Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 12;   March 23, 2011: Indicators of Lock-In: I

Indicators of Lock-In: I

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

In group decision-making, lock-in occurs when the group persists in adhering to its chosen course even though superior alternatives exist. Lock-in can be disastrous for problem-solving organizations. What are some common indicators of lock-in?
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker, Repub­li­can of Wiscon­sin. In early 2011, Gov. Walker filed a so-called budget repair bill that he said was made necessary by a budgetary crisis of Wisconsin state government. The bill would have reduced compensation and benefits for several categories of state workers and rescinded the collective bargaining rights of unions that, coincidentally, had not supported the Governor's candidacy in the previous election. Even though the unions agreed to all concessions relating to compensation and benefits, the governor would not accept their agreement and refused to amend his filing to remove the collective bargaining provisions. The standoff deepened as representatives of the opposition in the upper chamber of the legislature fled the state to prevent the quorum necessary for a vote, and the standoff became one between the opposition legislators and the Governor.

At this writing the standoff continues. Although one cannot know for certain as an outside observer whether lock-in has set in on one side or the other or both, many of the indicators of lock-in are present. Photo (cc) Gage Skidmore.

Lock-in is a phenomenon in decision-making in which we observe escalating commitment to a decision of inferior quality, or to a course of action demonstrably less effective than one or more alternatives. In organizations, vendor lock-in is a common form of this dysfunction. In IT organizations, vendor lock-in happens, for example, when the organization builds custom software solutions based on a particular proprietary software or hardware technology.

Lock-in has other forms. They can be more insidious than vendor lock-in because they are self-generated and more difficult to detect. One example from problem solving is solution lock-in, in which the problem solvers escalate their commitment to a particular solution even when superior solutions exist or might exist.

Here are some indicators of solution lock-in.

Escalating commitment
Escalating commitment is the psychological state in which we continue to support a decision with increasing levels of resources despite its repeated failure to achieve projected results. It's characterized by an irrational desire not to abandon the decision.
Escalating commitment can be difficult for the committed to recognize, because we cloak the irrationality of the compulsion to continue in a series of rational-sounding explanations: "We almost have it;" "We're 90% of the way there;" "Our recent breakthrough removes the last obstacle in our path;" "We've been under-resourced but we'll get it with just a bit more effort."
Sunk resources
When things aren't going well, and a growing minority begins to wonder whether we ought to scrap what we have and start over, some inevitably say, "We can't quit now — we have too much invested."
This is the "sunk resources" Escalating commitment can be difficult
for the committed to recognize, because
we cloak the irrationality of the
compulsion to continue in a series of
rational-sounding explanations
argument, and it often dominates. The appropriate reply — "let's not throw good money after bad" — often doesn't prevail until there is no more good money left to throw.
The prototype becomes the answer
Problem solvers sometimes create prototypes of possible solutions, originally intended simply to explore the solution space. Under pressure from Marketing, Sales or even senior management, these prototypes are often offered to customers, and eventually become the solution.
When this happens, little consideration is given to the question of whether they are good enough to become the solution. The organization just locks in, failing to provide resources to study other possible solutions.
Undervaluing open options
Groups that have too little regard for keeping their options open are more likely to lock in. This can be a result of the personal preferences of group members. Some prefer early closure, while others like to maintain alternatives.
A group dominated by the former is more at risk of lock-in. Lock-in behavior can also result from perceived pressure from outside or above. When the group resolves these perceptions by locking in, it is at risk of bypassing superior solutions.

Next time we'll explore indicators of lock-in that relate to the history of the decision-making group.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Indicators of Lock-In: II  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

See "Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part II," Point Lookout for November 30, 2011, for a discussion of the connections between lock-in and confirmation bias.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

The Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain ForestTeamwork Myths: I vs. We
In high performance teams, cooperative behavior is a given. But in the experience of many, truly cooperative behavior is so rare that they believe that something fundamental is at work — that cooperative behavior requires surrendering the self, which most people are unwilling to do. It's another teamwork myth.
Winslow Homer's painting, BlackboardFill in the Blanks
When we conceal information about ourselves and our areas of responsibility, we make room for others to speculate. Speculation is rarely helpful. It's wise to fill in the blanks.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christa Quam holds her puppyBe With the Real
When the stream of unimportant events and concerns reaches a high enough tempo, we can become so transfixed that we lose awareness of the real and the important. Here are some suggestions for being with the Real.
The flagship store of the Market Basket supermarket chainCreating Toxic Conflict: I
Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates. Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
A voltmeter with a needleHigh Falutin' Goofy Talk: II
Speech and writing at work are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with puff phrases of unknown meaning and pretentious, tired images. Here's Part II of a collection of phrases and images to avoid.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Bay of Pigs, CubaComing September 30: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: II
Planning teams, like all teams, are susceptible to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Three of these most relevant to planners are False Consensus, Groupthink, and Shared Information Bias. Available here and by RSS on September 30.
Assembling an IKEA chairAnd on October 7: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule. Available here and by RSS on October 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.