to you and then how's [do they decide] who gets to have a voice?
Lee: Yeah. It's exactly like that in Canada too. So it's some government agency, our equivalent of the EPA or others in the U.S. or the Bureau of Reclamation, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has engaged with us on the Missouri.
So some government agency that finds itself in the midst of a conflict and they need that impartial honest broker to help bring people together to make informed choices about the situation at hand. And so the people around the table typically might be the people most affected.
And it ranges from everything from senior industry leaders, world-class scientists and academics, indigenous community members, people who've spent their lives living on the land. Their knowledge of the system is from lived experience and it's not from books. And there's a whole wide diversity of technical literacy and even basic literacy.
And so we have to deal with sometimes pretty complex scientific and technical analysis and we have to make that understandable to people with very diverse backgrounds. And I guess this is one of the biggest lessons that I've learned over time. I really have come to have faith in the ability of everyday people to tackle really complex issues, make sense of it in quite a sophisticated way, and develop recommendations that are sound that governments can follow. So that's been a huge learning for me over my time, working in these kinds of decisions is just the ability of and the importance of engaging everyday people in these decisions. Decision-making and governing, this isn't for the elite, it's for all of us.
Joe: So I would think that most listeners would not have an impression or have an impression that kind of meeting was likely to be fractious and have a lot of yelling going on. And I'm wondering, is that because we're oversampling the bad and negative cases that show up in the news and so we think that's more representative of what generally happens?
Or are you facilitating some kind of process or set of norms? That makes it different and that has it where you can have hope and confidence that what's going to result is going to be a productive conversation and truth discovery process.
Lee: Yeah, I think you're exactly right, Joe. What goes on in our meeting rooms is not the same as what's going on in the public square. I mean [in] the public square right now, we see deep polarization. There's too much information. There's misinformation. Nobody knows what to believe or even how to form a credible belief. And there's this erosion of any kind of respectful dialogue and a huge oversimplification of what the issues are. What we're doing in the processes that we have is that we're really trying to marry that common sense wisdom about how to make decisions like we saw in the pitso of Lesotho and many other indigenous and other cultures around the world. There's this common sense way of making decisions and having conversations. We're trying to marry that with some of what's been learned in the decision sciences about what constitutes a good and a defensible decision.
We're trying to bring that into the meeting rooms where we haven't. Basically what we're introducing people to is a decision making process. So what that means is that, first of all, there's a bit of a roadmap. People understand where we're going. There's an arc to the conversations that we're going to have.
People sort of agree to the rules of the game and say, okay, this is the path we're going down together. And then we start by getting people to talk about their values, really giving them a safe space to talk about their values before they anchor on solutions and start gaming and positioning to win.
We kind of create this safe space to learn about each other's values. And we encourage people to ask questions about values. Why is that important to you? What do you mean by that? Can you say more about that? It's important that it's a safe space, because it's impossible for people to be curious and open if they feel stressed or threatened. So that's kind of our starting point. And if you think about what's it like in that public square, it's not at all like that. People are afraid to talk about their values. I think, in the public square, either they are so emotionally attached to them that those conversations turn into just shouting matches or we're so politically correct about them that we don't ask questions. We don't probe. We don't really try to understand. We just don't want to make any waves. And so our public conversations either become shouting matches or they become these sort of sterile exchanges where nothing is really learned. And so that's something that we just really focus on with groups as a starting point. Let's just talk about what we care about.
Joe: So in that room, let's just assume it's a river that we're talking about and it's something to do with hydroelectric power. What's the kind of question that someone from the indigenous community might ask with regard to values of that executive from the power company?
Lee: Well, I can tell you a story and just that kind of context. And it comes from a time when I was working on one of the rivers in the interior of British Columbia here. And that is a river that has been damned and quite devastated over time by the dam and the changes to the water there.
And so we're working with the electric utility and the government and the indigenous community that lived there. And we asked them, well, what is it that matters to you about this river? What are your values? Are the objectives? What should we be thinking about as we think of ways to manage this river together?
And of course the people were saying, well, we've got to have a reliable source of energy, you know, so we can't lose that. And we want to protect the Chinook salmon and we want to protect the species using the habitat along the edges of the river. And the indigenous group said, well, we think it's important to protect the voice of the river.
And you know, if that was said in a different context, that people might've rolled their eyes or thought, how on earth are we going to deal with that? But in our group where we said, no, we're going to take time to learn about this and we're going to ask questions. So people asked, why is that important?
And, and what do, what do you mean by that? What is the voice of the river? And it was a fascinating conversation. And, you know, it turned out that even the first nations folks who were there, I said, well, we think the voice of the river is this, but everyone in our community actually talks about it differently.
So they actually had to go back to their elders and other community members and say, well, what do we mean about the voice of the river and what exactly are the attributes of that? And they dug into it and did some learning and they brought that back to the group and then everyone went, “oh, okay.” So it means things like the pattern of the pools and the ripples in the river, which has its own analogy and science, of course it's well, in terms of the health of the river, but also things like, how do we interact with the water?
Can we wade in it? Like when we're fishing, we want to be actually able to stand in the river, not just cast from the side. So there were a bunch of things that were embedded in this broad concept of the voice of the river. And they were able to describe them and articulate them to others around the table in a way that everyone, whether they shared that value or not, was able to say, okay, that's important to you.
Let's find solutions that help to preserve that value. And that's the essence of what we're doing with these groups is we're really encouraging a rich and deep conversation about what it is that we care about and then working together to co-create solutions of what are all the ways we could look after all these values and the whole process revolves around learning together.
Joe: So can I ask a question about that? So for the purpose of the process being successful, is it important that the people are feeling heard or is it actually also important that the other party understands what they mean and what their value or goals are? Where's the weighting there? And if it's the latter, which I suspect it might be, how do you go about as a facilitator assessing that [that] has been achieved?
Lee: Yeah, it's absolutely about understanding. Hearing is a first step toward understanding, but it's not the same thing. And so really the point is what kind of conversation are we having? We're really looking for a truly deliberative environment where there's an exchange. And so people have different views and they're free to share those to say, well, I disagree with that and here are my reasons. And then for the other folks to say, well, I don't understand that and here are my reasons. You have to create that kind of conversation where there's actually not even just understanding going on, but learning like really opening your mind to realize, well, there's, there's actually other ways to view this. It's about listening. It's about learning and understanding so that you can work together on solutions.
Joe: I've heard you mentioned that among the challenges to the process or things like, the multiple and competing values, which you've just described, or the challenge around, you know, the baggage people bring or the energy they might bring to wanting to win or to have their point of view be accepted as the point of view. You also have mentioned that looking into the future, when you have these challenges around incomplete information. Can you talk more about that? What, what do you mean by that challenge and how do you address it?
Lee: Yeah, for sure. So, to make a decision, you need two things. The first is you need to know what you want. And that's what we've just been talking about is: what are our values, what are we trying to achieve or avoid, and how do we balance all those things. But in addition to knowing what you want, decision-making requires that you know how to get it.
So you have to look into the future and predict the consequences of the alternative courses of action that you could take. The thing is we don't have all the facts. We're looking into the future and saying, what will happen to the things I care about if I take this action or alternatively, if I take that action? But we don't have all the facts or the information that we have is disputed. Different people believe different things.
And it's hard to know what's true, especially with the amount of misinformation on the internet today. It's hard to know what to believe. But people come into these processes with a particular lens that they've had on the problem at hand. And so they have an opinion and they come in with really sort of firm beliefs about what the best course of action is. That's the most common situation. People are drawn to the table because they know the solution and they want to argue for it. And so what we end up doing in the process is sort of rolling that back a little bit and starting by making sure we understand everybody's values and then really exploring the different options.
And as I said, because these are public decisions and they tend to be quite complex, there's quite a process of building an information base that everyone has confidence in and shares. So it's not about, I bring my experts to the table and they try to convince you and you bring your experts to the table and they try to convince me. That that never works. It's been said many times. Facts don't change minds because there's so many different ways to interpret them. But what we really focus on is: how can we learn together? How can we build the best possible understanding of the situation together? And so the people around the table will agree on a set of experts that they'll consult and bring to the table, a set of studies that are relevant to consider.
They go through those together and they learn together about it and they build a shared understanding. And that's just very different from what you would see in a public debate where the experts are yelling at each other or citing different studies and that sort of thing. So it's about building common understanding.
Joe: It seems like there's got to be a step that's about buy-in that's different than what we're seeing in the public discourse right now. This idea [that] we're going to buy into a process of common learning that we're not assuming we already know and we're not gonna fall to motivated reasoning. How do you think or what do you think's going on that's getting your company to be able to get people to buy into that idea?
Lee: I think it's because they need to, because these problems are close to home for them, and they're not sitting on the sidelines, pitching their voices out into the arena.
They know that they need a solution to improve the quality of their life. They have some skin in the game and they need a solution. I'm not sure yet how we parallel that in the just general public discourse, but that is one key difference in that in the general public discourse, you can just throw your ideas out there and turn on a walk away.
And it's a little bit toxic and not very productive. In our processes, people have come together because there's something they know they have to work together on and that makes all the difference. We're in the solutions game. We're playing in the solutions box and people know that they need to come up with something. They might not choose the same solution for the same reasons, but generally people are motivated to come up with a solution.
Joe: Are there any things that people might walk into this situation with that would make the facilitation easier? If you said, what would really help is if everybody already knew or already agreed to X with regard to this kind of process or this kind of decision-making.
Lee: Well, you're hitting on exactly the reasons why we're just so excited to be involved in this collaboration with the teachers out of the Delta School District. We realized in the processes that we run, people come in the door and they know nothing about decision-making. And yet somehow over the course of six, eight, or ten meetings, we can introduce them to the idea of decision-making.
We can ask them to follow this process. We can give them some skills and some vocabulary and some questions to use. Somehow it changes the nature and the tenor of their conversations and helps them work together better. And so the idea was, what if kids left school with decision skills and they had the skills to make up their own minds on these complex issues and they had a vocabulary to talk about values and hard value-based choices with people that they disagree with. That I guess is one way that I think maybe we could take a start at sort of changing the nature and the tenor of that general public discourse out there. If kids kind of left school with some of those skills and the idea that we should be having conversations with people we don't agree with. We could come up with some really creative solutions that way.
Joe: So, I'm glad you brought that up. The Delta School District up in Vancouver, because that's actually, as I mentioned at the beginning, how we met. It was a surprise to me when we were first looking around scanning outside of Philadelphia and thinking about a national effort around Decision Education, we were looking for individuals and organizations that might be doing anything with regard to this. Compass, your organization was really the first for-profit organization that we found that was working with a school district. Could you just talk about that project and how it came about?
Lee: Yeah, absolutely. It's a super exciting project. It initiated with a colleague of mine who I need to give a big nod to, Robin Gregory, who has been working in the decision science field for many years. And this whole initiative came about as a chance meeting between him and Brooke Moore from Delta Schools. Brooke has the absolutely delightful job title of Principal of Inquiry and Innovation. They met and started realizing they had this shared interest in decision-making. Brooke was astonished to learn that there was a field called decision science and that you could actually teach people how to make decisions.
And what's going on right now in British Columbia here is that there was a fairly recent change to the school curriculum that leaves a lot more open space for teaching things like critical thinking skills, self knowledge, and knowledge about values and ethical judgments, but doesn't give any real methods.
Brooke very quickly saw that decision-making is a thing that integrates all of these other bigger picture skills that we're supposed to be bringing into the curriculum. Brooke, Robin, myself, and my colleague Graham Long from Compass all got together and started envisioning a guide book that would kind of translate some of the geeky decision science stuff into plain language that could be brought into the classroom.
That was the origin of The Decision Playbook. It's so exciting to see what teachers are doing with it. I have to say I was a bit skeptical in a sense, I thought, this stuff's quite complicated. Can we really bring it into the classroom? The teachers are amazing.
They've just taken different aspects of it and turned it into games and exercises and really having their kids use it [with] all the little classroom decisions, like how do we organize our desks? What should our seating arrangement be? They're walking through a deliberative decision making process to do those kinds of things. It's really exciting.
Joe: What are some of the steps that they're taking in those processes that they wouldn't have otherwise been taking without the involvement of Robin, Brooke, you, and Graham?
Lee: Do you mean the teachers?
Joe: The teachers and the students. I could imagine someone listening to this and saying, ok, sure. They get the kids to talk about how to arrange the desks. What's different if they have learned some of what you have translated or brought to the school system?
Lee: Right. Well, we outlined in the playbook six decision moves, which are effectively the steps of a good decision making process.
They're the simple things we've already talked about: frame the decision. Take the problem and turn it into a choice you can make. Then define all your values. Talk about them, make sure you understand them. Generate options. Think through the consequences of those options. Make a table, put stars and happy faces about how well the options score against the different objectives.
Then talk about tradeoffs. Talk about which options you prefer and why with each other. These steps are really basic. With each step we have what we call go-to questions. The kids are encouraged to ask things like, why is that important? Or what do you mean by that? Really simple things to just bring into your language.
And the teachers then kind of use that. They get some posters so the kids can learn it a little bit, but then they use it. So things like choosing, how should we set up our seats in the classroom? What matters? What do we think our objectives are here? Well, we want to learn, but we also want to socialize. We want to be able to make sure everybody can see the board. They come up with their things and then they identify different options. A simple example, but they had some fantastic conversations where kids actually really engage with each other about someone that they disagree with and they probe and well, why don't you like that seating arrangement?
Well, how could we adjust it to meet your needs? That's a simple example. Another classic Canadiana one that I'll share is that sometime ago we had a very famous Coach's Corner on Hockey Night in Canada who lost his job because he made some very controversial and disrespectful comments about immigrants. Of course, you're not Canadian. I don't know how important hockey is in the U.S. or how well-known Don Cherry is.
Joe: I understand it’s very important.
Lee: This is really big stuff here. So families are having this debate around their dinner tables. How could this happen? How could we have fired Don Cherry?
And this came into the classroom and the teacher said, let's walk through our decision framework and think about this. What do you think are all the values that were affected here? And then the kids came up with great things about, you know, respect for immigrants, setting an example, and fairness to Don Cherry.
And then they looked at the options. Should he lose his job or not? And then they started talking about, well, maybe there would have been other ways to turn this into an opportunity to communicate, share, and be more inclusive of the immigrant community. So it was a very rich discussion about a serious contemporary issue in Canada at the time.
Joe: You mentioned generating options and considering consequences as distinct. I was wondering if you could say more about what's what's going on there. What's [the] difference [between] consider consequences [and] generating options?
Lee: That's a good question. Well, when we generate options, we have a notion in our mind about why that would be a good thing to do. It's probably based on all kinds of pre-existing biases or beliefs that we have. When we evaluate consequences or estimate consequences, that's when we kind of put on our skeptical hat, we invoke our deliberate logic and reasoning kind of hat and say, well, what actually is the evidence that this would be a good option?
I have the notion that it's a good option, but what's the evidence out there. And so this is a point where he really moved from the kids, just expressing their opinion about what's good, like “I think this is the best option” to actually challenge them to say, “what's the evidence that that's a good thing to do?”
Depending on what grade you're in, this could result in an assignment to the kids to go out and do some research. And then they would bring their research back and some of it might be conflicting cause they would have gone to different sources. And so there can be then a conversation about: which of these sources is reliable?
I think that's really important learning as well. And I think that's a lot of what goes kind of wrong in our public debates is that we, we latch onto a solution. We're sure it's right. But we were seeing the world through a relatively small lens. And so by doing that distinction in the decision process, we really have a deliberate point where we go, “Now let's just go check. What is the evidence for this?”
Joe: Well, the other one there that you mentioned were tradeoffs that they should consider them. And it sounds like, again, that that's something different than the other steps or other moves you're taking. So how, how are you having those conversations? What do you mean by that?
Lee: Estimating consequences is about gathering information. We identify the things we care about our values or objectives. We identify some options. Then we look for the best or the most reliable information we can get about what will happen or is likely to happen to the things we care about under each option.
We try to be as objective or impartial as we can be about this. We want to accurately describe the likely consequences without bias or wishful thinking. When we make tradeoffs, we're not trying to be impartial. We look at the consequences that we've estimated, we weigh the pros and cons of each option, and we make a value-based judgment about which option on balance we prefer and different people will look at the same information and make different choices about what's best.
So, for example, if you and I are buying a car and one car costs $5,000 more than another, but it's way more comfortable. You might choose to spend the money and enjoy the comfort and I might not, and that's okay. Reasonable people can disagree because they have different values. The question is interesting though, because in practice, people often mush these two steps together.
What happens then is that they're often conflating their value judgments about which option they prefer with their fact-based or evidence-based judgment about what's likely to happen. That's problematic in the first place because people may be making choices based on poor or inaccurate assumptions, rather than reliable information.
But also you can end up in a situation where if people are disagreeing about what's the best thing to do, it can be quite hard to diagnose whether they're disagreeing about the facts of the matter or if they disagree because they're making different value judgements about what outcomes are more important.
So taking the time to separate these two tasks is actually quite important. At the end of the day, making tradeoffs is hard. We're having to weigh and balance things that we care deeply about and yet there are qualitatively different things. You know, how much money am I willing to spend on comfort, in the case of the car, or how much impact on an ecosystem am I willing to live with for the benefit of community jobs.
These are hard things to think about and compare, but ultimately it's really the ability to think and talk about tradeoffs that's at the heart of good decision-making.
Joe: I'm wondering about in your own life, so not at work and not with the schools, are there decisions you've made that now based on what you know about decision-making you would make differently?
Lee: That's an interesting question. I don't spend a lot of time in the regret box. I guess looking back I've often wondered what on earth made me choose engineering for my first career path? I was good at it, but my passions were probably elsewhere. But yeah, the interesting thing is I don't think that even if 18 year-old me had better decision skills, I'm not sure I would've had the self knowledge or the knowledge of the world to make a different decision.
That actually leads me to maybe another point that's worth making it. You learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, paying attention to the outcomes, and making more decisions with what you learn. I'm kind of with Aristotle here and he talked about deliberation as practical wisdom. You know, you can't become a good citizen except by engaging in civil society.
One of the things I worry about a little bit when we teach decision skills to kids is that they'll become afraid to make a wrong decision. Like, “Oh, I didn't do that right. I'm gonna make the wrong decision.” We really need to guard against that. Few decisions that are irreversible.
We have the opportunity many times in our lives to course correct. So we want to really focus on empowering kids and giving them agency to live their lives the way they want to and the courage and the confidence that should they take some wrong turns, they will course correct.
Joe: I absolutely agree. I think that, to your point about agency, part of why this is so important to start early is to make sure that we are encouraging and nurturing the kind of agency that says I'm going to make decisions so that I can discover some of my values. I need to actually start probing the world and trying some things to figure out, what do I care about? What do I want? Who do I want to be? What's the story that I'm telling myself about who I'm becoming?
Lee: I think that's it. I think that's exactly right. I am a big fan of aspiration with respect to values. I think I did that as a young person as well. I had a notion that I valued wild places and the environment, but it wasn't something I grew up with, but I had a notion about it and I built that and became part of my life by trying it on, going out and finding those wild spaces, even though they weren't in my childhood. I think that's exactly right. I think this is a really important point for decision making is that our values are not fixed. People tend to think that they are. That they're just this fixed immutable part of who they are.
But we learn even about values about the things that matter to us. They grow and evolve over time, over our lifetimes, for sure. But even in the course of these decision processes that I go through with people, I see their values evolve and change and certainly that their preferences for different outcomes change over time.
I think that's a really important thing to keep in mind and our beliefs as well. Like again, I hear people say sometimes, “Oh, we are what we believe.” And I think that's not quite rightly put. I think that far more important is how we come to a belief and we have to give ourselves space to change our minds and change our beliefs.
Joe: You're drawing me back to thinking of where we started with the river. That it's always changing. It's always moving and that's us. Well, this has been an absolute treat for me anyway, and I hope and I suspect for our audience. What's one big takeaway you'd love for our audience to have regarding their own decision-making?
Lee: I really like to think of decision-making as a process of inquiry. Sometimes people tend to think that, you know, you make decisions when you have kind of a stroke of insight and you know, the right answer just appears to you and you're waiting for that. But I don't think that's what decision making is.
I think decision-making is a process of exploring things together, of really digging into your, digging into your values and reflecting on them, being in the habit of reflecting on your values between moments of choice, and then really opening your mind to all the different possibilities that could be there, the opportunities that there are in making a decision. So it's a process of inquiry and learning.
Joe: Perfect. Lee, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. I really appreciate it. I know that our listeners will.
Lee: Thanks very much for having me. It's been a pleasure to be here today, Joe.
Published January 27, 2021