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The quake

The Complexities of Individual and Organizational Decision-Making

Karin Brunsson and Nils Brunsson

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Decisions

The Complexities of Individual and Organizational Decision-Making

Karin Brunsson and Nils Brunsson

Many, although far from all, human actions are preceded by decisions. Decisions are needed when action is not routinized or when there are no clear institutionalized rules for how to act. Decision-making can follow four types of logics – the logics of consequences, of appropriateness, of imitation and of experimentation. An extreme form of the logic of consequences is the model of rational decision-making according to which decision makers shall be able to predict and weigh their future preference and all relevant action options and their consequences. But these expectations are almost impossible to meet. In contemporary society the logic of consequences and especially its rational variant have a higher status than the other logics. Whichever logic used before the action, decision makers are expected to justify their decisions by using the logic of consequences in a relatively rational version.

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Individuals as decision makers

The Complexities of Individual and Organizational Decision-Making

Karin Brunsson and Nils Brunsson

People who see themselves as individuals do not usually see themselves as victims of circumstance. Instead, they look upon themselves as decision makers with the right and responsibility to have goals and to choose among available options. In practice, decision-making is often cumbersome. People simplify. They base their decisions of information that happens to be available, on false information, on emotions or impulses. They imitate others, or try to find out what they want by various types of experiments. Some are content to avoid decision-making altogether. Some make obvious mistakes, or are easily manipulated into making decisions that somebody else wants them to make. In hindsight, as they see the consequences of their decisions, many regret the choices they made. They wish they had decided differently – but tend to find excuses for why the situation turned out as it did.

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Organizations as decision makers

The Complexities of Individual and Organizational Decision-Making

Karin Brunsson and Nils Brunsson

Organizations resemble individuals; they can talk and act and make decisions. In practice, organizational decision-making involves people: Certain individuals or groups of individuals have been appointed to make decisions of behalf of their organizations. In many situations, their decisions affect large numbers of people within and outside specific organizations. Because decisions relate to choice decision makers run the risk of being criticized. They avoid criticism by finding support with significant stakeholders before they make their decisions. Or else they make clear that there is no choice; rules or circumstances define the only feasible decision. When faced with conflicting goals, decision makers pay attention to one goal at a time. Or they give up the idea of optimizing and base their decisions on information that they find satisfying.

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The consequences of decisions

The Complexities of Individual and Organizational Decision-Making

Karin Brunsson and Nils Brunsson

There is a complicated relationship between decisions and actions. Depending on the way a decision is made it makes subsequent action more or less likely. A common attempt to block action is to infuse decision processes with more rationality. Decisions are used for controlling organizational actions, but the power of the decision makers may be considerably reduced, not only by problems of implementation, but also by problems of determining the content of their decisions. Furthermore, decisions have other consequences than action. They create and distribute responsibility and may produce attention and legitimacy, regardless of whether they are implemented or not. In situations of conflicting ideas, norms and demands, decisions can compensate for action: It may be necessary to decide in one way in order to be able to act in the opposite way. Decisions then decrease the likelihood for the corresponding action, rather than the other way round.

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Complex decision processes

The Complexities of Individual and Organizational Decision-Making

Karin Brunsson and Nils Brunsson

Some decision processes are highly complex and confusing for both participants and external observers. Decision makers may have different purposes with their participation: some want to make the best choice; others are more interested in who becomes responsible, or in mobilizing action. In states and other complex organizations many departments and decision makers are involved, and it maybe unclear how a decision is reached. It is then difficult to find out how to make an impact on the outcome; for decision makers and lobbyists alike. Sometimes decisions seem just to happen and responsibility dissolves. Complexity can also lead to a deadlock: no decision is made.

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After the tsunami

The Complexities of Individual and Organizational Decision-Making

Karin Brunsson and Nils Brunsson

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Decisions

The Complexities of Individual and Organizational Decision-Making

Karin Brunsson and Nils Brunsson

Decisions and the complexity of decision-making are central topics in several social science disciplines, including those of social psychology, political science and the study of organizations. This book draws on insights from all of these disciplines and provides a concise overview of some of the most intriguing and salient observations and arguments in the research about decision-making. The book first deals with basic decision making logics and applies them to both individual and organizational decision making. The book then deals with consequences of decisions and the complications of making decisions in a political context, where many individuals and organizations are involved.