Q&A with Vincent P. Barabba | Woodbury School of Business Alumnus (Class of 1954)

Vincent P. Barabba, (SB’54), is the co-founder and Chairman of Market Insight Corporation, which created MyProductAdvisor.com. Mr. Barabba served in the United States Air Force from 1954-1958 and has served twice as the Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census—the only person to have been appointed to this position by Presidents from two different political parties. Additionally, he was appointed twice as the U.S. Representative to the Population Commission of the United Nations. Mr. Barabba also worked in the private sector as the Manager of Market Research for the Xerox Corporation and as the Director of Market Intelligence for Eastman Kodak. Additionally, he served as the General Manager of Corporate Strategy and Knowledge Development at General Motors where he played a critical role in the development of OnStar. In January 2022, he released A Systems Thinking Decision-Making Process: How to Avoid Burnt Toast which draws from lessons learned during his years of professional experience.

We caught up with Mr. Barabba to learn more about his new book and how his time at Woodbury impacted his career.


Your new book is titled A Systems Thinking Decision-Making Process: How to Avoid Burnt Toast, and it focuses on how to access the right information to improve decision-making during turbulent times. What inspired you to write this book, and how do you feel this book is relevant to the current state of business, especially given the turbulence brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic?

In a recent discussion with an independent research enterprise regarding my background, it occurred to me that in the last 42 years I had written six books and many articles which reflected what I have learned during that period.  It also became clear that for others to learn from those experiences they would have to gain access to all six books and the many articles.  That led me to develop a new book that would focus on how my years of positive and negative experiences led to the idea of an improved decision-making process. A process that would allow decision-makers and information providers to effectively work together and collect and use relevant information to make decisions and to learn from their decisions after they have been made.

Relative to the Covid 19 Pandemic, having a Decision Record that includes why the decision was made and includes the information that was used to make it would be valuable if some of those initially involved were no longer around or not available.

The understanding that underlies this process was developed while developing my own decision support company, serving as director of the United States Census Bureau, and attempting to apply what had been learned at three major corporations: Xerox, Eastman Kodak, and General Motors.

For those who are unfamiliar with what systems thinking is, how would you describe it to them? Why do you feel that a systems thinking decision-making process is valuable to businesses, and what sets it apart from other decision-making processes?

In essence, as Russel Ackoff has stated:

Creating a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.”

There seems to be a distinction between having access to information and having access to the right information or being able to determine what information is useful so that a company can make well-informed decisions. How does your book help the reader determine what information is right for the decisions they are making? Can you explain briefly what the Inquiry Center is and why it is valuable for all businesses, regardless of the business’s size?

The role of the Inquiry Center is to improve the process by which an enterprise provides required decision-making information in a form that is not only useful but accepted by the eventual policy and decision-makers who will approve the decision.

Why do you think it is important for today’s business students to learn about systems thinking decision-making while they are in school? If more students learn about this process in their business classes, what benefits do you see it having on the future of the business world?

Past is no longer prologue. The future we all face will be more complicated and will change so fast that determining future solutions based on how we have generally attempted to determine societal and business preferences can lead to missing promising opportunities. The book addresses the need to understand the extent of the current and forthcoming changes and reinvent and adapt our approach to decision making. By doing so, my hope is that we can effectively address the issues of the rapidly changing world in which we will be living. The book addresses the need to continually review marketing science’s effort to improve decision-making assumptions.

What do you see being the biggest challenge that businesses will face in the future with respect to data collection and using that data to make well-informed decisions? How do you think the process you’ve developed can be applied to future challenges?

The introduction of the concept of monitoring decisions by implementing a decision record serves as the memory record to monitor and compare the assumptions and expected outcomes with what actually occurred. It also makes all aspects of the decision available to future decision-makers. The record is reviewed and agreed upon by the decision-making team, thereby providing the organizational memory of what was decided, why it was decided, and who made the decision.

Once the decision is implemented, the memory comparator function is used to track what was expected to happen against what happened, as well as the underlying assumptions. This comparison of “before and after” reinforces the importance of monitoring and learning from the implementation of our decisions.

What would you say is the biggest difference between how data is collected and used in the public and private sectors, and how can someone from either sector who reads your book apply it to their own field?

There is slightly more freedom to try out new ideas in the private sector.

Could you briefly explain the impact that the Woodbury University School of Business had on your educational journey and how it shaped your career path?

To start with, Woodbury provided me the valuable experience of encouraging me to engage within an environment where I was not well known, nor did I know many of the people with whom I was required to interact.  More importantly, the faculty focused on how to use the information to make decisions and how to interact with and create a communication process with the groups with which I was engaged. These experiences served me well in the military, political process, government, and private sectors.


Last Updated on March 11, 2022. 

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