April 16, 2015 1 Comment
According to experts in an emerging field called the Science of Choice, everyone can learn to make higher quality decisions. First understand the primary cause of poor individual decisions—overconfidence. Then realize that one of the reasons that groups make higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group is the ability to force participants to think outside of their normal comfort zone.
Natural decision making for individuals relies on an “inside view”. Not surprisingly, we call our meeting participants “subject matter experts” because their inside view is also known as the subjective view. For example, two people eating from the same bowl of chili may arrive at different conclusions. One may find the chili excessively ‘hot” (as in spicy) and the other, not. Both are correct from their subjective points of view, so how do we as facilitators “objectify” their assessment?
Participants, especially when focused on specific situations, tend to use information that is cheap; ie, costs little in terms of time to access and out of pocket costs. They make their judgments and predictions based on a narrow set of inputs. Perhaps, for example, there was only one habanero pepper in the chili, and it ended up in only one of the bowls. Participants do not consider the full range of possibilities. Frequently in planning modes, people paint a “too optimistic” view of the future, largely due to overconfidence.
Overconfidence is central to the inside view and leads to at least two illusions that can dramatically lower the quality of decisions:
- Illusion of Control
- Illusion of Superiority
Illusion of Control
People behave as if chance events are subject to their influence. Simply stated, people who believe that they have some control over the situation perceive their “odds of success” are higher, even when they are not. Numerous studies have proven the illusion of control, typically using random chance such as the throw of the dice. Money managers for example behave as if they can beat the market when in fact; very few outperform the major indices.
Illusion of Superiority
Most people consider themselves ‘above average’ drivers. Likewise most professionals place themselves in the top half of performers. Clearly, these judgments are absurd, as at least half of all drivers ought be discovered to be ‘below average.’ Likewise for professionals, as people maintain an unrealistically positive view of themselves, not everyone can be above average. In fact, according to one large study, more than 80 percent of those surveyed considered themselves above average. Remarkably, and scary too, the least-capable people often have the largest gaps between their perception and reality. Those in the bottom quartile of various studies dramatically overstate their abilities, and nearly everyone tends to dismiss their shortcomings as inconsequential.
What is the Solution?
Various researchers have discovered that building consensus provides the best way to overcome individual biases. When building consensus, an outside view is brought into the decision making process that improves on the quality of individual decisions. Here is a methodological approach for facilitators:
- Find a Surrogate (Diverge): Ask the group to identify similar situations, comparable industries, significant competitors, or even stir up the group by adding participants with competing points of view.
- Assess the Distribution of Potential Outcomes (Analyze): Treat the decision as conditional rather than fixed. Under what conditions might Decision A be more appropriate than Decision B, etc?
- Base decisions, especially predictions, on ranges of outcomes and probabilities, and not a fixed set. (Converge): Consider scenario planning and build at least three decisions; perhaps the sunny, cloudy, and stormy perspectives. Study the outcomes including the most common, the average, and check the extremes to help influence a group to consider an ‘outside view.’
- Calibrate the decision or prediction as necessary (Document): Remember the biases discussed earlier, as there remains likelihood that the justification of views may remain too optimistic and overconfident. Interesting research within the National Football League (NFL) about counter intuitive decisions such as going for it on fourth down, two point conversions, onside kicks and the like shows that coaches that are willing to break from tradition are more successful by generating more points and victories than those who play it safe.
Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.
Become Part of the Solution—Improve Your Facilitation Skills
The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).
Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.