Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 8;   February 22, 2012: How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Preferences

How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Preferences

by

When people collaborate on complex projects, the most desirable work tends to go to those with highest status. When people work alone, they tend to spend more time on the parts of the effort they enjoy. In both cases, preferences rule. Preferences can lead us astray.
The Messerschmitt Me 262, which was the first jet fighter to fly in combat

The Messerschmitt Me 262, which was the first jet fighter to fly in combat. The German military was known for deploying new technologies far in advance of the Allies. The technology strategy of the Allies was, essentially, to deploy in overwhelming numbers weapons based on the weapons technology of the 1930s, manufactured using leading-edge methods of the 1940s. The German strategy was rather different. It explicitly depended on being the first with new, more powerful weapons technologies. Although the Germans did succeed in deploying modern technologies first, they were unable to deploy these weapons in sufficient numbers.

One wonders why they chose such a path. One explanation is that at some point, the technology strategy was hijacked by the military, who began pursuing advanced technology for its own sake. In his book, Why the Allies Won, Richard Overy makes precisely this point. In effect, Germany chose a technology strategy based on preference rather than results, and seems to have been unaware that preference distorted its judgment. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Although we don't always realize how our own preferences affect the outcomes of our efforts while those efforts are underway, this effect is often clearer after the fact. Obvious, too, is the effect of preferences on the outcomes of the efforts of other people. For instance, we easily understand why people procrastinate doing what they dislike. And we can also understand why people spend too much effort working on things they enjoy.

Yet we repeatedly misallocate resources. We often have the feeling that "we should have started this earlier;" or "We should have spent more on that;" or "We should never have undertaken this effort at all." Is it possible that so many tasks are beyond our ability to estimate the resources required? Or is something else is going on? Something we don't recognize?

Perhaps the problem relates to preferences in a subtler way.

One key to understanding the hidden effects of preferences might be the very fact that we feel that we could have foreseen the outcome. When we have a feeling after the fact, that we could have recognized some condition or other, we're acknowledging that we might have overlooked something. We might have failed to acquire information that was actually available. Or we might have failed to notice a connection that is now obvious. There are many possibilities, but one that is most difficult to accept is that we might be dealing with a phenomenon that distorts our judgment.

Accepting that our judgment might have been distorted can be upsetting, because we rely on judgment in almost every decision-making exercise. But rejecting out of hand the possibility of distortions makes us vulnerable to future distortions.

In this case, Accepting that our judgment might
have been distorted can be
upsetting, because we rely on
judgment in almost every
decision-making exercise
the effect of appeal or repulsion goes beyond mere resource allocation. Using the Eisenhower Matrix, popularized by Steven Covey as the Importance/Urgency Matrix, we can see that appeal or repulsion can distort our priorities by distorting our assessment of the importance or the urgency of tasks. Simply put, we're more likely to regard as important or urgent those tasks that we find appealing, and less likely to so regard those tasks we find repellent. In Covey's terms, appeal pushes tasks toward Quadrant I (both urgent and important), while repulsion pushes tasks towards Quadrant IV (both non-urgent and unimportant). And since the effect of appeal or repulsion is a distortion of judgment, this tendency is usually outside our awareness.

When assigning priorities to tasks, if some tasks are very appealing or repellent, be aware that the quality of your judgment of importance and urgency is at risk. Acknowledge what you like and what you don't, publicly and verbally. Use that acknowledgment to impose a discipline of objectivity on the process of setting priorities. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Tyranny of Singular Nouns  Next Issue

There is much on the Web about the Eisenhower Matrix and the Importance/Urgency Matrix. For Covey's approach, see his book, First Things First. Order from Amazon

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuOtbjrscwouvGlzVner@ChacnBirGrAiSgKQBiNloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Tugboats workingBecome a Tugboat Captain
If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.
A phoenixFilms Not About Project Teams: II
Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
The Johari WindowAssumptions and the Johari Window: I
The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to differing assumptions of the parties to the conflict. Working out these differences is a lot easier when we know what everyone's assumptions are.
A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempi), ashore, probably to lay eggsSeven Ways to Get Nowhere
Ever have the feeling that you're getting nowhere? You have the sense of movement, but you're making no real progress towards the goal. How does this happen? What can you do about it?
A bottlenose dolphinWacky Words of Wisdom: V
Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" are true often enough that we accept them as universal. They aren't. Here's Part V of some widely held beliefs that mislead us at work.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenMAPLaHtTDaEdFgloner@ChaceCdpywgAyqjmrLTkoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.