Category Archives: cognitive issues

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.

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!

Two Takes on Building Ecologies

An ecology is a place that evolves out of shared learning. How do we build ecologies?

It is not a topic that you will find in a school curriculum. Indeed, you will not find its underlying ethos — strategic modeling — there either.

Here are two takes on it

Flawed Ideas and Real Problems

We all want more and faster innovation. And therefore, we wonder how to maximize the rate that new ideas are translated into better products and services.

When we look at this challenge — how to maximize — we start asking, what is holding us back? What barriers can be removed that might speed things up?

It turns out, that these problems are mostly in how we talk about what we are trying to do. There is a big gap between thinking and using what we think about.

Greg Satell offers an interesting glimpse at some efforts to close this gap. Very cool!

Theory, Decision Action

According to Chris Argyris, organizational learning should be “double loop”. That means, the organization does not just learn how to do one thing better. It also learns why it does it as opposed to something else.

The first barrier to this is rather simple. Actions are based on decisions to act. So far so good. But what is the basis for decision? it is a theory or proposition If X then Y and not Z.

The initial barrier to double loop learning is that the proposition that drives decision and action is often not clear.

… we found that few people are aware that they do not use the theories they explicitly espouse, and few are aware of those they do use. If people are unaware of the propositions they use, then it appears that they design for themselves private assumptions that are not genuinely self-corrective. Thus they are prisoners of their own theories.

The problem is not that people refuse to adept their behavior to theories. It is that they are not aware of the theories that they are actually using.


A Shocking Learning Deficit

Chris Argyris wrote this back in 1991

Any company that aspires to succeed in the tougher business environment of the 1990s must first resolve a basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn. What’s more, those members of the organization that many assume to be the best at learning are, in fact, not very good at it. I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation.

Chris points out a rather astounding deficit. People who are generally considered  to be “the best and brightest” and in fact not well equipped to do what is required for success.

And the problem is worse than that. Chris goes on

Most companies not only have tremendous difficulty addressing this learning dilemma; they aren’t even aware that it exists. The reason: they misunderstand what learning is and how to bring it about.

There are two deficits

  • defining learning as just “problem solving”. Doing so focuses on an external issue and obscures internal learning that is needed. Not just to solve the problem at hand, but lean about how one can improve at solving problems
  • improving learning is not just a problem of a lack of motivation. Learners must learn how to think.

As a result, firms get into a rut — unable to learn how to do things better, even if the competition demands it.

Very interesting stuff.