When things go awry, we often discover that wishful thinking played a role. As we've seen, it can affect our perceptions, our interpretations of those perceptions, the inferences we draw from those interpretations, and our choices of responses. We continue now exploring how it can affect that first stage, our perceptions.
- Sunk cost effect
- The sunk cost effect makes us more likely to continue along lines where we already have investments. With respect to perceptions, it causes us to acquire more information about familiar options, as opposed to options about which we know less. Since our preferences (our wishes) often set priorities, sunk costs tend to curtail acquisition of information about options that are inconsistent with our wishes, even when those options have superior potential. Our wished-for options therefore seem superior if for no other reason than that we know more about them.
- Have you set research priorities according to what you wish were true? Have you invested in learning more about the familiar, or do you set priorities on the basis of objectively assessed potential?
- Sunk time effect
- Given the analogy between time and other finite resources, it's surprising that investigations into a "sunk time effect" have begun so recently. But evidence does suggest its existence [Navarro 2009]. Having spent time investigating what we wish were true, we're more likely to continue along those lines, even when other options are more promising.
- Have you spent so much time on preferred options that you feel you have no time to examine alternatives? Was there an earlier point when you could have considered alternatives?
- Anchoring is the tendency to rely too much on information received first, compared to later arriving information. The first information sets an "anchor." It becomes the standard against which we evaluate all subsequent information. When we gather information in support of our wishes first, as is often done, our wishes can become anchors.
- Imagine how you would have evaluated later-arriving information if it had arrived earlier. Would it have had a different effect then? Would it have changed the questions you asked?
- Dunning-Kruger effect
- The Dunning-Kruger When we set learning priorities based
on our preferred approaches, we bias
our learning in favor of our preferences
and at the expense of possibly
superior alternativeseffect has several consequences. It includes the tendency of people who are less competent to overestimate their own competence, the tendency of the more competent to underestimate their own competence, and everyone's tendency to confuse confidence with competence. The least competent are often the most confident; the least confident are often the most competent. We're less likely to accept advice from cautious experts than from confident ignoramuses.
- Is the substance of the advice you receive truly all that matters? Is the manner of the advisor, whether confident or cautious, a factor in your evaluation of that advice? Is the degree of alignment between that advice and what you wanted to hear completely irrelevant?
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For more about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, see "The Paradox of Confidence," Point Lookout for January 7, 2009; "How to Reject Expert Opinion: II," Point Lookout for January 4, 2012; "Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual," Point Lookout for August 29, 2012; "Overconfidence at Work," Point Lookout for April 15, 2015; "Wishful Significance: II," Point Lookout for December 23, 2015; "Cognitive Biases and Influence: I," Point Lookout for July 6, 2016; and "The Paradox of Carefully Chosen Words," Point Lookout for November 16, 2016.
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- What Haven't I Told You?
- When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to
avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering
this kind of knowledge more systematically.
- Bois Sec!
- When your current approach isn't working, you can scrap whatever you're doing and start again —
if you have enough time and money. There's a less radical solution, and if it works, it's usually both
cheaper and faster.
- Asking Brilliant Questions
- Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately
halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone
can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
- The Goal Is Not the Path
- Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for
another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.
- Brainstorming and Speedstorming: I
- Recent research suggests that brainstorming might not be as effective as we would like to believe it
is. An alternative, speedstorming, might have some advantages for some teams solving some problems.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on 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.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
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.