The Judgment of Solomon

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The Judgment of Solomon

King Solomon was unable to reach a verdict in a conflict between two women, both of whom claimed to be the mother of a newborn child, so he ordered that the child be cut in two, knowing that the woman who gave up the child to save its life would be the true mother.

Solomon, as an experienced monarch, was probably used to listening carefully to all sides involved in a dispute, especially those with whom he did not agree, and his ruling, which was surprising to say the least, was certainly not the obvious solution at the outset. And as for enforcing the judgment, he skilfully predicted that one of the two women would give up her newborn child.

Closer to home, the ability to make the right judgment – in other words, to take the best possible decision based on the available information – is one of the most highly prized qualities in a manager.

Unfortunately, there is no matrix for assessing our ability to deliver a good judgment. Nevertheless, the literature pinpoints five essential qualities, all of which we find in the story of Solomon: listening, garnering diverse opinions, drawing on relevant experience, considering all the options and determining the feasibility of the sentence.

Active listening avoids the prejudice pitfall and makes it possible, through questioning, to obtain information that was not immediately forthcoming.

Diversity is the art of surrounding yourself with people who think differently to you and go against the general trend. Caught up in the general optimism of the era, nobody dared to question that the Titanic was “unsinkable”. There were not enough lifeboats, and those that there were, were purely decorative. We know how that story ended.

Experience is not necessarily an indicator of competence: someone can have a lot of experience but in an area that may not be relevant. I may be highly experienced in procurement for industrialised countries, but not for developing countries.

Many bad decisions are taken in the belief that there is no other option or that there is only one valid solution among all the possible options. Innovative company 3M is renowned for pushing its staff to consider and evaluate all the possible options, regardless of how feasible they seem at first sight.

After all, what is the point of outlining amazing projects on paper if they aren’t accompanied by a rigorous assessment of their feasibility in real life? Ferdinand de Lesseps learned to his cost that digging a canal through the rainforests of Panama was a much bigger feat than digging the Suez Canal through sand dunes.

Next time you have to deliver a judgment, remember to gather a range of contradictory views, draw on your relevant experience, don’t rule out any option in advance and carefully evaluate the feasibility of the solution. That’s how you up your chances of making the right call!

Pierre Gildemyn

If you’d like to comment on any of my articles or suggest a topic that I could write about, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Ombuds@cern.ch.