Point Lookout
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Archive of Point Lookout for 2021

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A gray wolfComing December 15: Do My Job
A popular guideline in modern workplaces is "do your job." The idea is that if we all do our jobs, success is most likely. But some supervisors demand that subordinates do their own jobs, plus the jobs of their supervisors. It rarely works out well. Available here and by RSS on December 15.
A working meeting with an auditorAnd on December 22: Internal Audits Without Pain
If adhering to established procedures is part of your job, you probably experience occasional audits. You can manage the pain of the experience by regarding audit preparation as part of the job. Because it is. Here are some tips for navigating audits. Available here and by RSS on December 22.

This page has links to articles from 2021. For other years:

December 8, 2021

The side mirror view from an automobileSurviving Incompetence: II
When your organization undertakes a misguided effort that will certainly fail, you have options. One is to head for the exit. To search for a new position in such circumstances requires some care. Example: an internal transfer might not really be an exit.

December 1, 2021

A white shark off the California coastSurviving Incompetence: I
When your organization decides to undertake an effort that will certainly fail, you have options. Continuing to oppose the decision probably isn't one of them. How can you respond to this incompetence and emerge with your career intact?

November 24, 2021

Monarch butterfly (top) and Viceroy (bottom)Three Levels of Deception at Work
Deception in workplace politics is probably less common than many believe. Still, being ensnared in a deception can be a costly and upsetting experience. A valuable skill is recognizing the three types of deceptions: strategic, operational, and tactical.

November 17, 2021

Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights, OhioWhen You Feel Attacked
Verbal attacks might be upsetting, but in creative conflicts they're usually permissible if related to substantive matters. When verbal attacks are personal, they can be unfair and illegitimate. The ability to recenter yourself quickly is invaluable.

November 10, 2021

Official Department of Defense photo of Caspar WeinbergerShould We Do This?
Answering the question, "Should we do this?" is among the more difficult decisions organizational leaders must make. Weinberger's Six Tests provide a framework for making these decisions. Careful application of the framework can prevent disasters.

November 3, 2021

Ecotourists visit an iceberg off GreenlandWay Over Their Heads
For organizations in crisis, some but not all their people understand the situation. Toxic conflict can erupt between those who grasp the problem's severity and those who don't. Trying to resolve the conflict by educating one's opponents rarely works. There are alternatives.

October 27, 2021

Browsing books in a library. So many books, we must make choicesFive Guidelines for Choices
Each day we make dozens or hundreds of choices — maybe more. We make many of those choices outside our awareness. But we can make better choices if we can recognize choice patterns that often lead to trouble. Here are five guidelines for making choices.

October 20, 2021

Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938On Ineffectual Leaders
When the leader of an important business unit is ineffectual, we need to make a change to protect the organization. Because termination can seem daunting, people often turn to one or more of a variety of other options. Those options have risks.

October 13, 2021

Henny Youngman in 1957The Risks of Humor at Work
Humor at work can be useful for strengthening relationships, making connections, and defusing tension. And it can be risky, too. Some risks: irrelevance to the here and now, leaving out the funny, or ambiguous sarcasm. Read this post for five more risks.

October 6, 2021

Bull moose sparring in Grand Teton National ParkDisagreements in Virtual Meetings
Disagreements about substance can sometimes become unpleasant. And it seems that the likelihood of this happening is greater in virtual meetings. Six tactics can help keep things calm enough for groups to work better together.

September 29, 2021

A collection of identical boltsFormulaic Utterances: II
Formulaic utterances are things we say that follow a pre-formed template. They're familiar to all, and have standard uses. "For example" is an example. In the workplace, some of them can be useful for establishing or maintaining dominance and credibility.

September 22, 2021

Handling Q&A after a presentation, a situation in which formulaic utterances occur with elevated frequencyFormulaic Utterances: I
With all due respect is an example of a category of linguistic forms known as formulaic utterances. They differ across languages and cultures, but I speculate that their functions are near universal. In the workplace, using them can be constructive — or not.

September 15, 2021

18 hatsIllusory Management: II
Many believe that managers control organizational performance more precisely than they actually do. This illusion might arise, in part, from a mechanism that causes leaders and the people they lead to tend to misattribute organizational success.

September 8, 2021

A drone carrying a camera, flying under remote controlIllusory Management: I
Many believe that managers control organizational performance, but a puzzle emerges when we consider the phenomena managers clearly cannot control. Why do we believe in Management control when the phenomena Management cannot control are so many and powerful?

September 1, 2021

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act, 13 August 1935Bad Trouble: Coping strategies
When Bad Trouble develops at work people make choices about coping. If they cope constructively, they have choices about how to do that. Even those who don't cope constructively have choices. Here's a survey of the wide range of choices people make.

August 25, 2021

A fictional tornado striking ManhattanBad Trouble: Misdirection
When Bad Trouble develops at work we have a chance to see what our organizational cultures are made of. Many of our colleagues respond constructively. When they don't, misdirection tactics are popular. Here's a little catalog of misdirection responses.

August 18, 2021

The mural on the wall of the Cambridge firehouseThe Major Annoyance of Mini-Digressions
Digressions are expensive. They limit progress in meetings. They're most noticeable when they deflect the entire meeting from its stated purpose. There is another kind of digression that's less noticeable, more common, and just as costly.

August 11, 2021

Main Reading Room of the U.S. Library of CongressMany "Stupid" Questions Aren't
Occasionally someone asks a question that causes us to think, "Now that's a stupid question." Rarely is that assessment correct. Knowing what alternatives are possible can help us respond more effectively in the moment.

August 4, 2021

A beach at sunsetWhat Are the Chances?
When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume that events are independent when they are not.

July 28, 2021

Tennis balls on a tennis court. Your fitness program can be a part of your job search.Be Choosier About Job Offers: II
An unfortunate outcome of job searches occurs when a job seeker feels forced to accept an offer that isn't a good fit. Sometimes financial pressures are so severe that the seeker has little choice. But financial pressures are partly perceptual. Here's how to manage feeling that pressure.

July 21, 2021

A dog in despairBe Choosier About Job Offers: I
A serious error some job seekers make is accepting an offer that isn't actually a good fit. We make this mistake for a variety of reasons, including hating the job-search process, desperation, and wishful thinking. How can we avoid the error?

July 14, 2021

Guardrails in a track bed as a rail line crosses a bridgeTime to Go to Plan B
We had a plan, and it was a good one. Plan A actually seemed to work for a while, but then troubles began. And now things look very bleak. We have a Plan B, but people don't want to go to it. Why not?

July 7, 2021

A hang glider pilot taking offTime to Let Go of Plan A
We had a plan. It was a good one. Our plan seemed to work for a while. But then troubles began. And now things look very bleak. But people can't let go of the plan. For some teams in this situation, there isn't a Plan B. For others, Plan B is a secret.

June 30, 2021

Handling Q&A after a presentationAnswering Questions You Can't Answer
When someone asks an unanswerable question, many of us respond by asking for clarification. That path can lead to trouble. Responding to a question with a question can seem defensive, or worse. How can you answer a question you can't answer?

June 23, 2021

Portrait of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)What Keeps Things the Way They Are
Changing processes can be challenging. Sometimes the difficulty arises from our tendency to overlook other processes that work to keep things the way they are. If we begin by changing those "regulator processes" the difficulty can sometimes vanish.

June 16, 2021

An empty theaterOrganizational Roots of Toxic Conflict
When toxic conflict erupts in a team, cooperation ends and person-to-person attacks begin. Usually we hold responsible the people involved. But in some cases, the organization is the root cause, and then replacing or disciplining the people might not help.

June 9, 2021

A meeting at a whiteboardSelf-Imposed Constraints
When we solve problems, the problem definition and associated constraints determine the possible solutions. Sometimes, though, solving the problem is unnecessarily difficult because we accepted self-imposed constraints as real. How can we avoid that?

June 2, 2021

Out-of-service gas pumps during the Colonial Pipeline shutdownThe Expectation-Disruption Connection
In technology-dependent organizations, we usually invest in infrastructure as a means of providing new capability. But mitigating the risk of disruption is a more powerful justification for infrastructure investment, if we understand the Expectation-Disruption Connection.

May 26, 2021

A bullying managerEven "Isolated Incidents" Can Be Bullying
Many organizations have anti-bullying policies that address only repeated patterns of interpersonal aggression. Such definitions expose the organization and its people to the harmful effects of "isolated incidents" of interpersonal aggression, because even isolated incidents can be bullying.

May 19, 2021

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonPre-Decision Discussions: Reasoning
When we meet to resolve issues related to upcoming decisions, we sometimes rely on reasoning to help find solutions. Contributions to these discussions generally use mixtures of deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning. How do they differ, and what are their strengths and risks?

May 12, 2021

Lady JusticePre-Decision Discussions: Emotions
Some meeting agendas include exploring issues related to upcoming decisions. Although we believe that these discussions lead to rational decisions, some contributions evoke possibly misleading emotional responses. Here are five examples.

May 5, 2021

A working meetingPre-Decision Discussions: Facts
The purpose of some meetings is reaching decisions. Because decision making can be difficult, familiarity with the forms of contributions that can occur in such discussions is helpful. Their connection to facts is critical.

April 28, 2021

Two people engaged in pair collaborationThe Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon.

April 21, 2021

A possibly difficult choiceChoice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to assess our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes.

April 14, 2021

A demanding managerWhat Micromanaging Is and Isn't
Micromanaging is a dysfunctional pattern of management behavior, involving interference in the work others are supposedly doing. Confusion about what it is and what it isn't makes effective response difficult.

April 7, 2021

A reversed calendar pageSome Perils of Reverse Scheduling
Especially when time is tight, project sponsors sometimes ask their project managers to produce "reverse schedules." They want to know what would have to be done by when to complete their projects "on time." It's a risky process that produces aggressive schedules.

March 31, 2021

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954Way Too Much to Do
You're good at your job — when you have enough time to do it. The problem is that so much comes your way that you can't possibly attend to it all. Some things inevitably are missed or get short shrift. If you don't change something soon, trouble is sure to arrive.

March 24, 2021

Don't tell me anything I don't already knowLearning-Averse Organizations
A learning-averse organization is one that seems constitutionally unwilling, if not unable, to learn new and better ways of conducting its operations. Given the rapid pace of change in modern markets, one wonders how they survive. Here's how.

March 17, 2021

A U.S. 100-dollar bill made into a jigsaw puzzleFacts, Opinions, Estimates, and Desires
One reason why resource allocation debates can become so difficult is confusion about the differences among facts, opinions, estimates, and desires. Clarifying their differences can reduce the length and intensity of resource allocation debates.

March 10, 2021

NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter, which was lost on attempted entry into Mars orbitOn Repeatable Blunders
When organizations make mistakes, they sometimes acknowledge them and learn how to avoid repeating them. And sometimes they conceal them or even deny they happened. When they conceal mistakes or deny they occurred, repetition is more likely.

March 3, 2021

Braided streams in Grewingk Glacier RiverRisk Acceptance: One Path
When a project team decides to accept a risk, and when their project eventually experiences that risk, a natural question arises: What were they thinking? Cognitive biases, other psychological phenomena, and organizational dysfunction all can play roles.

February 24, 2021

Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986Risk Acceptance: Naïve Realism
When we suddenly notice a "project-killer" risk that hasn't yet materialized, we sometimes accept the risk even though we know how seriously it threatens the effort. A psychological phenomenon known as naïve realism plays a role in this behavior.

February 17, 2021

A jigsaw puzzle with a missing pieceRemote Hires: Inquiry
When knowledge workers join organizations as remote hires, they must learn what's expected of them and how it fits with what everyone else is doing. This can be difficult when everyone is remote. A systematic knowledge-based inquiry procedure can help.

February 10, 2021

Working remotely, in this case, from homeRemote Hires: Communications
When knowledge-oriented organizations hire remote workers, success is limited by the communications facilities they provide. Remote hires need phones, computers, email, text, video, calendars, and more. Communications infrastructure drives productivity.

February 3, 2021

A vial of COVID-19 vaccineCost Concerns: Scale
When we consider the costs of problem solutions too early in the problem-solving process, the results of comparing alternatives might be unreliable. Deferring cost concerns until we fully understand the problem can yield more options and better decisions.

January 27, 2021

stacks of gold coinsCost Concerns: Comparisons
When we assess the costs of different options for solving a problem, we must take care not to commit a variety of errors in approach. These errors can lead to flawed decisions. One activity at risk for error is comparing the costs of two options.

January 20, 2021

A home officeAnticipating Absence: Quarantine and Isolation
When the pandemic compels some knowledge workers to quarantine or isolate, we tend to treat them as if they were totally unavailable. But if they're willing and able to work, even part-time, they might be able to continue to contribute. To make this happen, work out conditions in advance.

January 13, 2021

Why we have so many virtual interviews now: no one is in the officeVirtual Interviews: II
The pandemic has made face-to-face job interviews less important. And so we must now also master virtual interviews, and that requires understanding the effects of the attendance list, video presence, and the technologies of staging, lighting, and makeup.

January 6, 2021

A virtual interview underwayVirtual Interviews: I
The pandemic has made face-to-face job interviews less important. Although understanding the psychology of virtual interviews helps both interviewers and candidates, candidates would do well to use the virtual interview to demonstrate video presence.

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