Chapter 4

Gorilla in the room: information and decision-making

“Power, in the business of tomorrow, will flow to those who have the best information about the limits of their information.”

Alvin Toffler

BEFORE THE ADVENT OF ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION, the fastest way that a written communication could travel was by horseback. Edicts entrusted to papal envoys were never addressed to specific individuals for fear that they might die before the message reached them – a sensible precaution when a message sent from Rome could take two months to reach London. Cargo ships set sail with no precise date for their arrival at their destination and no means of reporting their whereabouts to merchants awaiting delivery. The telegraph was a profoundly important invention because it enabled instantaneous transmission – hence, for example, the railway station’s telegraph office and the now defunct telegram. In contrast, we now live in an information-rich world. Yet decision-makers may not be any the wiser as a result.

It has been suggested in earlier chapters that decisions go awry because decision-makers lose sight of reality. In theory, management information systems should counter this problem. Yet in practice they can make things worse. Information systems can lead decision-makers into a hermetically sealed world. Everything seems to be under control, yet this belief may be an illusion. This chapter explains why seemingly rational information systems can mislead and what decision-makers can do ...

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