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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Passion or Procrastination: The psychodynamics of big bet decisions

In this paper I explore the psychodynamics of big bet decisions; decisions, that if implemented, promise big payoffs but also high risk. Because such decisions stimulate anxiety I will argue that the venues and meetings for taking such decisions are ritualized. This process, a form of social defense, results in various forms of procrastination, particularly what scholars call 'attenuation,' that is, hemming in a decision with compromises that vitiate its execution. I hypothesize that this becomes increasingly common when as a result of turbulence in the environment; decisions makers face ambiguity, rather than uncertainty. Facing the former, decision makers hope to ascertain the facts, facing the latter decision makers puzzle over the meaning of the facts.In the presence of crisis, a decidedly unambiguous situation, I hypothesize that the exemplar big bet decision has the character of immediacy, simplicity and necessity. My hypothesis is based on conceptualization of the turnaround of IBM in early 90s. But by definition this was not an ambiguous situation, IBM was running out of cash. I argue that in ambiguous situations passion, as an amplification of a weak signal from the future, creates a sense of immediacy, while the creative act of 'reframing' creates necessity and simplicity.I ask what characterizes the emotional intelligence of a leader who can launch and contain the process for such decision-making. Based on a study of the turnaround of the ASDA grocery chain in the early 90's I suggest that such a leader is playful, can provoke people to verbalize uncomfortable ideas, has the common touch, and can tolerate emotional extremes. I suggest that in applying these strengths the emotionally intelligent leader creates a group process that sits equidistant from passion, scrutiny and creativity. This positioning externalizes the balance between the Id (passion), the superego (scrutiny), and the ego (creativity), that we associate with optimal individual functioning. Leadership Qualities - Impact on decisions process. Playfulness - Connects people even when they strongly disagree. Provocation - Push people to speak truths they are afraid to verbalize. The common touch - Protects each person's self esteem. Tolerance of emotional extremes - Brings stakes and risks into sharp relief.