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:
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- Risk Management Risk: II
- Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. Here are some
guidelines for reducing risk management risk arising from risk interactions and change.
- Managing Non-Content Risks: II
- When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand
— content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are
outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those
that relate to organizational politics.
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- Deep Trouble and Getting Deeper
- Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're
pretty sure there's no way out.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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