Wishful thinking is a means of reaching pleasing conclusions, maintaining preferred beliefs, or rejecting unfavorable beliefs. We think wishfully by cherry-picking evidence, bending the rules of rational thought, or creating substitutes for reality. Wishful thinking can be a source of risk in every human endeavor, whether we're rebuilding the U.S. Air Traffic Control system, or deciding whether or not to have a third child, or crossing a street in heavy traffic.
Because we can detect wishful thinking much more easily in others than in ourselves, tools for detecting it are important assets for people who must make decisions of consequence. For thinking about thinking, useful tools must be simple, because we need them while thinking about something else is actually happening. One such simple framework is the "Ingredients of an Interaction," a model of the person-to-person communication process developed by Virginia Satir [Satir 1991]. For our Wishful Thinking interventions, we'll use an even simpler form of the Satir Interaction Model, due to Jerry Weinberg [Weinberg 1993]. And instead of applying it to the case of person-to-person interaction, we'll be applying it to the more general case of person-World interactions.
For our purposes, the model describes the thought process that occurs from the moment we take in data from the World, to the moment when we execute a response to that data. The process has four stages, though we don't necessarily move through these stages in a strictly linear fashion. They are:
- During Intake, Wishful thinking can be
a source of risk in every
human endeavorwe acquire information about the outside World. For example, we might receive a message that an "all hands" meeting will be held this afternoon at 3PM.
- Here we interpret the data we've acquired, and ascribe meaning to it. In our example, the meaning might be that we must attend an all-hands meeting at 3PM. There really isn't much more to it than that.
- In this stage, we evaluate the significance of the meaning we made of the data. In our example, we might realize that we must reschedule our daily 3PM team meeting. Or we might begin to worry that layoffs are coming. Minds can easily boggle.
- Finally, we formulate and execute some kind of action. In our example, we might decide to notify the team that today's 3PM meeting is cancelled, and remind them that tomorrow's meeting will be held as usual. Or we might phone a trusted ally and suggest a meeting over coffee to discuss the layoffs.
That's the simplified form of the Satir Interaction Model. Our wishes, desires, and preferences can enter at any stage, and when they do, they do so in different ways peculiar to the stage involved. In coming weeks, we'll investigate how our wishes influence each stage of the process. Until then, think about which stage might be most vulnerable to wishful thinking for you. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
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And when some information is withheld within an elite group, the team faces unique risks.
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- If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to
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a top priority problem. What can you do?
- Wishful Interpretation: I
- Wishful thinking comes from more than mere imagination. It can enter when we interpret our own observations
or what others tell us. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways our wishes affect how we interpret
- Unresponsive Suppliers: I
- If we depend on suppliers for some tasks in a project, or for necessary materials, their performance
can affect our ability to meet deadlines. What can we do when a supplier's performance is problematic,
and the supplier doesn't respond to our increasingly urgent pleas for attention?
- Unresponsive Suppliers: III
- When suppliers have a customer orientation, we can usually depend on them. But government suppliers
are a special case.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Associated with the trend to a single pool of paid time off from separate categories for vacation, sick time, and personal days are what might be called paid-time-off risks. If your team must meet customer expectations or a schedule of deliverables, managing paid-time-off risks can be important. Available here and by RSS on November 20.
- And on November 27: Implicit Interrogations
- Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations? Available here and by RSS on November 27.
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On 14 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.
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