Posts Tagged ‘patterns’

Reduce Decision Anxiety

August 26, 2013

coffee

Amazon.com  offers more than 25 million book titles. Baskin Robbins used to boast 31 flavors, then they sold 100. Cold Stone Creamery claims 11.5 million ways to have “your” ice cream. Starbucks has identified 87,000 drink combinations.

These appeals to personalization may work well in marketing consumer goods. But, the vast range of variation can also overwhelm. Do you, your colleagues or teams ever feel swamped?

The volume of data and options involved in efforts to create strategies, generate forecasts, prepare communications, support evaluation or other common functions makes getting to decisions tough sledding. Research has shown too many choices generates significant anxiety. In fact, it creates pressure, frustration, and paralysis.

Coping With  Volume

Creating an environment for success means support for decision-making. Coping with information overload is an important responsibility for managing and leading. To start, ask these questions:

  • What are the priorities this decision must satisfy?
  • What can I do to simplify the information I have and need?
  • What are the patterns in data?
  • How might the data be categorized?

When faced with complexity, try these three actions:

  • At the start, reduce the total number of alternatives
  • Identify, understand and explain variation among alternatives
  • Engage expert review and recommendations to offer perspective

These questions and actions help focus the “infolanche” we face in our work.  Help your team  manage frustration and make great choices.

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 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.

Quality Cognition: Fast and Slow

March 5, 2012

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invested $1.7 billion in the creation of small schools in recent years. Intuitively, it’s easy to make the case why a small school can provide superior education. You could conclude lower staff-to-student ratios with personal attention and encouragement are a better alternative to the context of a large school.

The foregoing might describe a logical relationship but it’s not accurate.

In fact, according to studies, large schools tend to produce better results. When a variety of curriculum options are available, especially in higher grades, large schools yield greater student success. Some important details were overlooked in the initial conclusion of “small is better.” In planning work, a survey of more than 1600 schools was used. The survey sample had an over representation of small schools. Both a pattern and logic contributed to a preliminary error.

Pursue Good Questions

Had questions been asked about the characteristics of the worst schools – it may have been discovered that those, too, were small. Ultimately statisticians demonstrated that small schools are more variable in student success. In effect, student achievement in small schools can be both very good and very bad. Regardless, the variability and scale in small schools may be a far better context for improvement. (We’ve had the privilege of experience with the Gates Foundation. No doubt: their small school funding has had substantial social benefit.)

 Fast and Slow

Humans think in both fast and slow modes. Daniel Kahneman refers to these modes as System 1 and 2. The thoughtful, careful analysis you used to review the Gates story, cited in  Kahneman’s book, uses System  2. Through precise and deliberate effort you considered the descriptive narrative.

In contrast, System 1 is nearly instant. For example, it helps you quickly respond to a loud noise or simple, verbal sentence. It is most simply understood as a reaction. Often, this is based on impulse. We all need to make quality decisions and plans – whether instantly or over time.

Patterns, Chance and Humility

Because humans are predisposed to causal thinking, we look for patterns and associated explanations first. We can easily make mistakes. Our mind prefers perceptions of an ordered, coherent world. But, these can be cognitive illusions.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman urges us to recognize “many facts are due to chance.” The definition of chance is humbling because it means random events cannot be explained. It’s important to look for patterns and cause while we also acknowledge chance.

Deliberate Quality

The implications of this reality has influence on the potential for our effectiveness. It may be important to: listen better, do enough diligent discovery, understand key factors, and explore alternative hypotheses. It is essential that we review data more carefully for validity and reliability.

Fast and slow thinking are both important to our complex work environments. Consider meta-cognition a quality check. Think about your own thinking and that of others. Be careful enough you sidestep either a foregone or logical conclusion which may be wrong.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect 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

Sainthood and The Devil’s Advocate

May 8, 2011

 

St. Paul

 

What’s a weighted indicator of great talent? It  is something savvy employers seek and education systems are challenged to teach: critical thinking.

 Observation, Reflection, Reason

When a parent suggests a child consider the kindness of strangers may not be what it first appears – they teach critical thinking. Prompts that help to question assumptions about a nice man who needs “help” to find a lost puppy launches a new way of interpreting cues and context. The disciplined process of actively evaluating information gathered by observation, reflection and reason is critical thinking.

It happens when: 

  • There’s an urgent need to discover why cheese melts on a processing belt,
  • A complex social issue like teen pregnancy  resists intervention, and
  • An educator puzzles over why a student isn’t grasping a new concept. 

People use critical thinking skills to conceptualize, analyze, synthesize and apply alternative remedies to solve problems. An important part of critical thinking is considering the significance of claims. This raises questions like: What explanations are there for this? What else do we need to know? Recognizing unstated values, examining relationships between propositions and pattern detection are also features of critical thinking.

Discard Rote

In a knowledge economy, rote responses are often inadequate. BP Group Chief Executive John Browne, who resigned in the wake of serious criticism about ruthless cost-cutting that may have compromised safety after the Texas City Refinery explosion, said “We need to ask more disagreeable questions.”

“Intellectual disobedience” or critical thinking offers better access to and vital participation in the highly dynamic world we live in now. It is essential to innovation and development. When a person judges, decides, reflects, discerns or assesses conclusions they employ a fluid intelligence.

Don’t confuse critical thinking with criticism. The qualifier of critical as it precedes thinking means importance, central or crucial. Its origin is the ancient Greek, kriterion, which means standards. When understood in the context of a skill or approach, “critical” doesn’t mean disapproval or negative. Critical thinking, in fact, has many very positive and important uses.

Green Light, Red Light

Some cultures promote and foster it far better than others. In a safe work place, critical thinking can happen without penalty. In fact, it is aggressively sought and highly prized in many settings. Critical thinking advances the chance of securing an intended result by taking the initiative to review options.  It’s key to adaptation. 

But, if “pleasing” is de rigeur and “challenge” is not safe, independent thought is often squelched to secure approval. People, organizations, and cultures that focus on a single “right” answer limit knowledge. They also teach a form of obedience that better serves social cohesion (think Stepford Wives).  In contrast, the process of searching can deeply engage the human mind and spirit. 

Quality Assurance

The Catholic Church employs critical thinking. During canonization, the Vatican appoints someone to ensure thorough review of proposed candidates. It was the job of the  Devil’s Advocate to ask hard questions in the process of selecting a new saint. The current reference for the Devil’s Advocate is now Promoter of Justice. Importantly, the questions raised are a quality assurance method!

The capacity to intellectually imagine and explore different ways of thinking and acting is vital to growth. It is essential to manage and lead change.  How can civil society, enterprise, our environment or our world improve without thoughtful reflection or questioning “authority”?

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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