Learning and good judgment: is there a relationship? You bet there is.

Learning and good judgment: is there a relationship? You bet there is. When you learn, you gain knowledge that you have the opportunity to use in making good and bad judgments. Let’s break down knowledge into four areas to better explain how your knowledge can help you make even better decisions and judgments.

There are four areas of knowledge gained through learning that are critical to making good versus bad decisions: self-knowledge, social-network knowledge, organizational knowledge and stakeholder knowledge.

Self-knowledge has to do with self-awareness, learning about your own biases, your own leanings, ambitions, limitations and strengths. And, you don’t just get that through psychoanalysis. You must get it through various sources and direct reports.

One example Warren Bennis cites in his recent book judgment is George W. Bush after he returned from his first trip to the Middle East before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Bush met with Brit Hume on Fox News, who said he was surprised that the president seemed taken aback by the amount of Arab hostility to the U.S. “Where do you get your news from?” Hume asked the president. And Bush responded, “Well, I get my information from objective sources.” Hume asked, who are they? Bush, with a straight face and without a trace of irony, said “from my direct reports.” Compare that to the way other national leaders or CEOs get their information. Think of President Franklin Roosevelt: He drove his direct staff nuts because of the information he was getting from all sorts of back-corridor sources, even from talks with [CIA precursor] Office of Strategic Services people.

Second is social-network knowledge, the ability to recognize and assess the information that flows all around; in other words, keeping your ears to the ground. Why did [former New York Times executive editor] Hal Raines have to read a New Yorker piece by Ken Auletta, just before he was ousted, that showed everybody all his weak spots? And yet he seemed to be totally blind. How is it that Larry Summers, who was ousted as president from Harvard, who’s smart as they come, was so tone-deaf and didn’t listen? Social-network knowledge and self-knowledge are highly correlated, because who can know everything that’s going on?

The third kind is knowledge of the organization itself. In a memo, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz said, in effect, “we have grown to 13,000 stores but have lost our soul.” Where did he get this knowledge—with these 13,000 stores in the damnedest places—on what’s going on in the organization? Howard Schultz should be proud of the way he has a feeling for what he thinks is going on. But he’s also, in effect, scolding his direct reports for not keeping better tabs on what’s happening in the company.

The fourth kind of knowledge is stakeholder knowledge, or understanding who the involved parties are and what they care about, are concerned about. Let’s apply the basics of selling here. How many times have you seen a sales person or new company owner speaking platitudes on how great they are or the features and benefits of their products or company, but never seeking what the needs and pains are of their prospect? Know your audience…know all of your audiences.

Adapted from CIO Insight and Warren Bennis.

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Sandra Schwan

Sandra Schwan

Managing Partner at Evolving Strategies LLC
Sandra is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies LLC, a consulting firm helping companies and people learn, adapt and perform. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Adult Learning and Strategic Organizational Change from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. Previous employers include the Corporate Executive Board, Lante Corporation, Kensington International, and Accenture where Sandra was awarded mentor of the year.

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