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? rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.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:

A variety of fruit choicesWhen All Your Options Are Bad
When you have several options, and all seem politically risky, what can you do? Here are two guidelines to finding your way to a good outcome.
A traffic sign warning of trouble aheadNine Positive Indicators of Negative Progress
Project status reports rarely acknowledge negative progress until after it becomes undeniable. But projects do sometimes move backwards, outside of our awareness. What are the warning signs that negative progress might be underway?
XP-80 prototype Lulu-Belle on the groundRationalizing Creativity at Work: II
Creative thinking at work can be nurtured or encouraged, but not forced or compelled. Leaders who try to compel creativity because of very real financial and schedule pressures rarely get the results they seek. Here are examples of tactics people use in mostly-futile attempts to compel creativity.
Brendan Nyhan and Jason ReiflerWishful Significance: I
When things don't work out, and we investigate why, we sometimes attribute our misfortune to "wishful thinking." In this part of our exploration of wishful thinking we examine how we arrive at mistaken assessments of the significance of what we see, hear, or learn.
A collapsed bridgeDuring-Action Reviews
When you depend on internal services to get your job done, and they aren't being delivered in a customer-oriented fashion, solving the problem during the incident isn't likely to work. Here are seven tips for addressing the issue.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A well-festooned utility poleComing June 26: Additive bias…or Not: I
When we alter existing systems to enhance them, we tend to favor adding components even when subtracting might be better. This effect has been attributed to a cognitive bias known as additive bias. But other forces more important might be afoot. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceAnd on July 3: Additive bias…Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.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 post 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.