The Back Story
A week ago I created this very site using WordPress – my annual hosting fees are about $100 and the theme I used is free. You do get some very nice themes that cost a few dollars if you really want to go pro. Nonetheless, setting up this site took me less than two hours in total and since I host a number of sites from a single account, its cost would be equal to about $60 for the entire year (domain name included).
News 24 (A South African news service) reports that a local provincial government paid R40 000 000 (about $4 400 000 US) to have their web site redesigned. You can read the entire story here. Incidentally, this web site too is built using WordPress with a theme that cost $40. Elzabe Rockman apparently signed a three year contract for that amount which brings us to the main question: What was she thinking?
Here comes the theory
The Relational Mind, from which the site gets its name, is a model I use to help organisations understand how decisions work, and why some decisions go right. The basic premise of this model is that the maturity of human beings are the sum of their relational inputs. Differently stated – you are, because we are. Since no man is a proverbial island unto himself, nor any woman for that matter, our actions too must be expressions of the relationships that influence us. The Relational Mind identifies three relationship types that are linked to three facets of the development process namely intra-personal (the relationship one has with oneself), fellowship (the relationship one has with people in one’s immediate surroundings) and mentorship (high impact relationships with significant influencers).
When the intra-personal relationship is active within fellowship, information is transferred between the individual and the people within their immediate surroundings. When fellowship finds mentorship, formation (or learning) happens and finally when mentorship is active for the intra-personal relationship, expression happens.
What was she thinking?
Imagine for a moment you need to make a decision about a medical procedure of which you understand nothing. The doctor you speak to explains that this is a very expensive operation and, although other similar operations exist, the cheaper ones are typically a “get what you pay for” situation. You discuss the procedure with your friends of family (none of whom are doctors) and find that everybody thinks the price is high, but it is required so you just need to do it. You also think back on a previous procedure at the same doctor – it went very well and you paid a similar amount for it. You don’t really know other doctors (or trust them with your history) so you rely on your doctor’s inputs. All of them lead you to a single conclusion namely that you need to pay exorbitant sums to get this procedure. Meanwhile your local pharmacist has a $2 cream that your doctors used to cure your condition that he applied under anesthesia. You could have just picked it up yourself and applied it to the affected area.
It is very likely that Ms. Rockman went through a similar process – the web site design company already had contracts with other provinces, so all her friends concurred that this is the right person to contract in. Less costly web sites, she possibly presumed, is less costly for a reason and when she reverted to the designer in question she felt confident that his advice accounts for everything. Intra-personal relationship, fellowship and mentorship led her to a very bad decision.
What went wrong?
The information process requires a certain degree of exploration. Ms. Rockman should have started by looking at the web site of this particular contender to see what their designs look like, what their history as a company is and what skill sets they have. At first glance she could have seen that this company has no web site for themselves, which must have raised a very red flag. As such her capacity to judge whether this was a good or bad decision was limited by her willingness to look further than the proposal she had in hand.
Ms. Rockman most certainly did not pick up the phone to ask her friends in the banking industry what the going rate for a good web site is. She didn’t even have to do it herself – one of her administrative supports could easily have performed the basic research by picking up the phone and getting a realistic view on what such a web site would cost to build and maintain for a three year period as a point of reference. From a previous article we know that fellowship is anchored in standard, and it was clear that this was her primary reason for selecting this company – her peers all agreed that this guy is the standard. It wouldn’t be too hard to believe that there was some coercion from higher management to push this decision through – South Africa is a country that suffers badly from the corruption of nepotism and culturalism.
Finally, she probably did not have any industry experts to guide her. When such a decision is made, it is more often than not the result of an individual relying on the standard set by their peers and the belief that they must somehow know how to make a decision on matters that is in reality well beyond the scope of their expertise.
And the solution…
Maturity is a difficult concept for most people. Essentially is relates to our capacity to make useful and mutually beneficial decisions within a given context where we have authority. No person can be fully mature in all contexts, and Ms. Rockman is by no means a web design guru. The fact is that she (and the Free State Government amongst others) have wasted $4.4 million on a web site that could have been built for a fraction of the price – from where I stand it was the result of overconfidence and a lack of appropriate reference standards.
When we make decisions it is OK to not know something. The most natural instinct we have is to ask friends and family for advice (or even trusty old Google), but more often than not we still make bad decisions because we don’t dare ask trustworthy experts or people who had similar experiences. The $4.4 million WordPress site is a perfect example of what happens when we do not take care to involve knowledgeable and experienced people in our decision making process.
So, always test what you know by comparing it to the norms and standards of your peers, and have the answer confirmed by knowledgeable and experienced individuals, then make sure that your chosen option is both useful in solving the problem and mutually constructive to all of those affected by your decision (*cough* Taxpayers Ms. Rockman?*cough*)
And that was the Daily Decision.