Value focused decision making – How to be successful by thoughtful decision making?

Von Angela Danner, Leiterin der Zentralen Servicestelle Presse, Marketing und Kommunikation der Universität Bayreuth

Selecting a university, choosing a dissertation topic, pursuing friendships, arranging an internship, finding a place to study abroad, getting a well payed summer job, accepting an employment offer. There are numerous decision tasks in a student´s life to be made which have a big impact on the personal future. But how to do it properly? Is there a right way of decision making (with the effect of enhancing the quality of life) or is there a power of thinking without thinking and no need to put much effort in it?

This is the beginning of a scientific workshop on decision making, guided by PD Dr. Johannes Siebert (University of Bayreuth) in cooperation with Professor Dr. Ralph L. Keeney (Duke University, USA).

Prof. Keeney und Dr. Siebert - Foto: Jonas Föhr

Prof. Keeney und Dr. Siebert  / Foto: Jonas Föhr











PD Dr. Johannes Siebert ist „Akademischer Oberrat“ at the Chair of BWL 5, Produktionswirtschaft & Industriebetriebslehre). After his graduation on a theme concerning multiattribute utility theory he applied a more qualitative technique. He got in contact with the ideas of Value Focused Thinking and learnt from the best, it´s founder Prof. Dr. Ralph Keeney. The theory is based on the assumption that actively using a system of values is the key to more and better alternatives for acting which have the power to lead to more satisfaction than the reactive way of choosing only when forced and only between the obvious choice A or B.

In cooperation with Prof. Dr. Ralph Keeney, Dr. Siebert managed to verify this hypothesis empirically by a series of experiments – some of them driven at the University of Bayreuth. This work led to  a publication in a world class journal. Dr. Siebert did his professorial dissertation on “Behavioural Operations Research and Decision Analysis” and now applies for a full professorship.

Prof. Keeney is an engineer but famous as research Professor emeritus of Decision Sciences at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. He received his PhD in Operations Research at the world famous MiT in 1969. His research interests lie in the fields of decision-making and risk analysis, emphasizing problems which involve multiple objectives. Professor Keeney is the author of several books and highly ranked articles. A current interest concerns distilling the body of information in the decision sciences to provide practical and usable advice to help people making better decisions.

That is also the motor for the workshop at the University of Bayreuth. Prof. Keeney presents the concept of value focused decision making and how to use it. The intention of Prof. Keeney and Dr. Siebert is to help the participants of the workshop improving their act of individual and professional decision making. The workshop addressed students in the first instance. Guests were welcome and so several PhD students and a co-worker and me also took part.

I got in contact with the theory of Value Focused Thinking some years ago. In my professional role as head of the department of press relations, communication & marketing I tried to create a greater audience on Dr. Siebert´s scientific work. That is why I got introduced to Prof. Keeney some years ago as we did a film interview with him in preparation of a public lecture on Value Focused Thinking in 2013.

This time I got the opportunity to join the students workshop. Although I already did some life-changing decisions yet like staying at university after becoming a teacher, marrying, buying a house, persuading my parents to move to Bayreuth to have a better chance for looking after them … , I thought it would be a challenge and was sure that it will open me up new vistas. It is a great advantage of my job that there are so much opportunities to look beyond one´s own nose and learn something new. There are countless speeches on all subjects, highly topical and mostly for free. You only have to join and get inspired.

But this time I was scared a little bit, because I was aware, that I probably would be the oldest member of the course. I explained that sorrows to Prof. Keeney but he gave comfort to me by noticing that he will be the grand-grand-grand-father of the course if I am the grandmother of it. I felt warmly welcomed immediately and decided that you are never too old to learn how to enhance the quality of your life by decision making.

For me there is no longer a thrill in finding the right answers on the questions where to study and on which subject, but there is the need to manage career tasks in balance with family duties: deciding whether to have a baby, to care for my retired mother personally or find professional help, stay working at the University of Bayreuth …

The workshop based on lectures of parts of Keeney´s new book (”Value Focused Decision Making), which will be published next year, and offered a coaching, how to face important relevant decisions. In the beginning we were trained to behave proactively in an decision making process, based on the fundamental question „what do I hope to achieve?“ We learned to ad proverbial forks to paths with no obvious choices in first sight. We tested our ability to create alternatives in a decision making context by the creativity of ourselves and learned how to use stimuli to improve this ability.
After that we learned about the power of values which should define the decision someone faces.

workshop on Value Focused Decision Making (VFDM) in April/May at the University of Bayreuth - Foto: Jonas Föhr

Workshop on Value Focused Decision Making (VFDM) in April/May at the University of Bayreuth  / Foto: Jonas Föhr











It became a challenging act to figure out the values of our lives, to state this values as objectives and to create a means-end-diagram of these objectives showing how the elements are influenced by each other. This visualizing method helps to see  the hierarchy of the means and fundamental objectives more clear and helps to understand how to proactively influence them.

What sounds easy became a challenging task we worked on our own and in groups. It was always an enlightening moment to hear and see examples and to understand the thoughts behind it which are so logical. It is all about understanding the big picture.

There was even time for techniques to handle personal decisions which involve others because you do not have the authority to make them alone. In that situation it is even more important to analyze the own „dream alternative“ and the value of the person you need agreement to implement this alternative. In the next step it is to create win-win alternatives for both parts, so that the involved person will not refuse.

I would like to thank Prof. Keeney for all the wise thoughts, great hints/tricks and personal views he shared with us during the workshop on Value Focused Decision Making (VFDM) in April/May at the University of Bayreuth. He served as a big inspiration on us. I guess we will remember him every time when decisions have to be made from now on.

It was my impression that VFDM is very suitable to the University of Bayreuth which is somehow famous for new ways of thinking and creating unexpected forks to paths – since 1975. If you would like to know more have a look into „Neue Wege denken – 40 Jahre Universität Bayreuth (ISBN 978-3-00-049769-8).“

2 Gedanken zu „Value focused decision making – How to be successful by thoughtful decision making?

  1. Pingback: More Impressions on Value-Focused Decision-Making | UniBloggT

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