Sunday, May 7, 2017

Making Wise Decisions!

How to improve your odds of making the right decisions for the right people at the right time!

Think about your thinking
Making decisions is a bit like driving a car. You think you’re pretty good at it until you experience an accident or a near-miss. In that moment, you realise you’re not so skilled after all. In the same way, we make hundreds of decisions every day, big and small, and we seem to manage without too much trouble. Yet, it turns out that most of our decision making is unconscious, as David Eagleman wrote in ‘Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.’ We think we’re in control but actually, we’re on autopilot. Our brains are very good at learning patterns and following routines to conserve energy, which means we’re more likely to make the same decisions over and over even if the circumstances are different.

The reason why we find it hard to change our minds is that it’s easier to accept whatever we hear. To reject what we hear requires an extra step of thinking, and thinking is hard work! So, we typically follow the line of least resistance and that means our decision making is easily biased. Here are the top four biases that cloud our judgement:

• Self-serving bias:
We tend to attribute success to something inherent in us, “I was successful because of who I am”. And we blame failure on the external situation, “I failed because of something or someone else out of my control”. It’s important to maintain strong self-esteem but we need to be vulnerable enough to learn from our mistakes.

• Cognitive fluency:
The easier it is to process and understand an idea, the more likely we are to unconsciously trust it. Yet, whether something is easy to process has nothing to do with truth and can lead to an “illusion of truth”. When you hear something that “sounds about right”, that is exactly when you should question it!

• Sunk cost fallacy:
We have an intense aversion to loss and so if we have invested time, money, or effort in a movie, a stock, or even a relationship, we’re reluctant to walk away from the investment even when it’s clearly a lost cause. It’s better to focus on the future costs and benefits and not let your past losses influence your decision.

• Confirmation bias:
We have a tendency to only search for evidence that confirms our beliefs, since it requires far less cognitive effort to stick with what we know. However, it helps to actively search for contradictory evidence.

To avoid these flaws in decision making, it helps to think about our thinking. We think fast and slow, as the Economist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman showed in ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. The fast, intuitive information-processing mode operates automatically and stems from what we know based on our experience. We get a ‘gut feeling’ of what to do, even if we can’t explain it. The slower information-processing mode tends to be more deliberative, more logical, and to operate in a more rational way. Both modes have been found to operate simultaneously in the solving of complex problems.

Yet this doesn’t explain why smart people can make foolish decisions! Recent research confirms a third mode used in our processing of information – the considerative mode as shown by Barry Partridge and Peter Webb in ‘The Decision Processing Survey’. This is a slower, more reflective process, taking into consideration competing interests, moral and ethical dimensions, and potential long and short-term consequences. Without this mode, we may make calculated, intuitive decisions but fail to fully comprehend how our decisions affect others and even how we might cause a net negative social benefit.

Here is a framework to help you think about your thinking (see Table 1).

Think about outcomes
Making a wise decision means fully utilising all three modes of information processing. It should also be evident in the way we act when we are faced with a complex, poorly-defined problem in business or in life. How do we make a decision when there are no clear guidelines or procedures and where the outcome is uncertain or unknown (i.e., it might be as viewed as the wrong decision now but the right decision in the long term, or vice versa)? A wise decision ought to be recognised by general consensus to be wise, and by implication to bring about the most benefit to self, others, and more broadly the common social good.

Wisdom is perhaps best defined by the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm as “deep knowledge and sound judgement about the essence of the human condition and the ways and means of planning, managing, and understanding a good life”, as expounded by Ursula M. Staudinger, Jessica Dörner, and Charlotte Mickler in ‘Wisdom and Personality’ in ‘A Handbook of Wisdom: Psychological Perspectives’.

Do you have to be smart to be wise? Well, it helps. And it also helps to have experienced life and to know stuff. These things are necessary but by no means sufficient. Being “the smartest guys in the room” is certainly no guarantee of making the right decisions for the right people at the right time for the greatest common social good, as Bethany McLean and PeterElkind noted in ‘The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron’.

The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm, through the measurement of “wisdom-related performance”, has discovered that relatively simple social interventions can enhance wise decision-making performance. For example, asking participants to focus attention on cultural relativism and tolerance caused them to express higher levels of wisdom-related knowledge. Discussing the problem with another person, or engaging in inner dialogue with a person of their choice also resulted in improved performance. Even asking participants to address the question, “what is the wisest thing to do?” significantly boosted wisdom-related performance.

Here is how to use the Berlin Wisdom paradigm to think about your decision outcomes (see Table 2).

Think about wisdom
What makes a decision truly wise? The intention behind our decision counts, and how well we have thought about and considered the outcomes of the decision for all concerned definitely counts. But perhaps what counts at an even deeper level is the mindful expression and practice of compassion for all people everywhere, and a sincere desire to bring our lives to a place of meaning and service. We can’t know whether this or that action will really matter in the end, but we can seek to imbue every decision, in business or in life, with compassion.

Here are two important practices to help you think about wisdom (see Table 3).

Making wise decisions takes practice, and courage. It takes years of developing self awareness, experiencing life lessons and learning from them, thinking about our thinking and seeking to overcome biases and error, fully appreciating the different contexts, values and motivations of people across the lifespan, and seeking to make a contribution to human flourishing with compassion. Yet, it is possible to enhance our wisdom-related performance through thinking about our thinking, thinking about outcomes, and finally thinking about wisdom itself.

So, when you’re faced with a really big decision or a dilemma for which there are no right or wrong answers, stop and think. Ask yourself, “what does it mean to make a wise decision here?”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Grateful Workplace!

Are you grateful for your job?

Really? Don't "jobs" mean working for an organization that breeds egocentrism and selfishness! Most of us would probably move out of our jobs and into the Gig Economy if we could. So, what's gratitude got to do with your job?

Quite a lot, according to Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. In fact, gratitude is actually proving profitable for companies. How?

Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation in response to an experience that is beneficial to us, but that is not directly caused by us. Unlike many other emotions, gratitude is highly social and oriented towards others.

In the workplace for example, you might experience gratitude when a coworker sacrifices her free time to help you meet a deadline, or when your manager spends an afternoon helping you develop a new skill.

Over the past decade, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude. The research suggests these benefits are available to most anyone who practices gratitude, even in the midst of adversity.

But what does this have to do with profitability?

In a paper published this month in the Academy of Management Review, the authors make the business case for gratitude. In organizations, they say, gratitude may be experienced as an event, something that happens once in a while. But gratitude may also emerge at the individual level in the form of persistent gratitude, and can also emerge at the organizational level as collective gratitude, in which individuals' own experiences of persistent gratitude converge to manifest as a shared organizational-level phenomenon.

The authors identify the following benefits of workplace gratitude:
  • Event-based gratitude leads to an increase in organizational citizenship behaviours, which are behaviours that directly contribute to work performance but are less formally rewarded and more discretionary than job-related tasks. For example, filling in for a coworker during an emergency, or making new employees feel welcome.
  • Persistent gratitude contributes to well-being, with positive implications for employee behavior and performance.
  • Persistent gratitude fosters more communal-based norms of behaviour, characterized by trust and closeness.
  • Collective gratitude contributes to a more resilient organization in which employees respond to new demands with optimism and persistence.
  • Collective gratitude increases corporate social responsibility, defined as "actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law".
How do you bring about a grateful workplace? The authors suggest an HR "bundled" practice that includes the following initiatives:
  1. Plan formal employee appreciation programs, in which the organization holds formal events to endow individuals with expressions of positive affirmation.
  2. Foster contact with beneficiaries, to improve employees' feelings of social worth, prosocial motivation, and job persistence. For example, employees at a University call centre were connected directly with their beneficiaries, in this case scholarship recipients.
  3. Give accurate, regular developmental feedback, providing employees with useful information enabling them to learn and develop their skills.
  4. Cultivate benevolent attributions towards HR. When employees attribute gratitude initiatives to benevolent motives, they are likely to respond with enthusiasm and engagement.
How grateful are you? Take the gratitude questionnaire here!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Leadership Redefined for the Open Source Era!

We live in interesting times. From Brexit to Trump we see the democratization of anger, frustration, and bigotry, while at the same time we are witnessing the democratization of technology, ideas, and capital. Change is inevitably paradoxical, and we are living  through a history of bright, shiny possibilities and dark, dystopian currents in equal measure. How should we prepare future leaders?

There might have been a time when we relied on our political, business, and community leaders to interpret the world for us and give us reliable institutions of civic and commercial order. But now we live in the open source era where information is ubiquitous, ideas represent currency and where entrepreneurship is the dominant platform for business success.

Airbnb, Tesla, Apple, Alibaba, Google, Zappos, Uber, are  good examples of "exponential organizations", where output is disproportionally large because of new organizational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies. And while technologies such as artificial intelligence, nanothechnology, robotics, and digital biology are rapidly redefining the work environment, the practice of developing leaders for these organizations is lagging. What is the new model of leadership for 2020-2050?

Here are four ways we might better prepare our future leaders:

1. Unleash Innovation
Create the environment for anyone to propose new ideas with a net benefit for society, and allocate resources for test cases and pilot programs. Develop a start-up mindset. Be prepared for transformation and metamorphosis. New leaders will need to create a delicate balance between disruption and containment.

2. Leadership Being
Successful leaders in the open source era are "autocratic" or single-minded about their vision, mission, and purpose. But they also display an unshakeable adherence to their core values, a deep awareness of themselves, and a generally compassionate treatment of others. Leaders will need to be resilient, revolutionary, and remarkable in their purpose, yet considerate and empathetic in building collaboration.

3. Systems Architecting
Historians in the late Twenty-First Century will almost certainly judge us for dithering on climate change and on our collective failure to perceive the interconnectedness of all our actions. successful leaders of the open source era are able to conceive radically different systems of engagement of people and resources, of which Uber and Airbnb are classic examples. Systems thinking, imagining, and architecting will be essential skills for new leaders.

4. Leadership Coaching
Coaching has emerged as a highly specialized field of leadership development which is able to respond flexibly to changing operational environments and individual learning needs. Now, more than ever, we need capable and wise leaders who will make decisions for our common good, not just the good of shareholders. New leaders will need leadership coaches who can act like Sherpas, shouldering some of the load as they guide their clients towards their individual and organizational summits. They may also need leadership coaches who can behave like Shamans, wisely perceiving patterns and divining the future.

Does your leadership development curriculum consider these four approaches? If not, then you are most likely briefing your leaders for the past, not the future.

Monday, February 20, 2017

How to Boost Your Creativity!

Why do we get our most creative ideas in the shower?

OK, it might depend on when and how you have your shower (and who with). But that's beside the point. Our minds never stop working, chattering away incessantly. Which is why the shower works. It's a relaxing, solitary, and non-judgmental environment that allows your mind to wander freely, connecting with your inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.

But how do you get creative in the first place? Here are 5 ways to boost your creativity:

A recent study of musical improvisation in rap artists showed a marked shift in brain  activity while subjects were creating lyrics. Brain patterns associated with motor activity arose in the absence of conscious monitoring and volitional control.

In other words, to get creative you need to relax the 'executive functions' of the brain, allowing more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processing. Here are 5 ways to do it:

1. Go for a walk
Our best 'divergent thinking' comes from walking. A Stanford University study found a person's creative output increased by an average 60% when walking compared with just sitting. And it doesn't matter where you walk - around the office, around the block, or on a treadmill.

2. Be bored
We are so tethered to our devices. They demand attention from us like needy children. They sap us of independent thought. Shut down the deluge of emails, tweets, Facebook and Instagram updates and simply let your brain "space out" for a while. Boredom is a lost art. And there seems to be an intersection between boredom and creativity.

3. Colour
There's a reason colouring books for adults have taken off. When you focus purely on the task of colouring you're being mindful. And when you move rhythmically for an extended period of time it becomes a kind of meditation. It's also an exercise in exploring your own artistry. So when you need to boost your creative juices, break out the colouring pencils!

4. Brainstorm when you're tired
Just when you're about to fall asleep at night or when you feel the 3pm siesta beginning to take over is actually a good time to brainstorm. Keep a pen and paper beside your bed for when an idea hits. When you're tired and less-focused you're not able to filter weird thoughts so easily, so let go and let loose!

5. Reminisce
In a 2015 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology report, subjects who engaged in nostalgia relative to control subjects showed a boost in creativity in a writing task. This occurred above and beyond personality factors. The mere act of reverie for the past turns out to be an effective mediator of creative endeavours. So take a look through old photos or simply reminisce about interesting events in your life.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What's the Secret of High Performing Project Teams!

The team is dead, long live the team!

In a rapidly changing and competitive environment, companies must innovate to survive. The future of work is the project team - knowledge workers who come together to deliver on a project before breaking up and moving on to the next one.

But forming a project team based on the expertise of the team members doesn't always work. Egos are often at stake, and more often than not team dynamics swamps the technical potential of the team. So, what's the secret of getting project teams to perform at their best?

A 2012 Harvard University study found the way teams shared knowledge significantly determined how well they performed. They coined the term knowledge integration capability to refer to a reliable pattern of team communication that helps the team to understand complex problems and get better outcomes. They looked at 79 client-facing teams in a professional services firm, and here's what they found:
  • Knowledge integration capability was positively correlated with team performance.
  • Under conditions of high uncertainty, relational resources (team members who knew each other and knew what knowledge each possessed) and the structure of those resources (high dispersal or sharing of knowledge) were strongly related to knowledge integration capability.
  • Under conditions of uncertainty, experiential resources (team members with the right type and level of task knowledge) and the structure of those resources (low dispersal of knowledge, closely guarded by team members) detracted from knowledge integration capability.
What does this mean? To get high performing project teams, you need to ensure:
  1. A high level of knowledge integration capability, and this seems particularly relevant under conditions of high uncertainty where the expected outcomes may be unclear and support for the project may be ambivalent.
  2. That at least some of the team members have worked together before and have an appreciation of each others' knowledge. 
  3. That knowledge is widely dispersed and accessible to all team members, not retained by one or two individuals.
  4. While the right type and level of task-related knowledge that team members possess is important, it might lead to rigidities that inhibit the efficiency and collaborativeness of communication.
How well is your team tracking? Get the KIC (Knowledge Integration Capability) assessment here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How to Change Social Systems!

If you've had anything to do with bringing about change in groups, teams or organisations you know how much intensive effort it can take. It requires a shift in perspective, much like the Apollo 17 photo of the Earth. We saw for the first time how fragile our planet is, and how interconnected we all are.

I'm presently in a small village an hour's drive west of Berlin where I'm attending the Presencing Foundation Program with Otto Scharmer from MIT. There are 80 delegates from 20 different countries. The program is all about the frameworks, methodology, and experiential learning for bringing about change in social systems.

How do you change social systems? According to Otto there are just two things which bring about the shift:
  1. Courage: Having the courage to try something new, to sense and learn from the emerging future, not just the past.
  2. Loving Attention: The quality of our attention is shaping the world around us. Energy follows attention. And when we pay attention with love the social system is more likely to respond.
The essence of changing social systems is to help people in the system sense and see themselves - to view the system from within. If you want to change social systems, first change the quality of your own thinking and the quality of your own attention. 

"The quality of results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which people in the system operate"

It turns out the formula for successful change processes is not "form follows function", but "form follows consciousness". It's the structure of our awareness and attention that determines the pathway along which a situation unfolds.

Here are four questions to ask yourself to begin the process of change:
  1. What in your life and work is dying or ending, and what wants to be born?
  2. What do you need to let go of?
  3. Where, right now, do you feel the opening to a future possibility?
  4. What are your most important sources of energy? What do you love?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

How to Make Wiser Decisions!

Why do we have such a hard time making good choices?

When it comes to making decisions, we're naturally biased to think that we are all good decision makers. Just as most people in hospital after a vehicle accident they caused still maintain they are good drivers. There's ample evidence that our brain's are flawed. And in business that costs money.


But how can we do better?


Researchers, Dan Lovallo, and Oliver Sibony, investigated 1,048 important business decisions over 5 years, tracking both the ways the decisions were made and the subsequent outcomes. They found that in making most of the decisions, the teams had conducted rigorous analysis. They also asked the teams about their decision process - the softer, less analytical side of the decision. Had the team explicitly discussed what was still uncertain about the decisions? Did they include perspectives that contradicted the senior executive's point of view? Did they elicit participation from a range of people who had different views of the decision?


Lovallo and Sibony found that our decision process - how we structure our thinking about the decision, is more important than the analysis - the technical assessment of the relevant information. Good decisions - those that increase revenue, profits, and market share, were predicted by process more than analysis - by a factor of six! Read more here 

Here are four ways to counter bias and make better - even wiser - decisions:

Widen Your Frame

Teenagers get trapped in a narrow frame. They are blind to their choices. Unfortunately, most organisations tend to make decisions like teenagers. Often our options are far more plentiful than we think. Focusing on our current options means that other things are out of our spotlight. To escape a narrow frame and widen your options think about opportunity cost, or try the vanishing options test: What if your current options disappeared?

It's easier to spot a narrow frame from the outside. "Whether or not" decisions should set off alarm bells!


Consider the Opposite

To overcome confirmation bias - hunting for information that confirms our initial assumptions (which are often self-serving) - we need to spark a constructive disagreement within our organisations. We can ask disconfirming questions - questions which probe for potential problems, and even consider the opposite of our instincts. It might be possible to test our assumptions with a deliberate mistake.

Because we naturally seek self-confirming information, we need discipline to consider the opposite.


Overcome Short-Term Emotion

Fleeting emotions tempt us to make decisions that are bad in the long term. To overcome distracting short-term emotions, we need to attain some distance. Our decisions are often altered by two subtle short-term emotions: (1) mere exposure: we like what's familiar to us; and (2) loss aversion: losses are more painful than gains are pleasant. Loss aversion + mere exposure = status-quo bias.

We can attain distance by looking at our situation from an observer's perspective. Perhaps the most powerful question for resolving personal decisions is "What would I tell my best friend in this situation?"


Bookend the Future

The future is not a "point" - a single scenario that we must predict. It is a range. We should bookend the future, considering a range of outcomes from very bad to very good. To prepare for the lower bookend, we need a pre-mortem: "It's a year from now. Our decision has failed utterly. Why?" To be ready for the upper bookend, we need a pre-parade: "It's a year from now. We're heroes. Will we be ready for success?"

Anticipating problems helps us cope with them. By bookending - anticipating and preparing for both adversity and success - we stack the deck in favour of our decisions.


Test Your Decision-Making Process

To find out about your decision-making process, we invite you to take the DPS (Decision Processing Survey), the first instrument to reliably identify and measure three orthogonal information processing modes which contribute to good decisions - Deliberative, Intuitive, and Considerative.

For a limited time, we are offering the DPS for FREE!


When you complete the 10 minute survey your report will be generated and will sit on our server. Contact us to get your report and a personal debrief from either, Dr Barry Partridge or myself, Peter Webb.


Take the DPS for FREE here!