David is an energetic organizational leader, accomplished technologist, and passionate teacher with a strong commitment to his students. David earned both his Ph.D. in Management Science and M.S. in Engineering Economic Systems from Stanford University.
He retired from NASA with 30 years of diverse experience in science, engineering, technology research and development, program formulation and management, executive management, and organizational development. He teaches courses in Quantitative Methods, Operations Management, and Applied Decision Sciences. David’s research interests include frame analysis, computational dialogue models, organizational and team factors in data mining, and the emergence of online decision support communities.
We interviewed David to learn more about him and his interest in working at Sofia University.
How did you hear about Sofia University?
I learned about Sofia University in the spring of 2014, when I met Dr. Liz Li, the President. Liz expressed great enthusiasm for opportunities to create new programs in Computer Science and Business Administration, built on Sofia’s established excellence in Transpersonal Psychology. Liz explained that Sofia University is an evolutionary outgrowth of the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, and that the traditions of that institution would continue in the new programs. I was very excited to hear about such a worthwhile effort, and I offered to help any way I could. Liz asked me to serve on an advisory board for the new programs, and I enthusiastically accepted.
What made you decide to join Sofia University as faculty and interim chair?
I suppose I chose to come to Sofia because of the people – I’m impressed with Sofia’s leadership team, as well as the faculty, and also with the students I’ve met so far. I have known of the ITP for many years, and have long held its founder, Bob Frager, in deep regard. Liz and her team have successfully implemented the vision she outlined two years ago, and now the new programs have become reality. I am grateful for continuing opportunities to support Sofia’s mission. At Sofia, I feel surrounded by positivity, enthusiasm, competence, commitment, worthy goals, and high ethical standards. When Liz offered me the opportunity to develop a new course on decision making in such a context, I said “Yes!” – no decision analysis required! I also welcomed the opportunity to help administer the new Business Administration program.
Any special interests or passions that you bring to the Sofia Community?
I’ve had deep interest in decision making for many years. This was the main focus of my graduate work. In graduate school, I studied Decision Analysis (DA) in depth, and discovered the power of that discipline to create clarity for many people faced with difficult decisions. However, there is a major gap in the primary foundation of DA, which is Decision Theory. That theory is focused on how to make a choice, given that the hard work of framing the decision has been accomplished already.
Decision Sciences in general have paid insufficient attention to the essential inquiry processes that generate decision alternatives and elicit values, and to decision framing. Often these are the main difficulties in decision making, so this is where I focus my own work.
At Sofia, I look forward to taking an integral approach to teaching and research focused on how inquiry, communication, and reflection provide a foundation for high quality decision making. Given this foundation, the mathematics of Decision Analysis and Data Science may be applied effectively in an integrated decision making process. I’m also particularly interested in how people sometimes turn to the Internet when faced with difficult decisions – I’d like to develop tools and processes to help make this more effective for them.
Tell us a bit about you and your interests and family.
I like to spend my spare time cooking and appreciating the beauty of nature, particularly in the company of my wife and our four twenty-something children: two daughters, and two sons.
David teaches a course called Applied Decision Sciences. This course provides an opportunity to improve decision-making. Students learn how to apply tools and models to more deeply understand their decision-making processes and those of their fellow students. Emphasis is on the dialogue process for effective inquiry, balanced with contemplation and reflection, clarification of values, surface assumptions, and development of an appropriate frame.
With this foundation, mathematical modeling and data science can generate insights by focusing further inquiry on essential variables and facilitating collaborative deep reasoning. Additional insights from decision science will deepen awareness of decision traps, such as “frame blindness,” as well as cognitive, perceptual, and motivational biases.
The decision matrix is defined as: the conjunction of four human capacities – believing, caring, framing, and doing. Here, matrix means “an environment or material in which something develops; a surrounding medium or structure”; it is derived from the Latin word for womb. A decision is “born” from this womb through awareness of the conjunction of these four capacities.
The decision matrix is a model that provides a basic foundation for structured inquiry about specific decisions, and also about decision making in general. In this course, the matrix model will provide a foundation for acquiring, integrating, and applying the knowledge of decision theory and decision science to actual decisions. The decision matrix is depicted at the center of the figure shown above. The Decision Wheel expands the matrix model to encompass additional concepts essential to applied decision science.
The figure provides a graphical outline for topics covered in the Applied Decision Science course at Sofia. The Decision Wheel will be used to facilitate dialogue about decisions, and to organize and integrate topics covered in the course. Simple decisions as examples to reveal essential aspects of decision-making – however, the primary concern will be with challenging decisions, those having aspects such as uncertainty, complexity, dynamics, new situations, high stakes, long time horizons, or lack of established precedents, for example.
We assume decision makers in such situations will need to rely on others for information, expertise, and perhaps facilitation or analysis. In these cases, communication and inquiry are essential to decision quality, as is deep reflection to elicit and clarify values and to become aware of unconscious and implicit aspects of decision frames. From this perspective, the quality of a decision hinges on the quality, balance, and depth of the inquiry process that shapes it.
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