Understanding & Influencing Choices

The Social Animal, a new book by David Brooks, asks: “Who are we? We are like spiritual Grand Central Stations. We are junctures where millions of sensations, emotions and signals interpenetrate every second. We are communications centers, and through some process we are not close to understanding, we have the ability to partially govern this traffic …We become fully ourselves only through the ever-richening interplay of our networks.”

Influences on Choice

Rodin’s thinker represents humanity. We consider ourselves thinking individuals separated from other animals by the power of reason. Choices are a big part of the reasoning we accomplish  each day – all day long. Brooks’ book provides some interesting features of our unconscious abilities.  He posits that our failure to cultivate moral and emotional faculties, our individual character, emotions and intuitions have huge opportunity cost.

Underneath any choice is architecture comprised of a set of structures  that defines  options. Logic consists of “if, then” sequences. For example, if we exercise often and eat well, then we’ll have good health. Your leadership can influence critical elements in choice architecture which will, ultimately, influence team and organization performance. “Priming” is one point of intervention  and “anchoring” is another.

Priming & Anchoring

Research shows that perceptions can influence people and then alters their  actions. This is priming. So, if you tell your staff to about a team that delivered results (“nimble,” innovative” and “successful”) they will perform better than they would without hearing the story. Likewise negative references oppress achievement. There is power in setting a positive tone and pointing out positive examples.

Anchoring is another helpful technique with teams. Because humans process information in context, it is important to be aware of mental patterns of relativity. Defining a commonly held understanding or “anchoring” is vital to integrated processes because it assures everyone has a shared idea of the intended goals or vision. For example, a “rich life” could be understood as holding substantial financial assets. However, some might consider it reflects good health or many intimate relationships (or both). Without an anchor or shared understanding, collective progress may be at great risk. Do you specify ideas, goals or practices in ways that ensure success? Do you intentionally minimize the potential for  multiple interpretations, assumptions and perspectives that interfere?

Other important factors that influence choices include: framing, expectations, inertia, arousal and loss aversion. They are all present and in dynamic play when working with others. These unconscious biases come to work every day.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :www.pwkinc.com

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