Posts Tagged ‘priming’

Beware of Maps & Traps

June 2, 2013

sandtrap

Most often, decisions are made by building models or maps in your mind based on what’s worked before. Then, people typically follow the old map. This common process has inherent dangers. The resulting flawed decisions have a host of other implications.

What habits of mind can unintentionally enable errors?

Illusions are one significant challenge. Three specific illusions can cause problems: (1) the belief our own ideas are superior to others (2) the tendency to overestimate chances of success (3) the false perception of control.

Priming is another common response to our environment that demonstrates how susceptible we are to external cues. For example, wine shoppers in a supermarket purchase considerably more French wine when French music plays and more German wine when German music plays.

Be aware humans are significantly influenced by titled positions and a desire to be an “insider.” This is known as crowd or herd behavior. If the ethics or skills of leaders are less than stellar – it can cause considerable grief in organizations and communities.

Most Destructive

Denial is the motherlode of dysfunction. Denial has direct connections to maps. It occurs when reality is so unappetizing that people refuse to acknowledge it. Harvard professor Richard Tedlow says it happens when “the smartest people in the room” can be very dumb. In his book, Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Face Facts, he cites tabloid examples like Enron along with well known companies like Coke, Ford, and IBM.

Action Steps

Denial is in play when people refuse to adjust course and oppose trusted advisors in the face of clear evidence. Here are a few ways to tackle it:

(1) Call out people who dismiss facts or create a version of reality (rationalize)

(2) Insist on straight talk with facts

(3) Challenge assumptions

(4) Avoid groupthink, its the same as crowd or herd behavior

(5) Aggressively create new culture  that lauds inquiry, evidence and learning

(6) Watch for symptoms of denial in your own thinking and others

In golf, “going to the beach” hurts your score. A sand trap is an unwelcome detour. When managing people, recognize and avoid common traps of the human mind. Get a firm grip on perception (what we see) and reality (what is).

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

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


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