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Archive for the ‘cognitive bias’ Category

“Causes no harm to others”

Posted by Mark Bennett on August 11, 2012

Is it okay to do something that technically breaks the law, but causes no harm to others? Where is the line between what society forbids or restricts and what the individual wants to do anyway? What about doing something legal, and while it isn’t causing harm to others right now, still carries that risk?

Felix Salmon wrote an interesting, ethics-based counter to Randy Cohen’s opinion piece on bicyclists who run red lights. I’ll let you read each and draw your own conclusions about whether one or the other is on solid ethical grounds (you may or may not find it ironic that Cohen was formerly the Ethicist writer for the New York Times and has a book coming out called, “Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.”)

That’s stupid and I’m smart

To me, there was another aspect that is relevant to all of us as well, both as individuals as well as organizations. It relates to people’s chronic underestimation of risk and overestimation of their ability. Cohen touches on it, but I think he falls into a common trap about risk in doing so (seemingly to rationalize his own behavior – a common cognitive error.)

It’s this: “It’s okay what I/we do as long as I/we cause no harm to others.” It’s the philosophical “free-pass” to rationalize breaking rules without having to feel guilty about it. In fact, you can even feel more ethically-intelligent about it!

But there’s more to it. The companion quote is: “And I/we cause no harm to others because I/we are more careful/better than others.” This is a cognitive bias of the first order.

We’ve seen it in environmental disasters and the way the most recent financial crisis has unfolded. We see it in the way some businesses and individuals in those businesses continue to behave even after the consequences of their previous actions have been recognized, exposed, and reported on. In many cases, the rationale is either, “I/we broke no law” or “Even if we did violate a regulation, our actions caused no direct harm to others.”

It’s okay, I’m being very careful

The problem is that laws to stop at red lights aren’t there because we think that people intentionally drive into intersections if they knew they would crash into someone. It’s because even as careful as you think you are, misteaks happen.

It’s to a certain extent about risk. Risk is the bad thing that might happen. It doesn’t mean it will happen. A person could go their entire (natural) life running red lights “when it was safe” and never have an accident. A company could cut corners on pipeline inspections for decades and never have an oil spill. Another could get extremely leveraged on risky loans and never have to ask for a bailout (hey, it could happen!) The list goes on. Things where nothing bad happens even though a law or regulation is broken (or not.)

Checklists serve a similar purpose in reducing risk. Surgeons don’t intend to leave instruments in patients. Pilots don’t purposely ignore instrument readings. It’s easy to think that checklists are an unnecessary burden for you (but maybe not the other guy.) But as all humans are susceptible to errors in thinking and perception, even the most careful of us can think we took out all the retractors, checked all the dials, and examined all lanes heading into the intersection.

There is a whole spectrum here. For instance, we’ve seen that in the financial industry, companies take great effort to find loopholes in existing regulations, invent new financial products that aren’t regulated yet, or redefine existing products so that regulations don’t apply. When it comes down to it, is that really any different than ignoring a law? Is it okay since “everyone else is doing it?”

This wasn’t supposed to happen

Even when you point out the dire consequences *if* something was to go wrong, it’s very easy for people to come up with a back of the envelope calculation about why the % probability of something bad happening times the consequence is far, far lower than what “that other careless guy” or “that other greedy/reckless company” is doing.

So it’s okay. It’s not causing harm to others. Until it does.

Photo by CarbonNYC

Posted in cognitive bias, culture, risk, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Love yourself: love your self-assessment

Posted by Justin Field on June 27, 2011

Hey, it’s performance review time, and your manager has asked you to complete your self-assessment.  Are you filled with dread?  Don’t know where tostart?  Don’t know what to write?  Well, here are my personal tips to help you out.

As HR practitioners, we often assume that employees simply know how to do a performance review and how to go about completing their self-assessment.  But, my informal research tells me that people don’t really know what to do, unless they’ve seen a good model performance review, or, they’ve had the benefit of coaching in the art of performance reviews.

Step 1:  Start the hunt
Review your performance dimensions so you know what you need to hunt for.  What are your job competencies embedded in your performance review?  What were your performance objectives?  Are there any other elements that you would like to highlight?

Step 2:  Hunt for the good, the bad and the ugly
There are three elements that I find personally useful here.

  1. Scan your sent email from the last year and see if you can remind yourself of the big projects that you worked on over the past 12 months.  The cognitive bias of recency means that you’ll only remember recent achievements (in the past three to six months) so take some time to remind yourself of the good stuff you did right at the beginning of the performance year.  Pay particular attention to congratulatory emails from others — they have high value in the performance review cycle.
  2. Your performance system may have a journal or notes feature, or, you may have been super-organised and collected little nuggets of achievements and accomplishments in a Word document or a paper file.  Open up your performance notes and remind yourself of all the good (and sometimes the stupid or bad) things that you did.
  3. Use your workplace systems to get good numeric or quantitative evidence that will support your achievements.  For example, I often teach webcasts, and I send out an online evaluation survey after each event.  So I can easily review all the events that I produced, and work out the average satisfaction score for each event.  Another example:  one of my roles is to answer questions from the HR group about the performance cycle and our performance management system.  I centralised all these questions into an online forum, so I can count how many questions were posted, and how long it took me to reply to questions.

Step 3:  Write up your results
If you managed to find plenty of evidence during your hunt, then you’ll find it easy to write up your comments for each performance dimension.  For your competencies, you’ll need to use evidence to call out the behaviours that demonstrate proficiency in that competency.  For example, for a competency such as Presentation Skills, you may write something like:

I presented twice at our staff meeting on the use of social networking tools for learning within our division.  I also posted several blog posts on this topic on our internal team blog.  Four comments on the blog showed that my peers in China and Hong Kong valued this information.  For the last presentation I did, I scored 86% satisfaction from participants.

For your performance objectives, you need to include a blend of qualitative and quantitative evidence.  For example, for a performance objective around building relationships with customers, you may write something like:

For the Carlton Company, I arranged a visit to the CVC in California.  I clarified the purpose and target outcomes with the customer’s Vice President, and shaped the agenda in California to address this, collaborating with Product Development and Marketing.  Later, I arranged four visits to existing customers in Australia and New Zealand (Westpac, Qantas, Air New Zealand, NBN Company).  As an outcome, Carlton signed a new deal worth $1.2 million.

In essence, you need to be as specific as you can, and give good evidence to support your achievements.  Sometimes employees tell me that they feel that they are running out of achievements, so they end up repeating themselves.  A little bit of repetition is okay, but don’t use the same example for every single competency and performance objective — you’ll end up sounding one-dimensional, and one achievement does not illustrate a trend, which is what we are trying to illustrate in our performance reviews.

So, best wishes for your self-assessment.  Do leave me a comment if you find these tips useful (or, useless!).

Posted in cognitive bias, communication, development, engagement, performance, productivity | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Social Networks can help you not be a goof

Posted by Mark Bennett on April 19, 2011

Jason Seiden has a great post about how the very “opt-in” nature of social networks makes it easy to only join those networks that you feel comfortable in, leaving you unprotected from errors in thinking.

This reminded me I was going to write how social networks can actually help protect you from errors in thinking. We’re both right :-) because the answer isn’t in the tool, but how we use it (as is usually the case.)

It Takes Every Kind of People

The error in thinking* is that we tend to blame others’ behavior when things go wrong for them, but tend to blame the situation when things go wrong for us. Simply put, we are quick to judge others, we overly focus on people vs. circumstances, and we are sometimes lazy if we have to think too much in trying to sort it all out.

How can a social network help?

  • First, if you are getting a good feed of the *situation* people are facing and not just their opinions, you’ll have a better understanding of their circumstances should something go wrong. This is where useful status updates in your Activity Stream can really help.
  • Second, if you take the effort to build and maintain a diverse network, you’ll have more varied perspectives on the situation, creative ways to handle it, and better insight into unseen factors.
  • Finally, your network can do some of the thinking for you so you can really step back and grasp the bigger picture. By having your network take on some of the cognitive load, you’ll have more energy to think things through.

Don’t Surround Yourself With Yourself

The payoff for you is that these things will make you better prepared, wider experienced, and less vulnerable to bias – provided you invest in your network. Make it diverse, encourage the sharing of context as well as just content, and ask for ideas and thinking, not just facts and figures.

Jason provides an important warning: like any technology, social networks amplify our characteristics; they do not guarantee goodness. Apply these powerful tools with careful purpose and intent.

*The Fundamental Attribution Error – called “Fundamental” because a lot of social psychology hinges on studies and thinking about this bias.

Photo by Stewf

Posted in cognitive bias, social network | 2 Comments »

 
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