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:
- Seeing Through the Fog
- When projects founder, we're often shocked — we thought everything was moving along smoothly.
Sometimes, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that we had — or could have had — enough
information to determine that trouble was ahead. Somehow it was obscured by fog. How can we get better
at seeing through the fog?
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I
- Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting
chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little
catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- Nonlinear Work: Internal Interactions
- In this part of our exploration of nonlinear work, we consider the effects of interactions between the
internal elements of an effort, as distinguished from the effects of external changes. Many of the surprises
we encounter in projects arise from internals.
- 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.
- Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
- When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking.
Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
- And on August 19: Motivated Reasoning: I
- When we prefer a certain outcome of a decision process, we risk falling into a pattern of motivated reasoning. That can cause us to gather data and construct arguments that lead to the outcome we prefer, often outside our awareness. And it can happen even when the outcome we prefer is known to threaten our safety and security. Available here and by RSS on August 19.
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