Before you decide…


Before you decide…

  • By Ian Bradley
  • 2 Tags

The recent expulsion of a computer science student, Ahmed Al-Khabaz from a local Montreal college has gone viral. Ahmed apparently found a flaw in a student information system used by the province’s collegians.   First reporting the flaw in the coding to the school, and then several days later testing to see if was fixed, apparently resulted in his expulsion from the college for unauthorized entry into the system.

Further details appears below.

One aspect of the story that stood out in my mind was the reported near unanimous vote of the computer science faculty – 14 out of fifteen members – to expel Ahmed.  Given the backlash that the story has generated against this decision specifically and the college in general, I wonder how the decision was taken. Although I have no personal knowledge of this situation, I do have experience in leading meetings where similar problems were addressed.  Now, as an executive coach, I often consult with business leaders who must routinely decide whether to adopt or reject a group’s recommendation.

An illuminating article by the renowned cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman published in a 2011 Harvard Business Review outlines the biases that we all face in adopting group decisions.  The potential biases are numerous and include such faults as not checking for dissenting opinions as well as not considering a wide enough range of potential outcomes from the group’s recommendation especially negative outcomes.

Kahneman points out that as humans we have two basic cognitive systems for making decisions- a fast intuitive system and a slower, more deliberative but effortful system that can look past common associations and assumptions considering a wide range of alternatives. As a penultimate step in any group decision-making process, Kahneman suggests that the group members assume for argument’s sake that their decision turned out to be an egregious failure and then ask themselves why.  This reflective process activates this second cognitive system and thus improves the quality of decision-making.

I wonder if the computer science faculty would have a different meeting and a different decision if they considered some of the common biases that Kahneman identified.

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