Words of wisdom are typically so elegantly stated that we are seduced by their elegance. We accept them unquestioningly, because we think that their truth is obvious. But when we examine them more closely, with our brains fully engaged, we can often see that these beliefs are easily misapplied. Here's Part II of a collection of Wacky Words of Wisdom. See "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, and "Wacky Words of Wisdom: III," Point Lookout for July 11, 2012, for more.
- Well, if you really think it will take that long, you better get started
- This comment is useful for shaming a subordinate into abandoning objections about the scale of an effort, but it also works when coercing peers who are responsible for the task in question. The comment usually halts any further strategic thinking or discussion about the scale of the contemplated commitment.
- Rarely is halting thinking or discussion actually helpful to anyone other than the person doing the coercing. The decision about proceeding with any project certainly must take into account how much effort is required. If the effort involved is large enough, it behooves us to consider alternatives that might be less costly or take less time, and we might even decide to abandon the objective altogether. But exploring these alternatives isn't possible when we stop thinking.
- Never burn bridges
- Really? Really, never? I doubt it. The reference to bridges is metaphorical — the bridges are actually options or relationships. The adage cautions one not to deliberately close out options, or terminate or curtail any relationship.
- But obeying such a broad commandment would entail, for example, maintaining relationships even with those whom one regards as inclined toward the unethical or criminal, and those with whom further association is politically dangerous. Much more valuable advice: be selective about burning bridges. Burn only the bridges that ought to be burnt.
- In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy
- This comment, Be selective about burning bridges.
Burn only the bridges
that ought to be burnt.attributed to J. Paul Getty, does contain a valuable insight, namely, that our experiences tend to cause us to form attachments to things that might be changing. Those attachments can sometimes limit our ability to change. But the operative phrase is could be, which many interpret as is. We "hear" the comment as if the could be were is, and that's the source of the problem.
- Some experiences can create problems; others can be helpful. For instance, experience includes experience with change itself, which might be helpful indeed. Our experience with previous changes can help us adapt more readily when we must adapt. It can also help us recognize changes that won't last, and thereby save us from adapting to something that's only transitory. Experience is the source of good judgment.
We'll continue with this exploration in a few weeks, looking at three more examples of over-generalized beliefs. Meanwhile, can you think of examples from your own experience? First in this series | Next in this series Top Next Issue
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For more examples, see "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: III," Point Lookout for July 11, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: IV," Point Lookout for August 5, 2015, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: V," Point Lookout for May 25, 2016, and "Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI," Point Lookout for November 28, 2018.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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