In Part I of this series, we suggested that deep thought about difficult subject matter can sometimes cause blindness to related and important ideas — a kind of looking, but not seeing. And when we have preconceptions or we think we know what's happening, we sometimes don't even look.
Let's continue exploring ways of missing the obvious.
- Not knowing your own patterns
- If you don't know your own patterns, repetitions are likely. Recall situations in which you or your team missed the obvious. Whatever caused those oversights might still be in place, waiting to trip you once again.
- Track the patterns you tend to repeat. Data on repetitions is valuable.
- Seeking confirmation but not counterexamples
- When we have hunches or conjectures about something, we tend to search for confirmation rather than disconfirmation. It's satisfying to prove guesses correct — especially if they're our own guesses. And it's risky to prove guesses incorrect, especially if they're someone else's guesses.
- Falsifying conjectures can generate new insight. Examine past efforts. An imbalance in favor of seeking confirmation, rather than disconfirmation, could indicate this bias.
Sometimes entire groups or teams miss the obvious. Here are two common patterns.
- Media distortion
- The medium a team uses for meetings or other communication can strongly affect outcomes. It can even prevent effective communication, especially when virtual teams rarely or never meet face-to-face. It can conceal the fact that someone is withholding information. It can so distract people in meetings that they forget to mention something important. And the audio quality can be so poor that people miss subtle points — or even the main point — of the discussion.
- If your team or group depends on a virtual workspace, distribute notes and meeting summaries regularly to clarify issues and decisions. It's a poor substitute for co-located meetings, but it does help.
- Information siloing
- Groups If your team or group depends
on a virtual workspace, distribute
notes and meeting summaries to
clarify issues and decisionsconvened to resolve issues or solve problems usually include representatives of all functions that have relevant skills, information, or assets. Typically, they assume that everyone shares whatever they know. But when some keep information within their individual delegations, declining to share it, the knowledge that is shared acquires a bias, which can lead to poor decisions and missing the obvious.
- This comes about, in part, because of a cognitive bias known as shared information bias, which causes group members to discuss what all group members know already. They're less inclined to discuss what only a few group members know. The effect is more marked when there's a sense of urgency, or when group members are uncomfortable with ambiguity or lack of consensus. The effect is less marked when the group, as a whole, is concerned with decision quality. Sharing knowledge about the shared information bias is one way of mitigating its effects.
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More articles on Project Management:
- Restarting Projects
- When a project gets off track, we sometimes cancel it. But since canceling projects takes a lot of courage,
we look for ways to save them if we can. Often, things do turn out OK, and at other times they don't.
There's a third choice, between pressing on with a project and canceling it. We can restart.
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: III
- Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of
project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
- Project Improvisation and Risk Management
- When reality trips up our project plans, we improvise or we replan. When we do, we create new risks
and render our old risk plans obsolete. Here are some suggestions for managing risks when we improvise.
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable
to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion
of control" — might provide explanations.
- False Summits: I
- Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing
the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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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.