The Keep It Simple Stupid in Crisis Guide: Understanding the effects of stress in crisis decision making

Best Practice Guide

First, principles on simplicity

Maybe someone’s told you to “keep it simple, stupid.” Perhaps not your politest colleague, but they sure got the point across. The point being: the simpler the output, the more likely it is to be used. That’s the essence of the design principle KISS.

KISS is said to have originated with spy plane engineer, Kelly Johnson, who would tell his teams that their designs needed to be simple enough to be easily repaired by pretty much any mechanic in times of war. If the designs weren’t easy to comprehend, the planes themselves would be rendered worthless.

This emphasis on simple design came out of the military for obvious reasons. For one, war constitutes a semi- permanent state of crisis. In crisis, we’d simply rather not have to deal with too many extraneous variables when we’re making decisions. And that’s because stress already affects our capacity to make crisis decisions – and not in the good way.

What am I talking about? You might have noticed that stress often leads to bad decision making or even outright error. That’s not just a personal quirk. In fact, across the fields of psychology, sociology, and neuroscience, researchers are reaching consensus on the fact that stress impairs our core cognitive functions, with effects that are particularly bad for crisis decision making. Sounds like a no-brainer. But until recently, the opposite view, the view that stress actually sharpened the way our brains worked, was pretty popular.

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