Are You a Slave to Process?

I have heard this many times — “I know that X doesn’t work that well, but there is no other way to do this.”


This is the type of statement made by folks who are “slaves to process”. They are completely wedded to one way of looking at what they need to get done. As a result, they will not learn from what they do. And if there is a better way to get things done, they will never see it.

The problem is worse than it appears. It is worse because the longer you are married to a single way of doing things, the harder it gets to change. That is the message Jeff Bezos is giving to his shareholders. I couldn’t agree more. That is the message that United should hbe listening to after its fiasco in customer relations.

Playing the Confidence Game

Social advantage is an interesting phrase. It describes that thing that gives us power or leverage over other people. What is it though?

Good question. We know that certain people have more of it. They are more “influential” or “persuasive”. And yet it is difficult to isolate a single thing that gives them that capacity.

You might say it is money. A rich person can buy influence. But while money can buy things, it is less obvious that it can buy people. The reason has to do with confidence. The more confidence that we project, the more others are drawn to it. That is why we tend to fool ourselves into believing that we are more than we really are.

Psychologists have identified several ways of fooling ourselves: biased information-gathering, biased reasoning and biased recollections. The new work, forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Psychology, focuses on the first—the way we seek information that supports what we want to believe and avoid that which does not.

Is there a strategic value to this insight?

Von Hippel offers two pieces of wisdom regarding self-deception: “My Machiavellian advice is this is a tool that works,” he says. “If you need to convince somebody of something, if your career or social success depends on persuasion, then the first person who needs to be [convinced] is yourself.” On the defensive side, he says, whenever anyone tries to convince you of something, think about what might be motivating that person. Even if he is not lying to you, he may be deceiving both you and himself.

Watch Out for Bouncing ideas!

We labor under a great misconception about group dynamics. That misconception is that groups need a strong leader.

In fact, strong leaders do only one thing. They set the vision and enforce it. The group then needs to work on its own to bring that vision to reality.

This works best when members of the group know how to talk to one another.  That knowledge is not intuitive. To the contrary, it must be learned. Greg Satell offers a glimpse of this.

Most important — we need to mast the art of making high-powered exchanges.

A Critical Distinction: Certainty v. Conviction

We need conviction because it empowers us to act. Without it, we stare out the window doing nada. Indeed, great strategy is based on conviction.

But conviction and certainly different kettles of fish.  Certainty precludes investigation. It closes the mind and forces one into a defensive intellectual posture. If you are “certain”, for example, that it is 2;00, you will tend to argue with someone who says that it is 1;55.

By way of contrast, conviction implies sufficiently strong belief to act. It is less than certain until the action (as a test) produces a result that either confirms or contradicts the conviction at hand.

Thinking about Behavioral Triggers

One of the problems we all face in life — and it is a whopper — is how to stick to a strategic direction. The classic example is knowing how important it is to maintain a healthy weight. But to do that, we need to stick to a healthy routine that balances activity and calorie intake. Most people fail to do this.

We tend to think of it as a weakness. We lack will! In fact, we lack the knowledge that we need to modify our behavior. And we can get that knowledge. It is available. It is just something that we are not taught in school.

We are taught, for example, that discipline is important. That makes it sound like discipline is a good in itself. Wrong. Discipline is just the word that we use when we want to say that our behavior is under control.  We are “disciplined”. In other words, discipline describes a result, not the process.

To see how commonly we fall into this cognitive problem, consider the word gravity. You know what it is, right? Wrong. No human on this planet knows what gravity is. We just know its effect – when we let go of a ball, it descends to the ground. Why it does that, we have no idea.

So what process can lead to behavioral change? BJ Fogg offers us a glimpse. It all has to do with our sensitivity to triggers. All of our behavior is triggered by something. And we can master how to trigger behavior, as long as we do not exceed our capacity in a given moment.

Think about it!

Strategy and Diagnosis


The word “diagnosis,” he reminded me, comes from the Greek for “knowing apart.” Machine-learning algorithms will only become better at such knowing apart—at partitioning, at distinguishing moles from melanomas. But knowing, in all its dimensions, transcends those task-focussed algorithms. In the realm of medicine, perhaps the ultimate rewards come from knowing together.

The key point is that to think strategically, one must step back from the fray – to think apart. At the same time, it helps tremendously, if while you are in that position, you get great input.

Whether that is from a machine, or another human or a book or whatever, be on the lookout for sources. You never know when you will need them.