Target vs. Spider-Web Decision-Making

There are practices that happen in the world of leadership that are more easily explained using word pictures rather than “accepted” leadership jargon. These are behaviors, styles and attitudes that are part of a leader’s everyday experience but are seldom explained to us in ways that allow understanding and give us practical steps to manage the practice. Today’s material is on target thinking vs. spider-web thinking.

Targets are a series of concentric circles with the smallest circle in the middle known as the bull’s-eye. It is universally understood that hitting a target in the outer rings is not acceptable and the closer you get to the bull’s-eye the closer you are to perfection. Target thinkers (problem-solvers/decision-makers) start with the big picture (the outer rings of the target), break the issues down into logical groupings and then, as facts confirm conclusions, move in a ring on the target to a smaller, but more specific pool of information. Target thinkers are motivated to constantly work from the big picture in the outer rings to more specific and detailed information and ultimately get to the center (bull’s-eye), the perfect solution.

Spider webs can look similar to targets but spider-web thinkers process data significantly different than target thinkers. The spider web does have a center and the web is constructed with a series of concentric circles going out from the center. The difference is that the fly will become equally as entangled in the sticky web material near the outermost ring of the web as they would if they were in the center. For that reason, spider-web thinkers (problem-solvers/decision-makers) have little or no motivation to constantly strive to get to the center of the web (the perfect solution) and their decisions are built on a less logical process and are viewed as impulsive by those who work for them.

Example – Target thinking business example, consider a $200 printing error.

The target thinker starts problem solving with big picture options from the outer most concentric circle and determines if this is a “stewardship” issue. Finding the team has stayed on budget and has followed the bidding process, the target thinker moves in one ring closer to the bull’s-eye and asks if this is a “sloth” issue. Gathering and evaluating the information from various supervisors shows that people are conscientious in their jobs and are genuinely concerned that this $200 error happened. Moving in another ring the leader determines if there are “consistent communication problems” between the team and the printers. Looking at the paper trail and purchase orders quickly shows printing instructions were in writing and very clear so communication is not the problem. The leader moves in another ring closer to the bull’s-eye and evaluates if this is “one specific employee’s” pattern. Finding there is no one employee that has made several costly mistakes in the last 12 months the leader determines that this is an isolated incident. The leader determines the “bull’s-eye” was a combination of small errors and no major action needs to be taken. The leader pulls the team together and acknowledges there was a problem, gives the conclusion that this seems to be a one time error, states everyone can help prevent it happening again by paying closer attention to details. The team can see the logical thinking and evaluation pattern and will accept the decision without finger pointing, etc.

Example – Using the same $200 example with a spider-web thinker the process goes something like this:

The spider-web thinker may remember information from a somewhat similar past experience or from something they heard once at a seminar or they talk to an employee they feel may have good input even though this employee may or may not know all the facts. If this information has an element of truth, it “sticks,” they check no further, and this information becomes the standard for the measure of all other information. The spider-web thinker will formulate and implement a solution strategy based on this initial data no matter how close to the perfect solution or how close to the outer limits of the web (a poor solution). Employees on the team of a spider-web thinker generally view the solution strategies as “knee-jerk” reactions to the problem. Once in a great while, the first information gathered will land on the exact center of the web and the perfect solution is found. These rare occurrences seem to keep spider-web thinkers believing that they have a troubleshooting/decision-making system that works. When a leader is a spider-web thinker the team is generally at a loss concerning how decisions are made. They see quick-fix solutions being implemented and then changed to another impulsive solution when the first solution did not solve the problem. Every time new, seemingly better, information surfaces strategies change. Under this system, finger pointing becomes common place and morale tends to fall.

Example: You and your wife are both target thinkers. Your hours are cut at work and you and your wife decide you need to re-do the family budget:

  • You look at what an average month’s income will be.
  • You look ahead and see if there is a potential for more or less income in any specific month.
  • You look at the check book or debit statements and determine what your fixed costs are every month i.e. electricity, taxes, donation to the church, car payment, house payment, etc.
  • You look at discretionary necessity costs that can be changed i.e. groceries, fuel, clothing, etc.
  • You look at the items that can be greatly reduced i.e. entertainment, vacation, satellite TV, cell phone, etc. and determine what needs to be kept and cut.
  • You determine how many dollars you may need this year for unexpected medical costs, car repair, etc. and determine how much needs to be put in savings each month.

Example – Same example but you are a spider-web thinker and your wife is a target thinker:

  • Your wife wants to determine the average income for the months ahead and you say one of the guys from work has a part-time job to help out their income and you think you can get a part-time job in June helping your uncle paint his house and can save on fuel if you ride your bike to work on nice days. It is very difficult to come to a number you agree on for the monthly budget.
  • Your wife wants to look at the fixed monthly costs i.e. electricity but you suggest that one of the guys you hunt with got a gas water heater and saved 20% on his electric bill. And another guy refinanced his house and lowered his payment so you think you should make an appointment to check on refinancing your home. And on and on!
  • Your wife wants to budget the discretionary necessity costs i.e. groceries so she pulls out the check book to determine your average grocery costs per month but you have heard about a place to buy bent and dent cans that can save a lot of money and one of the ladies at work has said she saves $50 per month clipping coupons so you are not so sure your grocery bill as it has been is actually accurate.
  • And on and on!  It is almost impossible to make a budget that anyone will stick to because you never really got on the same page and agreed on actual logical changes.

Boaz – an example of a target thinker:

Read Ruth 2:4-7. Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters…Boaz asked questions to clarify who Ruth was and her situation.

Read Ruth 2:1-12. Boaz had done some research to determine Ruth’s character to help him make a decision about her.

Read Ruth 3:7-13. Boaz had done some research concerning his family line as it related to Ruth’s. He knew facts that helped him make a decision concerning becoming her kinsman-redeemer.

Read Ruth 4:1-6. Boaz had the facts and had premade his decision concerning risks of marrying Ruth. He also knew questions to ask and cautions to alert the other relative to.

King Xerxes is an example of a spider-web thinker:

Esther 1:1-4, Xerxes was a powerful king. He gave a six-month long party for leaders from all 127 provinces.

Esther 1:5, Xerxes gave a second banquet for his staff to say thank you for all the work for the last six months.

Esther 1:9, Vashti the queen also gave a separate party for the women.

Esther 1:10-12, Xerxes wanted to show off Vashti but she said no. His action wasn’t a good decision. Probably all the men were talking about the beautiful women in their life and Xerxes felt like showing off. Spider-web thinking did not consider how this would make the queen feel.

Esther 1:16-18, Memucan, one of the king’s advisors, gave some un-researched advice about all women in the kingdom displaying the same attitude by that evening.

Esther 1:21-22, The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice so the king did as Memucan proposed. Xerxes probably over reacted and if he had thought about it may have cooled off.

Esther 2:1-4, This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it. Another good idea landed and stuck without trying to get to the bull’s-eye.

Esther 3:8-10, Xerxes did not check on Haman’s facts. He just went with the decision – a knee jerk reaction.

Esther 6:6-10, Xerxes asked Haman what was the proper way to recognize someone for doing something great. Was Haman the right one to ask? He just happened to be the first one into the room that morning – another snap decision.

Esther 8:7-8, probably felt to the people like a knee jerk decision to reverse the fortunes of all those around him once he got the facts. How would you feel if you were in King Xerxes’ court? You could never be secure in your job.

How do you encourage target thinking (for yourself and those on your team)?

  • Realizing there is a problem is the first step to finding a solution.
  • Understand that a “way of thinking” or a decision-making style was developed over a period of years and has become instinctive rather than conscious. You must realize that change takes work and conscious effort.
  • The most effective way to implement a change in thinking is to go back to the basics. Make up “decision-making” forms that force a process and are required when strategies are being developed, problems trouble-shot, etc.
    • Force yourself (and others) to walk through a process with each decision and actually write down the answers until the new habits become instinctive.
    • The evaluation sheet may even be in the form of a target as a visual reminder that the process starts wide and narrows in on a solution after the information has been collected and evaluated.
    • Refuse to make snap decisions unless it is a matter of safety or some other serious impending peril.
  • Find another leader you can trust that has an equal position on the organizational chart and is known to be a “target” decision maker. Seek their help as you develop your own processes.
  • Require supervisors to utilize their team to get the data concerning what went wrong. When leaders can involve their team it will not only help them become a better decision maker but it will allow employees to understand the process and give them confidence in the decisions. There are ways of doing this without demeaning yourself or giving away authority.
  • Become a lifelong learner and study material on decision making.

People tend to readily follow a leader that consistently makes logical, understandable, good decisions but tend to resist implementing solution strategies that were developed without a logical trouble-shooting/decision-making process being followed. If your desire is to have unquestioning support of your team and you desire to become a better problem-solving/decision-making leader, strive to be a “target” thinker rather than a ”spider-web” thinker.


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