When we undertake assessment efforts to find opportunities for improvement, we risk biasing our results because we're subject to a variety of cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is the tendency to make systematic errors of judgment based on thought-related factors rather than evidence. For example, a bias known as self-serving bias causes us to tend to attribute our successes to our own capabilities, and our failures to someone else's shortcomings, or, more generally, to situational disorder.I mention self-serving bias in this context not only because it is an example of a cognitive bias, but also because it's one of the several cognitive biases that have direct effects on organizational searches for opportunities for improvement in processes, procedures, training, and strategies. In what follows, I refer to the elements of the set of processes, procedures, trainings, and strategies as artifacts. Cognitive biases Cognitive biases that affect searches for
opportunities for improvement are especially
insidious because they ought to be among
the results such searches should uncoverare effective, in part, because they operate outside our awareness. But the biases that affect searches for opportunities for improvement are especially insidious because they ought to be among the results such searches should uncover. In effect, then, a search for opportunities for improvement in artifacts is subject to the very phenomena that limit our ability to improve them. Below are some examples of cognitive biases that can affect searches for opportunities for improvement.
- Self-serving bias
- This bias causes us to misidentify the causes of successes and failures. As noted above, we tend to attribute our successes to our own capabilities, and our failures to someone else's shortcomings, or, more generally, to situational disorder. So if we're looking for ways to improve, this bias tends to steer us away from actual causes of failure.
- Priming effects
- Surveying the users of an artifact is a common approach to identifying opportunities for improvement. Typically the user population is asked to identify so-called "pain points." This approach might be effective for identifying sources of waste, but because the request specifically focuses on pain points, it tends not to find new opportunities for generating business value.
- Moreover, when people do identify issues, they tend to focus on those that have arisen more recently, rather than issues that have the greatest impact. This happens because of a set of cognitive biases known as priming effects.
- Another source of priming effects arises when Management suggests places to search for opportunities for improvement. Such suggestions cause the seekers of opportunities to focus on the areas Management has suggested, which might not be the areas most likely to produce improvements.
- Confirmation Bias
- Confirmation bias distorts our decision making in three ways. It limits our access to information that contradicts our preconceived notions, it causes us to undervalue information that contradicts prevailing beliefs, and it causes us to overvalue information that confirms prevailing beliefs.
- When we begin our search for opportunities for improvement, some of us might have beliefs about where the juiciest opportunities might lie. Confirmation bias then makes us more likely to find them there, and less likely to find them anywhere else.
- Myside Bias
- While confirmation bias appears in the gathering and weighing of evidence, myside bias appears in the way we use evidence in reasoned arguments. Myside bias is our tendency to overlook or even dismiss flaws in our own rational arguments that we easily notice in the arguments of others.
- The effect of myside bias is to cause us to be less likely to notice an opportunity for improvement in an artifact if we participated personally in the design, development, or deployment of that artifact.
- Choice-Supportive Bias
- Among the effects of choice-supportive bias is distortion of our assessments of the quality of our past choices, which compounds the difficulty of improving upon our past efforts. [Mather 2000] [Lind 2017] [Brenner 2021.3]
- This bias tends to make us believe that the Status Quo is already perfect. That's why mitigating the effects of choice-supportive bias is of special interest to organizations that are seeking opportunities for improvement.
Last wordsOne of the results of these effects is that, over time, we make "improvements" to the same artifacts again and again. This happens because our selection process for opportunities is biased. It repeatedly produces the same targets. Evidence of this is the festooning of these targets with improvements accumulated from multiple improvement efforts. Look around your organization. The most complicated artifacts are possible victims of festooning. Top Next Issue
Is your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
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.
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.
More articles on Organizational Change:
- Now We're in Chaos
- Among models of Change, the Satir Change Model has been especially useful for me. It describes how people
and systems respond to change, and handles well situations like the one that affected us all on September
- Conventional Foolishness
- Every specialization has a set of beliefs, often called "conventional wisdom." When these
beliefs are so obvious that they're unquestioned and even unnoticed, there's an opportunity to leap
ahead of the pack — by questioning the conventional wisdom.
- On Beginnings
- A new year has begun, and I'm contemplating beginnings. Beginnings can inspire, and sometimes lead to
letdown when our hopes or expectations aren't met. How can we handle beginnings more powerfully?
- Good Change, Bad Change: II
- When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us,
and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
- Changing Blaming Cultures
- Culture change in organizations is always challenging, but changing a blaming culture presents special
difficulties. Here are three reasons why.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And 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.
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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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