When the idea of a Trump state visit first emerged in 2017, I was in the throws of an MBA module on “Creative Decision Making”. The idea seemed to come out of the blue, without the prior knowledge of the Queen herself. I used the opportunity to critically look at how the Queen (and her team) might consider her options and what action if any to take. Two years later, it is game on, the assignment was marked and so I thought it would be interesting to come back to the essay, to understand how close critical analysis and creative decision-making processes match up t the impending reality. Here is the essay in full, with a post mortem added in italics at the end.

Table of Contents

Introduction

The Baseline and Approach

A Rational Binary Decision?

Bounded Awareness

Reducing Bias

Complex Decision Factors

Non-Zero Sum Decision

Post Mortem (Not part of the original essay)

References

Web References

Introduction

{Written in the present tense at the time… 2017}

In January, Prime Minister May went to Washington and signalled an early state visit of President Trump to the United Kingdom. Immediately, talk of a state visit created intense media and public interest, largely but not wholly hostile to the idea. Stripping all emotion from the subject would not be possible as “the people” will retain a collective emotion regardless of what happens next.

On the surface, the Queen and the Monarchy has no decision to make except to enact the orders of her Government. The Queen and the Monarchy does, however, have considerable options and resources open to them. Often subtle in nature, they have endured.

Should she listen to her heart? To the People or to a higher power?

The Baseline and Approach

The Queen represents an ancient and enduring approach to decision making at a macro level. Few would deny that the Monarchy in England remains part of British society, whether welcomed or not. Dr. Peters in “The Chimp Paradox” (2011) describes the core of one’s beliefs as the “Stone of Life”, within which underlying values are inscribed on all of us. When acting in her role as the Monarch, The Queen’s underlying values are recorded and public. She lives with a mantra of “Duty” as a prevailing guiding force. This duty is first to the Monarchy itself, then to the Government of the day and through them to her subjects through the Commonwealth. Her immediate family and personal opinions have always played second fiddle to the responsibilities of the Crown.

“I think I speak for my generation when I say that the example and continuity provided by The Queen is not only very rare among leaders but a great source of pride and reassurance”

This quote from the Duke of Cambridge from the official royal website may in truth NOT in fact speak for his generation, but it does speak to the underlying values of The Queen, to protect and continue the Windsor line and the Monarchy as a relevant institution, to lead through a sense of duty to the British Government, the British people and to the nations of the Commonwealth, rather than through more traditional concepts of leadership.

With history, religion and ritual metaphorically in the blood of the royal family, they may rely heavily on Historical Decision-Making Butler, Bezant-Niblett & Caine (2011). and Notwithstanding the noted difference between the two interpretations of “history” here, the Royal Family has the ability to consider the past in more context than the majority of political institutions can. A historical approach to decision making might be appropriate for the Royal family. Nevertheless, whilst the Royal family can draw from these long view horizons (rather than short termism) when making decisions, this is more of a “seeing first” strategy rather than a historical strategy. In the literature of Mintzberg and Westley (2001), the approach towards making a decision could be: Thinking First; Seeing First or Doing First. Whilst in many cases, “doing first” is the fastest way to an optimum (or at least workable) solution, in this decision there is considerably more merit in a “thinking first” approach. The decision – once made – would be near impossible to revisit from within the royal household, although her Majesty’s Government might change the decision in any event, regardless of the decisions or actions of the Queen. This could be undesirable for the Monarchy who could lose some level of credence and authority if the Queen were to back an approach which ultimately had to be reversed. Monarchy, then, is often best served through a combination of “seeing first” and “thinking first” strategies.

A Rational Binary Decision?

The Queen constitutionally MUST do what the government demands. Is there, then, any decision to be made?

The Government has not yet “demanded” a state visit. To make it a demand would require an act of parliament. This could be an honour too far for the Government to bestow on President Trump and could prove more divisive than the State Visit itself.  It does, however, illustrate that the Queen’s hands are not as tied as might first appear.

Further, the decision for the Monarchy does not have to be one of acceptance or refusal to hold a state visit. The Mind Map (Buzan) illustration (Figure 1) highlights a binary option for reasons to “accept” or “object” to the concept of a Trump state visit in principal, but also proposes many more creative solutions, both in the event of a state visit and to avoid a state visit (or some aspects of such a visit). These ideas might also be reached through Rational Decision-Making (Adair, 2001, p18; Ansoff, 1965, 1987) but whichever approach is taken, there are clearly more than two options available to the Monarchy.

Bounded Awareness

Failure to See, seek, use and share information leads to blinded awareness. (DECISIONS WITHOUT BLINDERS. Bazerman, Max. Harvard Business Review Volume: 84 Issue 1 (2006) ISSN: 0017-8012). In coming to this decision, there are some powerful ways available to the Queen to mitigate bounded awareness.

Seeing the information from an outsiders’ mindset: The Queen is colloquially renowned as speaking in the third person. “One does not make decisions lightly,” might be something the satirical magazine, Private-Eye might attribute to the Queen. However – this mindset helps to see the world through an outsider’s mindset. This is reinforced by having third parties available for council both on staff and at her request.

Look for contradictory information: The populist view of Trump (according to the UK Media) would appear to be overwhelmingly against what Trump seems to stand for. In this regard, it could be seen that snubbing Trump would be wholly valuable. But contradictory evidence can be seen with the Brexit vote for example – and in the fact that Theresa May seemed to promise a State Visit in her meeting with the President. In addition, getting the decision wrong may not have long term repercussions, which may suggest any clamour to obstruct the State visit is overly emotionally driven.

Bazerman’s article says:

Make sure you’re not over-emphasizing one focal event and discounting other relevant information. By consciously thinking about the full context of your situation, you’re less likely to disregard important data

(Bazerman, HBR, 2006)

This decision is not about what the country or the world will consider in the immediate aftermath of the decision or the event.

Sharing the information: Here one might argue the Monarchy sees the direction of travel of information largely in one direction. Asking for the opinions of others is part of the decision-making process, but the Monarchy may not follow Bazerman’s recommendation to share the full reasons for the decision with all the parties from which information is initially sought. This unusually one-way sharing of information acts as a defence mechanism for the Royal Family. If information was shared in two ways as with most group-based decision making, there would likely be repercussions in the future, should a book be written or a story leaked to the media. The Queen has traditionally kept her views to herself. Her son, Charles, might choose a different path, but at 90, with an approval rating in the 80s, The Queen’s approach has served her well to date. (Nevertheless, one option on the mind map includes handing the state visit over to Charles to host)

Reducing Bias

Bazerman et al (1998) note that Strotz (1956) and Schelling (1984) connect time to much bias. Reward now is favoured irrationally against reward in the future. Much of the argument against the Trump state visit is to satisfy short term needs such as the will of the people or the immediate physical safety of the public.

Bazerman et al further proposes that the “want” self (as opposed to the “should” self) will be more influential at the point of decision than before or after the decision. This proposition from the field of behavioural science precisely maps the “Chimp vs Human” analogy proposed by Peters (Chimp Management) from the field of Neurology.

This bias, once realized, significantly changes the nature of the decision. The solution to this issue (Bazerman notes from Stroz) is pre-commitment. By setting out an irrevocable path or one which will have consequences it there is deviation, the tendency to irrationally discount long term rewards for short term gain is reduced. In this regard, the Monarchy is well advanced – both constitutionally and with Her Majesty’s long standing commitment to “Duty”.

Bazerman et al, however, continues and concludes that efforts to suppress the “want” self from the “should” self (or the chimp from the human, as described by Peters) as proclaimed by many researchers is potentially harmful to the decision maker (in this case the Queen) and cites a host of research against the introspective approach (Wilson et al., 1993; Wilson & Schooler, 1991; Simon, 1967; Mandler, 1964; Pluchik,  1984; Lowenstein, 1996). With such a body of evidence, perhaps the Queens should make a snap decision based entirely on intuition! But in truth, Bazerman’s paper was in the context of internal decision making. Whilst Bazerman’s argument against introspection might have merit in such an instance, the decision at hand is not one where The Queen’s personal opinions matter. In this instance, even Bazerman et al would acknowledge that this is not a personal decision, but one with considerably more complex decision factors. A future monarch may, however, react differently.

Complex Decision Factors

We have noted that this decision is more than a binary one – but this decision is taken within the context of two complex systems. Social systems and Political systems are complex as described by the literature (eg Wolfram, 1985). Opinions and realities ebb and flow over many years. Indeed, they will continue to do so until humankind has reached its own resolution. In this regard, the decision being considered here – as to whether to accept Trump or not at in the context of a State Visit is itself transient politically. It is unlikely to provide an inflection point. Socially, however, there could be a small chance that the decision to accept Trump on a State Visit might unbalance society in Britain to the point at which it might damage the monarchy, but this likelihood would have to be small. The Queen would always be able to portray herself as unable to object (constitutionally) which would deflect long tern damage to the Monarchy itself.

By contrast, rejecting the wishes of her Government, would be much more likely to create an inflection point in a complex world. It would be unprecedented and would immediately challenge the status quo.

This is an important and relevant observation. This decision, on the backdrop of the Monarchy’s values defined at the start of this essay, shows that accepting the Trump state visit in full would be a more stable approach than attempting to reject the idea. This does not preclude some of the other options.

Non-Zero Sum Decision

Armed with the theories and concepts up to now, the essay still needs a decision. It is useful to acknowledge that this decision is a non-zero sum game. A State Visit and how it is conducted exhibits what Robert Wright (2001) describes as “Non-Zero” behaviour. The Queen does not have to act in a way that reduces the overall benefits to other stakeholders.

Figure 2: Non-Zero sum creativity (Wright, 2001)

By applying empathy, reason and (historical) knowledge, the Queens decision can elect to strive for the solution that offers the biggest overall win for the stakeholders (who are listed in the Mind Map).

With this in mind, along with the bias reduction and reframing, objecting to the state visit would be much more damaging than accepting the decision. From the Mind Map in figure 1:

Reasons to Accept a State Visit by Trump

  • Constitutional Requirement
  • US is an Important ally
  • Possible Economic benefit to the UK
  • Chance to Influence US Policy
  • Historical Ally
  • Traditional Response
  • National Security (Long Term)

Reasons to Object to a State Visit by Trump in Principal

  • A Statement to the World
  • A show of Strength
  • Reduce national tensions
  • Solidarity with the Commonwealth
  • National Security (short term)

If I was the Royal Household, I would consider that the left hand option is more rational, more likely to create a resolution greater than the sum of its parts and less likely to create an unwanted inflection point politically, socially or historically.

From here the following options remain on the table:

There is merit in applying diplomatic pressure to delay the State Visit, but only to argue that a visit later would ultimately lead to a greater non-zero sum than a visit earlier. Moreover, delaying the timing is in line with the Monarchy’s default position of moving slowly and would not have material consequences if it was not successful.

Beyond this, willing and unconditional acceptance should be the default position of the Monarchy. Within this, should the Queen wish to step aside, it should only be with the willing and advance knowledge of the Americans and the Government and should mark a sustained reduction in the Queen’s duties allowing her successor to choose their own style of leadership. She should not “pull a sickie” unless she is genuinely sick and the possibility and consequence should be agreed by all parties in advance.

Post-Mortem

So now we are two years on from the original essay and the State visit is on our doorstep. Now I can add that personal bias. At the time I was furious that the British Government even considered taking Trump seriously. I was pleased that my critical analysis of teh situation came up with a different result in the essay and moreover – my analysis of the situation and the recommended route was exactly what occurred… the original state visit was downgraded and effectively delayed. Now Trump is well into his Presidency and the UK frankly has a larger problem in Brexit. I look forward to seeing London filled with blimps, but a state visit now certain;y has less toxicity that it did in 2016.

Using decision-making tools can certainly help you from making intuitive decisions based on built-in bias. I was glad about taking this module in my MBA.

References

Bazerman, M.H., Tenbrunsel, A.E. and Wade-Benzoni, K. (1998), ‘Negotiating with Yourself and Losing: Making Decisions with Competing Internal Preferences’, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 23, No. 2, April, pp. 225-241

Bazerman, M.H. and Chugh, D., 2006. Decisions without blinders. Harvard Business Review, 84(1), p.88.

Butler, M. J. R., Bezant-Niblett, K., & Caine, K. C. (2011). Decision Making. In M. J. R. Butler & E. Rose (Eds.), Organisational Behaviour (pp. 237–267). London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Buzan, T., 2006. The ultimate book of mind maps: unlock your creativity, boost your memory, change your life. HarperCollins UK.

Mintzberg, H. and Westley, F., 2001. Decision making: It’s not what you think. MIT Sloan Management Review, 42(3), p.89.

Peters, S., 2012. The Chimp Paradox: The mind management programme to help you achieve success, confidence and happiness. London: Vermilion.

Wolfram, Stephen. “Complex systems theory.” Princeton: The Institute for Advanced Study (1985).

Wright, R., 2001. Nonzero: The logic of human destiny. Vintage.

Web Reference:

Quote from the Duke of Cambridge: https://www.royal.uk/her-majesty-the-queen

Categories: Commentary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Optimized with PageSpeed Ninja