When we try to communicate complex, abstract concepts, it makes better sense to use a metaphor. For example, while explaining a change management initiative- like introducing lean processes, or teamwork in a traditional organization, moving into a knowledge sharing or innovation-based culture. There are any number of movies where a leader using a sports metaphor inspires teamwork to implement his vision. There are also any number of research studies on how to inspire teamwork, where individual achievement has been the norm. The idea is to appeal to emotionality; because mere rational tools are inadequate. Results indicate that metaphors can be a useful tool for helping individuals understand and accept the importance of teamwork. Today, in some organizations which I work with, needs that dose of framing. One business leader calls himself a Gardener instead of Director. While grooming his GenY employees, it helps them become disciplined innovators. Another business leader called himself Grim Reaper during an employee downsizing exercise. That helped the “walking wounded” teams heal themselves and take up additional responsibilities after downsizing. Today’s organizations are familiar with Rollercoaster rides, “becoming the moving target” “slap on the face”, “teams simmering in the Pressure Cooker”, or Marathon Effects, Juggling & Dropping some Balls, Big Brother Acquisitions, say, in the Telecom industry. That has become the New Normal for many. “Who moved my Cheese?”, Job redesign and Grief Cycle have become standard vocabulary in several sectors too. Some Sectors have even used Imminent Death as a metaphor to help understand the grim organizational realities. Some managers have had to Abandon Ship…which is a tragedy whichever way you look at it. Some employees described “Free Fall” or “Caught in an Iron Cage”, “Carried by the Current” or even “Tsunami” or, “It was Cast in Stone”. It was easier for “those who saw the writing on the Wall” or “Silver linings at the end of the cloud/ tunnel” or “were in the Driver’s Seat” or realized “we couldn’t drop the ball” or “culture was the glue that made it doable” Those who had to cope with “the Cream was off the Custard” or “Cushioned by the Network” were the lucky ones. Successful managers have played along with the affected – indeed used the same words to heal. They sailed in the same boat, while were Learning from the Book of Life. In a more comparatively benign scenario, the failure of inter-departmental communication was there for all to see. The prospective solutions were discussed, teams were asked to ponder the likely perspectives of other participants by assigning counter positions in a training situation. For example, the sales manager and a production manager were called to a meeting to discuss lagging sales of a new product. The trainer asked the sales manager to open the meeting with a discussion of ways in which the product could be presented more effectively to prospective customers. The production manager could then lead a discussion of how potential changes in the product or improvements in its quality might make it easier to sell. This approach forces each individual to adopt another’s perspective instead of rushing to frame the problem as someone else’s failure. The Metaphor used was that In The Company’s Journey, We are Co-Passangers. The Destination is a Common Goal. We Exchange the Role of Driver and Navigator. The traditional, less effective managers and problem solvers tend to interpret everything from a fixed standpoint. Instead, situations and problems can be framed and reframed in different ways allowing new kinds of solutions to emerge. Do you have an experience where metaphors have made it possible to cope with a grim situation; or change in attitude was possible through reframing the context? Do share with me and my readers your story of change management….
Before we can use our critical thinking skills, it is important to remove barriers to thinking clearly. Our biases cloud our understanding, analyzing and decision-making more than we can imagine. In fact, Wikipedia lists more than 100 psychological beliefs and biases. It also lists 27 sociological biases or barriers in understanding and decision-making. In fact, it will not be unfair to say that bias is the opposite of common-sense clear thinking.
So, in the first step of getting information or data, we tend to select data or information, saying- “this is not significant”, “that’s biased”, “this will not work in our company”
That is why we remove biases before forming our questions or setting the decision making context. Lets look at some very common biases:
1. Confirmation Bias or Cognitive bias
Confirmation bias happens when we gloss over or even actively look for information that supports our existing beliefs, and reject information that go against what we believe. This may be a result of our subconscious thoughts, rather than intentional bias. That’s why these are called ‘blind spots’. It can lead to missed opportunities and poor decision making. This can lead you to make biased decisions, because we don’t factor in all of the relevant information.
I feel susciptable to Confirmation bias while making career-related decisions as well as networking decisions. How often we feel pressured to make a decision by persuasive or powerful colleagues or mentors or role models. I even feel rebellious and find information that don’t support advice given by colleagues whom I am not so comfortable with. Can you think of such instances in your experience?
According to Mindtools, a 2013 study found that confirmation bias can affect the way that people view statistics. Its authors report that people have a tendency to infer information from statistics that supports their existing beliefs, even when the data support an opposing view. That makes confirmation bias a potentially serious problem to overcome when you need to make a statistics-based decision.
To Avoid Confirmation Bias
We can look for ways to challenge what we think you see by taking on the role of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ ourselves. We can purposefully, seek out information from a variety of sources, and use techniques like, Six Thinking Hats to consider situations from multiple perspectives. We can also deliberately seek out people and information sources that challenge our opinions, or assign someone on our team to play ‘devil’s advocate’ for major decisions.
I have made it a regular practice to consult my Reality Check- a few people who think very differently from me- fortunately, at home itself. It is a good practice to identify a diverse groups or individuals, and name them as our reality check, regularly seeking out to their dissenting views. This will become comfortable when it becomes a habit.
2. Anchoring or “first impression” bias
That is a tendency to jump to conclusions – or to base your final judgment on information gained early on in the decision-making process. On any number of occasions, once we form an initial picture of a situation, it’s hard to see other possibilities. I have some regret stories myself; and have deliberately learned to go through a Ladder of Inference.
To Avoid First Impression Bias
I never lose sight of my decision-making history, and have a cryptic poster on my computer, of my lessons learnt when I have rushed to judgment in the past. Mindtools’ Ladder of Inference is a model I use to force the stages of thinking that I need to go through to make good decisions. This takes some practice, and later becomes a habit. I may take a little more time, but it ensures a thorough, well-considered decision. No regrets later. if I feel pressure to make a quick decision. (If someone is pressing aggressively for a decision, I tell myself that probably, what they’re pushing me for is, against my best interests.)
3. Overconfidence Bias: Another similar barrier to good understanding is Overconfidence Bias. Researchers found that entrepreneurs are more likely to display the overconfidence bias than the general population. They can fail to spot the limits to their knowledge, so they perceive less risk. Some succeed in their ventures, but many do not.
To Avoid Overconfidence Bias
We Write down answers to the following questions before making a Pros and Cons Table:
⦁ What sources of information do I tend to rely on when I made the following Table? Are these fact-based, or on hunches?
⦁ Who else is involved in gathering information?
⦁ Has information been gathered systematically?
Bottom-line: Write down in charts, ladders, checklists or a notebook, the facts and feelings which you took into account while understanding or making a major decision. Never repeat some of these biases and faulty thinking.
More on Improving Critical Thinking in the next few posts…