Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 44;   November 4, 2015: Wishful Thinking and Perception: II

Wishful Thinking and Perception: II

by

Continuing our exploration of causes of wishful thinking and what we can do about it, here's Part II of a little catalog of ways our preferences and wishes affect our perceptions.
The U.S. F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter lifts off for its first training sortie March 6, 2012, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida

The U.S. F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter lifts off for its first training sortie March 6, 2012, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The F-35 program is perhaps a classic example of the consequences of sunk cost thinking. According to an article in the <,cite>,National Review<,/cite>,, the biggest threat to U.S. military preparedness does not come from any conceivable foe. As the article states, "The biggest threat comes from the F-35 — a plane that is being projected to suck up 1.5 trillion precious defense dollars. For this trillion-dollar-plus investment we get a plane far slower than a 1970s F-14 Tomcat, a plane with less than half the range of a 40-year-old A-6 Intruder, a plane whose sustained-turn performance is that of a 1960s F-4 Phantom, and a plane that had its head handed to it by an F-16 during a recent dogfight competition. The problem is not just hundreds of billions of dollars being wasted on the F-35, it is also about not having that money to spend on programs that would give us a far bigger bang for the buck." Photo by Samuel King Jr., courtesy U.S. Air Force.

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
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 alternatives
effect has several consequences. [Kruger 1999] 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?

We'll investigate how wishful thinking affects our interpretation of data next time. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Wishful Interpretation: I  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

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; "The Paradox of Carefully Chosen Words," Point Lookout for November 16, 2016; and "Risk Acceptance: One Path," Point Lookout for March 3, 2021.

Footnotes

Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Navarro 2009]
Anton D. Navarro and Edmund Fantino. "The Sunk-Time Effect: An Exploration," in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 22:3 (2009), 252-270. Back
[Kruger 1999]
Justin Kruger and David Dunning. "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77:6 (1999), 1121-1134. Available here. Retrieved 17 December 2008. Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.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.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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 Problem Solving and Creativity:

Jersey barriers outside the U.S. White HouseProblem Defining and Problem Solving
Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving, and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.
A team raises a wall of a new home sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentOrganizing a Barn Raising
Once you find a task that you can tackle as a "barn raising," your work is just beginning. Planning and organizing the work is in many ways the hard part.
Ice on Challenger's launch pad hours before the launchUnintended Consequences
Sometimes, when we solve problems, the solutions create new problems that can be worse than the problems we solve. Why does this happen? How can we limit this effect?
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningTackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end.
Cassandra, from a painting by Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919)Cassandra at Work
When a team makes a wrong choice, and only a tiny minority advocated for what turned out to have been the right choice, trouble can arise when the error at last becomes evident. Maintaining team cohesion can be a difficult challenge for team leaders.

See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What most of us think of when we think of checklistsComing February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, 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.