Help me decide. Do we have the ability to make strategic decisions?

This is a totally off-the-cuff notion. Do Jamaicans have a basic problem making good decisions?

I listened yesterday to some of the commentary on a girls football match, involving the Jamaican national under-17 team. Several times, I heard the observation “We have problems making the right decisions…” The commentator went on to say that it’s evident with the men’s senior team, boys teams, women’s national teams, and on.

Some have said for a long time that the Jamaican educational system does not foster good decision-making. People talk about the preponderance of rote learning. I’m not familiar enough with the whole school system to know whether that is still true. But, if it is, then there may be a systematic and systemic problem that we have bred into our society.

Casual observation suggests that in many areas, people have problems making good and quick decisions. A certain bias toward ‘safe’ decisions is also observed, especially in areas where people are wary of protecting their positions, such as a particular employment. I’m astonished sometimes when I hear “Mi don’ wan’ lose mi job, if mi let you…” It’s not something unique to Jamaica. It’s the same as “I’m not paid to make that decision…” or “You’ll need to speak to someone in authority…”

In the sports context, and looking at those performing at the highest levels, the local football players’ instincts are often questionable. Seasoned players do things that are common for elementary age players, but should have been corrected by the time they were in high school. It’s not a matter of technique in the cases I am considering. I’ve watched a few matches in person–mainly elementary and middle schoolers–and notice that many of the coaches are ‘yellers’, i.e. they scream instructions at players, berating them for their ‘mistakes’. Few, if any, coaches have shown confidence in the players to make decisions for themselves. The players respond to direction. I need to look more carefully to see if this trend continues up the ranks.

Certainly, in this limited field, there are worrying signs. I watched two top professional teams play a final match this week. The ability of players to demonstrate that they have thought through problems was lacking, even in aspects separate from playing. Team members fought amongst each other, as if they did not realise that this was a problem for the officials. They remonstrated with officials, as if they did not realise that this was an offense. They made bad decisions about what to do with the ball. In some senses, it was as if each player was in a vacuum space of his own. This may be a huge psychological issue, and I’m not competent to comment on that aspect.

Out of the sports arena, we can look at how people assess risks. Simple examples abound. Drivers are aware of the risks of accidents, and take precautions to protect themselves. But, they will be oblivious to the risks of passengers, even to the extent of endangering themselves in the case of a driver who lets a small child sit on his or her lap while driving the vehicle in traffic. A massive disconnection must be going on in the brain of the driver.

Dealing with institutions here, I’ve been interested in how people respond when given the ‘out’ to show that they are not competent, e.g. by saying “No problem, if you do not know the answer.”

I’m going to keep looking and thinking about this for a while.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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