Next-gen IT trump card: Trust

IT efficiency begins with effective decision making. Here, the card game bridge can be IT's guide

Next-generation IT does everything possible to avoid being a business bottleneck. So here's a question that, thankfully, has nothing to do with which team you're on -- Apple or Microsoft, Windows or Unix, apps or ops: What slows down IT? As next-gen IT can't exist in a last-gen business, it's also worth asking what slows down whole businesses.

There is no single answer, but here's one of the most common and most important: making decisions. Doing it slowly clogs the corporate carotids. Fortunately, a solution is at hand. Business decision makers who want to improve the decision-making process can find it at a nearby community center. All they have to do is learn to play bridge.

[ Find out the 10 business skills every IT pro must master, beware the 9 warning signs of bad IT architecture, and steer clear of the 12 "best practices" IT should avoid at all costs. | For more of Bob Lewis' continuing IT management wisdom, check out his Advice Line newsletter. ]

No, we're not turning Advice Line into a column on playing cards, so I'll keep this as short as possible: In bridge, two teams of two bid to decide which one plays offense and which plays defense. Bidding is tricky because every bid isn't just a commitment to take a certain number of tricks. It's also a coded message that describes a player's hand.

Whichever player bids highest becomes the "declarer." Declarer's partner is called "dummy" (as in not allowed to talk). Dummy's cards go face up on the table where the three other players can see them, and declarer can choose which dummy card to play on each trick.

Bridge and decision making in business

Here's why bridge is such a valuable metaphor for business decisions: On every trick, the players have some information about where the cards lie, but not complete information. Nonetheless, they have to decide which card to play so as to maximize their chance of winning. Sound like just about every business decision you'll ever have to make?

Furthermore, the best way to play a hand based on the information a player has might not be one of the ways that actually wins the hand. On any given hand, a bad bridge player might win when a good one doesn't. Sound like just about every business decision you've ever heard of? Me too.

Another similarity: In a lot of bridge games, if declarer fails to make a winnable hand, dummy gets pretty steamed. That sounds like a lot of business decision making, too, doesn't it? Only in business, "dummy gets steamed" can mean an abrupt change in career plans.

One more: Players don't always trust their partners. It can get extreme, to the point of one making bad bids to make sure they become declarer so that their partner doesn't play the hand.

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