Point Lookout
a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting

Archive of Point Lookout for 2019

Reverse chronological order

Here are links to all previous issues of Point Lookout, a weekly email newsletter. Bookmark this page. Or browse the Point Lookout archive by topic. Subscribe now.

The Bay of Pigs, CubaComing September 30: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: II
Planning teams, like all teams, are susceptible to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Three of these most relevant to planners are False Consensus, Groupthink, and Shared Information Bias. Available here and by RSS on September 30.
Assembling an IKEA chairAnd on October 7: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule. Available here and by RSS on October 7.

This page has links to articles from 2019. For other years:

December 25, 2019

Three gears in a configuration that's inherently locked upDisjoint Awareness
In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk.

December 18, 2019

Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, December 30, 1941The Trap of Beautiful Language
As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus.

December 11, 2019

An onion, sliced and dicedThe Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, humans tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics.

December 4, 2019

Benches at the beachImplicit Interrogation Tactics
When one person tries surreptitiously to extract information from another at work, an implicit interrogation is taking place. Here are seven tactics that people use to interrogate others without revealing what they're doing.

November 27, 2019

What an implicit interrogation can look likeImplicit Interrogations
Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations?

November 20, 2019

Delicate Arch, a 60-foot tall (18 m) freestanding natural archPaid-Time-Off Risks
Associated with the trend to a single pool of paid time off from separate categories for vacation, sick time, and personal days are what might be called paid-time-off risks. If your team must meet customer expectations or a schedule of deliverables, managing paid-time-off risks can be important.

November 13, 2019

Clouds at seaThirty Useful Questions
Whether solving technical problems, creating plans, or puzzling through political tangles, asking the right questions can be the key to finding useful approaches. An example: What questions would I like to know the answers to?

November 6, 2019

A collapsed bridgeDuring-Action Reviews
When you depend on internal services to get your job done, and they aren't being delivered in a customer-oriented fashion, solving the problem during the incident isn't likely to work. Here are seven tips for addressing the issue.

October 30, 2019

John Frank Stevens, who conceived the design and method of construction of the Panama CanalPower Distance and Risk
Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and to question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk.

October 23, 2019

An excavator loads spoil into rail cars in the Culebra Cut, Panama, 1904Power Distance and Teams
One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects.

October 16, 2019

The 20-70-10 rule, graphicallyPerformance Mismanagement Systems: II
One of the more counter-effective strategies incorporated into performance management systems is the enterprise-wide uniform quota, known as a vitality curve. Its fundamental injustice breeds cynicism, performance fraud, and toxic conflict. It produces performance assessments that are unrelated to enterprise objectives.

October 9, 2019

A performance reviewPerformance Mismanagement Systems: I
Some well-intentioned performance management programs do more harm than good, possibly because of mistaken fundamental beliefs. Specifically: the fallacy of composition, the reification error, the myth of identifiable contributions, and the myth of omniscient supervision.

October 2, 2019

Samples of bubble wrapStart Anywhere
Group problem-solving sessions sometimes focus on where to begin, even when what we know about the problem is insufficient for making such decisions. In some cases, preliminary exploration of almost any aspect of the problem can be more helpful than debating what to explore.

September 25, 2019

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgePlanning Disappointments
When we plan projects, we make estimates of total costs and expected delivery dates. Often these estimates are so wrong — in the wrong direction — that we might as well be planning disappointments. Why is this?

September 18, 2019

An unfinished building, known as SzkieletorThe Planning Fallacy and Self-Interest
A well-known cognitive bias, the planning fallacy, accounts for many unrealistic estimates of project cost and schedule. Overruns are common. But another cognitive bias, and organizational politics, combine with the planning fallacy to make a bad situation even worse.

September 11, 2019

A performance review formAvailability and Self-Assessments
In many organizations, employees develop self-assessments as a part of the performance review process. Because of a little-known effect related to the Availability Heuristic, these self-assessments can be biased against the employee.

September 4, 2019

An engineer attending a meeting with 14 other peopleHow Messages Get Mixed
Although most authors of mixed messages don't intend to be confusing, message mixing does happen. One of the most fascinating mixing mechanisms occurs in the mind of the recipient of the message.

August 28, 2019

A dog playing catch with a discPlaying at Work
Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean.

August 21, 2019

An abandoned railwayPerfectionism and Avoidance
Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky.

August 14, 2019

A lonely chimpanzeeWorkplace Politics and Social Exclusion: II
In workplace politics, social exclusion can be based on the professional role of the target, the organizational role of the target, or personal attributes of the target. Each kind has its own effects. Each requires specific responses.

August 7, 2019

Three gulls excluding a fourthWorkplace Politics and Social Exclusion: I
In the workplace, social exclusion is the practice of systematically excluding someone from activities in which they would otherwise be invited to participate. When used in workplace politics, it's ruinous for the person excluded, and expensive to the organization.

July 31, 2019

A happy dogMore Things I've Learned Along the Way: IV
When I gain an important insight, or when I learn a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my personal collection. Example: When it comes to disputes and confusion, one person is enough.

July 24, 2019

Domestic turkeys. The turkey has become known for lack of intelligence.The Stupidity Attribution Error
In workplace debates, we sometimes conclude erroneously that only stupidity can explain why our debate partners fail to grasp the elegance or importance of our arguments. There are many other possibilities.

July 17, 2019

Robert ZajoncBarriers to Accepting Truth: II
When we work to resolve differences of opinion at work, we often depend on informing each other of what we believe to be real facts. At times, to our surprise, our debate partners reject these offerings as untrue, even when they're confirmed authoritatively. Why? And what can we do about it?

July 10, 2019

Truth and LiesBarriers to Accepting Truth: I
In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen?

July 3, 2019

Filling a form in hardcopyAppearance Antipatterns: II
When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help.

June 26, 2019

Representative Don Young, Republican of AlaskaAppearance Antipatterns: I
Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects.

June 19, 2019

Lost in a mazeI Don't Understand: II
Unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous statements are problematic, in part, because we need to seek clarification. How can we do that without seeming to be hostile, threatening, or disrespectful?

June 12, 2019

A question markI Don't Understand: I
When someone makes a statement or offers an explanation that's unclear or ambiguous, there are risks associated with asking for clarification. The risks can seem so terrifying that we decide not to ask. What keeps us from seeking clarification?

June 5, 2019

Signing the Constitution of the United States, 1787I 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.

May 29, 2019

A rainbowNewtonian 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.

May 22, 2019

Portrait of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)Newtonian Blind Alleys: I
When we decide how to allocate organizational resources, we make assumptions about how the world works. Often outside our awareness, the thinking of Sir Isaac Newton influences our assumptions. And sometimes they lead us into blind alleys. Universality is one example.

May 15, 2019

Meerkats (Suricata suricatta), Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South AfricaEntry Intimidation
Feeling intimidated about entering a new work situation can affect performance for both the new entrant and for the group as a whole. Four trouble patterns related to entry intimidation are inadvertent subversion, bullying, hat hanging, and defenses and sabotage.

May 8, 2019

ClarityBrain Clutter
The capacity of the human mind is astonishing. Our ability to accomplish great things while simultaneously fretting about mountains of trivia is perhaps among the best evidence of that capacity. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we could control the fretting…

May 1, 2019

Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)Full Disclosure
The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility.

April 24, 2019

The road to Cottonwood Pass, ColoradoBig, Complicated Problems
Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape.

April 17, 2019

Prototypes of President Trump's "border wall."Gratuitous Complexity as a Type III Error
Some of the technological assets we build — whether hardware, software, or procedures — are gratuitously complex. That's an error, but an error of a special kind: it can be the correct solution to the wrong problem.

April 10, 2019

Gold ingotsCareer Opportunity or Career Trap: II
When an opportunity seems too good to be true, it might be. Although we easily decline small opportunities, declining an enticing career opportunity can be enormously difficult. Here's Part II of a set of indicators that an opportunity might actually be a trap.

April 3, 2019

The Striped Anglerfish, Antennarius striatusCareer Opportunity or Career Trap: I
When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap.

March 27, 2019

The U.S. Senate Chamber in 2011Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers?

March 20, 2019

Stones: many, many stones.Stone-Throwers at Meetings: I
One class of disruptions in meetings includes the tactics of stone-throwers — people who exploit low-cost tactics to disrupt the meeting and distract all participants so as to obstruct progress. How do they do it, and what can the meeting chair do?

March 13, 2019

A 1934 Packard Eight LimousineSome Risks of Short-Term Fixes
When we encounter a problem at work, we must choose between short-term fixes (also known as workarounds) and long-term solutions. Often we choose workarounds without appreciating the risks we're accepting — until too late.

March 6, 2019

A meeting that's probably a bit too largeA Pain Scale for Meetings
Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action.

February 27, 2019

A pair discussion in a speedstormBrainstorming and Speedstorming: II
Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming.

February 20, 2019

A group engaged in a brainstormBrainstorming and Speedstorming: I
Recent research suggests that brainstorming might not be as effective as we would like to believe it is. An alternative, speedstorming, might have some advantages for some teams solving some problems.

February 13, 2019

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California), Speaker of the U.S. House of RepresentativesGrace Under Fire: IV
People can be astonishingly inventive when trying to harm others. Some strategies involve driving to distraction the target of their malevolence by humiliating the target and lying about the target's character, deeds, or abilities. Targets who recognize these methods are more likely to be able to maintain composure.

February 6, 2019

It certainly has not been a good dayGrace Under Fire: III
When someone at work seems intent on making your work life a painful agony, you might experience fear, anxiety, or stress that can lead to a loss of emotional control. Retaining composure is in that case the key to survival.

January 30, 2019

Bottom: Aerial view of the Forth Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland. Top: Inside the Forth Rail Bridge, from a ScotRail 158 on August 22, 1999.Conway's Law and Technical Debt
Conway's Law is an observation that the structures of systems we design tend to replicate our communication patterns. This tendency might also contribute to their tendency to accumulate what we now call technical debt.

January 23, 2019

Two men whispering at a village festivalJudging Others
Being "judgmental" is a stance most people recognize as transgressing beyond widely accepted social norms. But what's the harm in judging others? And why do so many people do it so often?

January 16, 2019

Egyptian forces cross a bridge over the Suez Canal on October 7, 1973, during the Arab-Israeli WarGuidelines for Curmudgeon Teams
The curmudgeon team is a subgroup of a larger team. Their job is to strengthen the team's conclusions and results by raising thorny issues that cause the team to reconsider the path it's about to take. In this way they help the team avoid dead ends and disasters.

January 9, 2019

Publicity photo of American entertainer Bert Lahr, promoting his role as the Cowardly Lion in the 1939 feature film, The Wizard of Oz.What Is Hypophora?
Hypophora is a rhetorical device that enables its users to deliver simple messages with enhanced power. But it has a dark side. The people who read or hear those messages tend to assess them as having more merit than they do.

January 2, 2019

The Politics by Subject Matter matrixIssues-Only Team Meetings
Time spent in regular meetings is productive to the extent that it moves the team closer to its objectives. Because uncovering and clarifying issues is more productive than distributing information or listening to status reports, issues-only team meetings focus energy where it will help most.

Previous Year  Next Year

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
The Collected Issues of Point Lookout: 2001-2012Looking for insights, tips, and concrete suggestions for the conundrums and kerfuffles of workplace life? The Collected Issues of Point Lookout is a collection of articles from my weekly newsletter, all in a single ebook of 1263 pages, searchable and cross referenced. Check it out!
Support
Point Lookout by
starting your Amazon search here
When you start here, a part of every purchase you make goes to support Point Lookout, at no cost to you.
Search Now:
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
What People Say About Rick's Programs
  • "Rick is a dynamic presenter who thinks on his feet to keep the material relevant to the group."
    — Tina L. Lawson, Technical Project Manager, BankOne (now J.P. Morgan Chase)
  • "Rick truly has his finger on the pulse of teams and their communication."
    — Mark Middleton, Team Lead, SERS
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Terrific Technical Presentations!Audiences at technical presentations, more than most, are at risk of death by dullness. Spare your audiences! Captivate them. Create and deliver technical presentations with elegance, power and suspense.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.