Sleeping on Decisions

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A Wise Approach to Group Decision Making

I know we’re all supposed to be busy. Somehow busyness has become equated with effectiveness which has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel to it, yet too many people have still bought this pup.

We need to get to decisions “quickly”; an effective meeting is one where decisions are reached, where there is agreed “action”. It’s almost as if actions in themselves are good things, regardless of their content. I think this is a kind of generic reaction to the countless meetings people have attended where there was no action or decision at all. Meetings, bloody meetings! etc.

Although not a huge fan of meditation (I prefer a Pooh Bear-like serious think with some honey to follow), there is some sense in the notion I once heard that we should allow an equal amount of silence to follow a meditational verse or sentence. We have to let it “sink in”. I do like the silence that sometimes follows a stunning piece of live music before the audience erupts into the responsive applause. It’s rare, but it happens.

Allowing words and thoughts to sink in seems to make common sense. I like the notion that, for every five minutes of speaking, we should have five minutes of thinking, or quiet reflection time. I like the idea of an afternoon siesta where we wake up fresh.

Whether you have any spiritual ideology of what human beings are, or not, we seem to have an inner space where we dream, where we imagine, where we relax, where we “let go”, where we get inspired; a place that sometimes just to be quite quiet – we lie on a sofa, or sit in a cafe just “letting”. It seems a place where things can cook slowly, where silence seems to let us “just reflect”.

Silence is not something tolerated in many organisations; it’s deemed to be unproductive. Yet it’s been proven unproductive to make products to stock, rather than to real customer orders, for then waste builds up, unsold “inventory”. A factory can be productive making nothing, if there are no real orders; then we can tidy the factory, do some thinking – some problem solving. This lies at the heart of the Japanese “Just in time” system of making things. A factory is not “idle” when it isn’t making products – it is simply free to do some other kinds of activity. It makes something only when there is a “pull” of demand from the customer.

Sleep is usually restorative. I see it as a spiritual cup of tea. In The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall-Smith, Mma Ramotswe, the “lady” detective believes a cup of Redbush tea always makes things feel better, always helps you to get perspective and a clearer view of difficult cases, tough, seemingly insoluable problems.

For me, sleep is a spiritual cup of tea. If we sleep on a problem, taking those questions into our sleep, I’ve heard enough tales of people waking up with fresh impetus and even new answers that would have been different to ones offered the night before. Often if you sleep on a problem, the solution you wake up with is a better one. So said Sherlock Holmes as well!

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So, no matter how inconvenient and “unproductive” it might seem, I propose that meetings at work, especially where big decisions need to be made, are divided into two parts, separated by the night where everyone can sleep on the proposals for decision and action. ON the second day, at part two of the meeting, we come to decision.

Not only would better decisions be made, but also DIFFERENT decisions would be made. Our hurry to action can be a clumsy way to travel. The night offers up silence, it offers up dreams (not all happy) and we often awaken with the answers we are looking for. A new meeting structure then:

Day 1
Exploring issues, proposals ideas and arriving at choices and options for decision

Allowing the options to “sink in”, to float a little, to hand in the air, the swirl, over night and into the waking morning. (this really isn’t as hippy as it sounds)

Day 2
Arriving a decision and action

You can allow the  same amount of time for the meeting. Try it, you might just find the decisions are better and the time taken is actually less.

When we speak a lot, we also think a lot. It’s important to take these thoughts and words back into ourselves, to let the thoughts order and settle. Making decisions together can also feel like a chaotic process and allowing the discussion to “sink in” overnight, and to re-merge after a restorative sleep, often improves the quality of the decisions we then make the next day. We may also take our questions into our dream life and new insights can often emerge on waking in the morning.


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