Does Effective Decision Support require both Wisdom and Experience?


Human decision making is based on experience and judgement. Experience itself comprises memories, of which there are several different types: Semantic, episodic, motor and procedural memories are defined by psychologists as different capacities of a human brain.

Some memories have to be consciously ‘dug out’, whereas others are almost innate –for example riding a bicycle. Getting on to the bike is a procedural memory – we think about the process. When underway, though, the limbs themselves seem to know what to do – a motor memory. And then, when we remember perhaps touching a hot stove, we have an episodic memory – we remember the pain, but is the memory a feeling of pain, or is it an observation – ‘yes, I felt pain’. There are memories – typically triggered by smell or music – which evoke the actual sensation felt.

So we see that some memories are related to our self-awareness. Our range of memories are our experience bank. As individuals, we automatically cross-link our memories into an associative memory base. A stay in hospital would be recalled by synthesizing all the memory types we held of the visit, in to our one experience of a hospital stay – that might be called ‘sensemaking’.

In military terms, what makes a great commander? Experience – of managing troops, of situations and arguably, knowledge of military history (which is, of course, second hand experience) – all play a part. And there are direct parallels in senior managers and CEOs. Experience is important, but specific. Were the two roles to be interchanged, then some skills could be transferable, but it is unlikely that greatness in one role would be replicated in the other.

Finally, can anyone acquire great experience without having sound judgement? Poor judgement would seem to be a bar to professional progress and the acquisition of higher levels of experience. So, for great commanders – whether in the military or business – wisdom and experience are inseparable.