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 exercisethe 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?
- How we deal with adversity can make the difference between happiness and something else. And how we
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- Recalcitrant Collaborators
- Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments,
other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant,
what can we do?
- Assumptions and the Johari Window: II
- The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to the differing assumptions
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called the Johari window.
- On Virtual Relationships
- Whether or not you work as part of a virtual team, you probably work with some people you rarely meet
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to maintain good working relationships with people you rarely meet?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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Many people 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.