Goal-Oriented Decision Making

Recently, while on the way home from an ultimate practice, I began to think about how our ultimate team functions. We have on-and-off success with RIT Ultimate, often contingent simply on how skilled and athletic our team is that year. In 2016, we had one of our best years ever, taking second at Sectionals, and winning our pool at regionals (bracket play was rained out). We lost a number of incredibly talented players this past year, however, and we’re unsure if that success is repeatable.

It was then that I realized our inconsistency was due to how we’re approaching the problem. We’re playing ultimate without an end goal in mind. We’re fitting players to an existing playstyle, rather than finding a playstyle to fit our players. If we want to win in 2017, we need to build an offense that fits our team’s strengths.

This is a kind of thinking I learned in FIRST- and up until this point, I had wondered why so many teams miss out on this goal-oriented decision making process.

It comes down to the fact that goal-oriented thinking is a non-obvious process.

I never noticed my ultimate team’s problem until I was mentally comparing us to the robotics teams I’ve been involved with.

Goal oriented decision making is understanding your goals, the context in which you’re trying to achieve them, and how best to approach the problem within that context.

In FIRST, this comes up often in our strategy- strategic design, picklisting, and the strategy you use to play each match all come down to your goals. It’s not about making the best possible alliance, or scoring the most points all the time, but sometimes about selecting the safest or riskiest alliance, eliminating specific threats, or achieving certain criteria.

In sports, this might come down to understanding that your team is outclassed in some ways, but outclasses others in other ways. Using your height/speed/skills to your advantage in specific matchups. It might be playing a riskier or safer playstyle because you need to take a certain level of risk to win.

And in business, this might be realizing that your company can’t compete at one end of a market, but has the resources to compete in a certain niche of the market instead.

Whenever in life you or your team or your company come to a decision-making point, you need to remember your end goals and the context in which you’re making those decisions, and not get bogged down in pursuing other secondary goals.

Great sports examples:

  • Sweden’s defensive strategy to tie the U.S. in women’s Olympic soccer- extremely defensive strategy  caused a 2-2 tie and a shootout to decide who moved on.
  • The 2016 Superbowl with the Broncos focusing on their defense and their running game, because they couldn’t compete in an offensive showdown with the Panthers.
  • The Buzz Bullets are the best ultimate team in Japan. They have a major height disadvantage over their international opponents, as due to this, they run a quick, movement-centered offense that revolves around quick short passes.

Great Business example:

  • Tesla’s strategy to enter the car market at the top end and move downmarket as the infrastructure is built to support the top end: https://www.tesla.com/blog/master-plan-part-deux

Great FIRST examples:

  • 2014 Archimedes Quarterfinals-1. The #8 seed of 51-2485-1918-781 invented “death cycling”, a high risk, high reward strategy of fast, stationary cycles requiring specific robots to complete caused them to upset the favored #1 seed of 399-2056-2175-2834
  • 2013 Curie Division- The #1 seeded 1678 “scorched the earth” the prevent the formation of any alliances that blatantly outclassed them, then selected two robots to compliment them in 148 and 862 and managed to win the division.
  • Team 4334 in 2012 understood that they could be an ideal third robot on a championship alliance by being small and having a stellar intake. They then used a rookie-exclusive award to make it to the championship, and make it to Einstein as the third robot on the alliance of 1114 and 2056.





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