Posts Tagged ‘bias’

Seize Opportunity

October 29, 2014

Oppty

What leaders know is that  justice and fairness exist only when we and our colleagues work very hard to make it happen.

A Natural Tendency

Studies done at the Yale Mind & Research Lab suggest that most people tend to ignore this because of a rationalizing bias. Whether an atheist or a religious person, a majority of people think life events (like births, deaths, illnesses, love matches) were purposely designed. Even young children show this bias, that things happen to “teach a lesson” or “send a sign.” Yale researchers indicate this is about our powerful drive to reason, make sense and align our external environment with our own goals, intentions or ambitions. Obviously, these attitudes can bring comfort and reassurance. And, those feelings are an important reinforcement for the bias.

But then, how do we explain the very ugly consequences of structural racism, sexism, and other abuses of power? Our world is full of injustice, brutal and unfair behavior that deeply injures individuals, communities and organizations. Intentional actions cause fear, oppression, disappointments, and serious wounds.

Wise Perspective

A sage family friend always softly responded to the common inquiry, “How are you?” with “Better than I deserve.” He embraced gratitude as a primary perspective because he had lived a rough and tumble life but was able to acknowledge chance. Many people don’t get what they deserve.

None of us live in an absolute meritocracy. Yale professor Paul Bloom suggests life is not a fundamentally fair place with goodness rewarded and badness punished. Logic recognizes that we cannot blame those who suffer from disease, victims of crimes and maintain a bias for the status quo. This view requires us to affirm poverty, inequality and oppression are all part of some great big intentional plan. It isn’t.

Michelle Munson, CEO of Aspera, says: “Respecting an opportunity means embracing it and dedicating yourself to making the most of it. I am infuriated by people who waste the opportunity.” Clearly she understands opportunity cost, that is, the implications of missing the obligation to create value and progress. Not surprising, Munson hires staff for two fundamentals: a high degree of competence and character. She defines character as desire, drive, responsibility, honesty and genuineness. Munson exhorts: “Nothing, nothing, nothing replaces being competent in what you’re doing…”

Great Choices

So, what’s the leadership message and mental model? I think it’s opportunity. It is the choice we each have to turn away from self interest and work diligently to create a fair and just society, community or organization. Leaders courageously tackle the status quo. They take responsibility for change and progress. Bloom’s research encourages us to resist the natural urge to cite our good fortune as fate. Prosperity, equality, freedom and hope occur because we purposely construct those conditions

What will you do and how will you guide others in opportunities today?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Avoid The Ugly Grip Of Groupthink

May 4, 2014

sheep

Beware when a group assumes we know everything we need to know.

Why?

Not long ago big US banks and other financial institutions sold risky derivatives. They were high-risk sub-prime mortgages divided into investment “opportunities.” After the economic meltdown they created, a salesman was asked who would want to buy these. He replied: “Idiots.”

History shows very smart people discard clear signals about value and risk. In the desire for a big return, investors chose to emphasize what could support their choice; they ignored evidence. It blossomed into self-deception and then spread among peers. This is groupthink. It is dangerous because the focus is on protecting an unfounded treasured opinion. This ensures shared blind spots and ultimately generates bad decisions. In contrast, a healthy team provides multiple perspectives in candid, independent contributions. When information flows freely – it is more likely good decisions are made.

Because it’s effective and predictable, groupthink is consciously engineered. Too often it happens in crucial personnel selection and civic cheerleading that obfuscates challenges or accountability. A classic example was the decision to invade Iraq based on imaginary “weapons of mass destruction.” Sexism and racism rely on groupthink, too. They are efforts to protect a position that become habitual and are normalized.

Groupthink can happen in any situation where decision-makers are insulated. One or several things occur to feed it. The group is fooled by unreliable people, there’s failure to ask provoking questions and data is ignored (or skewed).The risks of insulation underscores the value of transparency. Because self-deception is so common, consciously steering past shared blind spots is vital in managing for results.

We can disarm the grim implications of groupthink by these tactics:

• Ask others to think about their thinking (meta-cognition),

• Spotlight what might get buried by bias, indifference or suppression,

• Assure quality information from multiple methods,

• Actively seek diverse as well as contrary opinion, and

• Surface assumptions.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: http://www.pwkinc.com

Avoid Strategy Sabotage

October 22, 2012

A primary challenge in strategy development is anticipating the future – correctly. It’s a tall order. Strategy creates public and private value. It’s central to every organization and team.

Determining the actions most likely to secure your intended results employs strategic planning. Creating strategy, for a program or entire organization, generally requires a series of explicit steps. While a routine function, the process of strategy development offers plenty of opportunity for error.

In this list, I’ve noted the most common “sins.” Consider these as you guard against missteps and improve the quality of your strategy development.

1. Failure to know where you are now. Clarity about your current situation is essential if you are pointing towards a new target. Strategy has everything to do with decisions about the optimal route for the outcome you intend. If you don’t know the current situation then you have no good data on how to create forward action. Shaky ground isn’t equal to a solid foundation – so it’s vital to get this part right.

2. Difficulty in detecting patterns. Your “read” of the context and forecast for the future is important to analysis, interpretation and application. Seeing patterns and anticipating new ones are vital to strategy development. Testing whether others “see” things the same or different and knowing why is a good idea.

3. Lack of choice points. A clear specification of issues and their perceived implications are vital in strategy development. Framing both the challenges which impede progress and the context which will catalyze motion are critical to decisions about forward actions.

4. Unwillingness to acknowledge bias. We all have opinions and perspectives based on prior experience and training. How deeply these are held and whether we can accommodate and explore new mental models affects the discussions and review of strategy. Being aware of bias can mitigate it.

5. Absence of actionable measures. A few and the right measures are important as touchstones for determining progress. To inform decisions or actions, measurement must be part of any strategy. It provides feedback data to confirm existing direction and to indicate necessary course corrections. Winston Churchill said it.” However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

6. Reluctance to review capacity. It’s possible to desire a new outcome, but the potential for achieving it relies heavily on what assets your program or organization has in hand for execution. Do you have the skillful talent integral to the work ahead as well along with the financial resources and time to make results a real possibility? An “internal audit” will surface both needs and assumptions about organization/team capacity that are key to strategy success.

7. Inadequate engagement. Who participates in strategy development matters a lot. It’s also vital to the subsequent socialization and implementation of strategy. Be sure dissent and minority opinions are aired to “kick” strategy. Careful consideration should be given to who participates and when in your process.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com.

10 Good Questions on Strategy

July 30, 2012

We all face external factors that change fast, frequently and unpredictably. Regardless of sector, work is intensely dynamic. Are your strategy development and related planning processes responsive enough?

Re-tool and Refine

Strategy marshals the resources and actions that enable an organization to secure intended results. Strategy is crucial to the decisions that guide any program or organization. More and more, experts suggest the effort on strategy should equal that spent on operations. Getting strategy “right” matters a lot.

Analysis, Inclusion, Speed

Old routines, inadequate sensing, biased inputs, erroneous assumptions, poor timing, delays and other complexities in strategy development can severely limit program and organizational potential. Creating a clear, disciplined process for strategy that considers diagnosis to commitment, execution and assessment is fundamental. Better strategy and strategic management values analysis, inclusion and speed.

Strategy Development

Here are ten good questions to use as you retool strategy to improve performance:

  • What outcomes define success for your organization?
  • Who holds responsibility for strategy?
  • What are your key issues, critical decisions, data and uncertainties?
  •  What framework exists for colleagues to inform, develop, implement and revise strategy?
  • How are strategic priorities named and resources allocated?
  • What internal communications are used to effectively express strategy and related plans?
  • How are cross-organizational projects handled?
  • Are savvy, fast decisions made through clear processes to support strategy?
  • How are directors/trustees and partners involved in the development and execution of strategy?
  • How is the implementation of strategy and related plans tracked?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Grow Taller and Bolder

March 26, 2012

In a study of 20,000 people, German scientists found a correlation between height and backbone. When it comes to risk, taller people are bolder.

Every day we encourage people to “stand tall” regardless of their vertical measure. Risks are a normal part of work and life. The tough question is: what risk and when. Inevitably, the associated fears and transition are part of leading change.

Very Tall

In 2011, plenty of CEOs and senior managers took risks and will ride out the implications. For example:

  • Microsoft spent $8B to buy Skype
  • Kraft split in two
  • AOL  bet $315M to acquire the Huffington Post
  • Walmart raised prices and added “mini-stores”

In the nonprofit sector, well managed organizations take risks and cite specific results. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) is one example. They have 12 goal-level indicators against a five year strategy. By noting them publicly, the staff and governance take considerable risk, provide transparency and display accountability. Not long ago, United Way of America publicly named specific social benefit targets with a deadline, e.g., fewer high school drop outs. 

Risk & Perspective

Risk is relative. So, a financial adviser has some, but it’s different than a construction worker, soldier or commercial fisherman. Everyone can name a job that they think is riskier than their own. This is good because it provides perspective.

David Ropeik is a Harvard instructor and author of How Risky Is It, Really? He writes about the brain and risk assessment. According to Ropeik just 22 milliseconds after you have “registered” trouble your cortex starts reasoning through the situation. Then, other regions of the brain send signals that begin determining solutions. Activity in emotional centers means a greater willingness for risk, while activity in cognitive reasoning yields more conservative decisions. This is good evidence for employing far more than an emotional response when facing an important decision.  

Inaction Has Cost

When tackling risk, cite your challenge and its remedy. Then, list your upside gains and the potential losses. It is important to be concrete and clear. It’s even better to discuss your thinking with others to check for blind spots and bias. Be sure to profile the opportunity cost – it’s the “price” of inaction.

While some choices have incremental influence, others can reset your organization’s entire trajectory.Although people didn’t buy much during the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1933, refrigerator sales went up 30%. Refrigerators were a highly innovative product. The industry was willing to hire people, invest in research, development and marketing. This savvy (and risky) move was a game-changer.

How tall are you?

No matter your height you do have a backbone. Remember, not taking action can be very risky. Nothing ventured is almost always nothing gained.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Understanding & Influencing Choices

July 18, 2011

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

Human Bias Sways Strategy

February 10, 2011

Do you and your colleagues routinely test strategy quality?

It’s worth doing. The better the strategy, the more likely results.

I recently read about “Powerpoint Engineering” and laughed out loud. The authors describe it as a proclamation something will occur – and (the presumption) it does. It quickly skips past any viability test. In effect, general constructs of plausibility, feasibility and choice are overlooked for an aspirational declaration. This kind of engineering means the thinking and practices associated with great strategy are obscured or unattended.

Sometimes leaders substitute belief in their “noble cause“ for strategy. Unnecessarily, this lags the performance management knowledge we have from experience and research in all sectors. Identifying what works under what conditions can often be accomplished through a relatively easy Internet search. Be sure you understand the implications of application transfer. Then, and always, kick the strategy tires!

Biases Are Common
The influences of human bias can be a substantial challenge in strategy development. Although mostly unintended, be conscious of what people bring to the table. What can be great strengths outside of decisions in our work can be hazards inside your organization. Common attitudes and behaviors that can derail your best intentions for strategies that yield results include these six offenses.
Overoptimism: the tendency to exaggerate reasons to hope and believe our own marketing.
Anchoring: the connection of what we value to an arbitrary choice.
Risk aversion: a failure to stretch far enough and avoiding downside loss.
Confirmation bias: too much emphasis and reliance on our own opinions.
Herding: finding support and comfort in group-think.
Hero Bias: giving merit based only on who proposes an idea or option.

Inference can be another feature of bias in both attribution errors and in what is known as survivorship bias. Attribution errors assign success to the wrong factors. So, if cheese melts too fast when you’re cooking don’t conclude the cheese is at fault. (An overheated grill may be the culprit.)Survivorship bias is about history. It means that the storyteller has a version…and there are other versions. Those not present or who died have one, too. Listening to just survivors means you miss parts of the story.

Culture, Practices & Tools
Minimizing bias should be on your checklist for strategy quality. Routinely developing multiple hypotheses about your work and a variety of solutions is good practice. Typically, people identify strategy and gather facts to support the choice. Fostering an environment with colleagues who feel free to critique and even oppose these choices can be a really valuable part of a learning culture. It can be tackled by employing objective criteria and by a nimble mind that counters the choices made with the possibility of being wrong.

Another way to improve your strategy is to consider the frameworks, tools and approaches that generate strategies. What are yours? Which work best and why in your sector and marketplace? Proficiency with these tools can be an important part of your internal organization development. Simply shared understanding and language about their use is important action step. Knowing their features, limitations and strengths matters a lot.

Vision not Declaration
Aspirations are a critical part of creating change. Reaching high and far to cite a vision can be an important part of helping others see possibilities. It is essential to leading. Creating ways to secure a “new possible” is central to managing. And, testing strategy is an essential management task. Be sure you and those you work with avoid Powerpoint Engineering.

Beware, in strategy development, human bias can be a Trojan Horse.

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a 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. For more, see : http://www.pwkinc.com


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