Sunday, October 7, 2012

Overcoming Short-Termism: Understanding Cognitive Biases In Times Of Uncertainty

John Hagel, co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, shares incredible insights on his blog about the world we live in and our natural responses to facing times of high uncertainty.

He has painted a picture of hope and collaboration, and I would like to share it with you here, in form of an actual picture.

For more information, please visit the original text at

Overcoming Short-Termism: Understanding Cognitive Biases In Times Of Uncertainty

The Taboo Against Being Real In Management

A young man was appointed as a manager of a team of software specialists. One team member was a woman in her twenties who was very competent but discourteous towards her new boss. She did not greet him in the mornings, and she would continue to work on her computer when he tried to talk to with her. The manager felt hurt and angry, and worried about how to change their relationship. This one relationship added greatly to his stress in the new job.

An invisible part of organizations is the stress and pain associated with learning the role of manager. For many people the transition from specialist to manager is a rough road which stretches them to develop new competencies and to shift attitudes at the core of their personality.

It is entirely normal that a manager may have anxiety about confronting an employee, anger towards a resistant group, or fear of a project falling apart. However, the stress and emotional distress involved in learning to become a manager is largely disregarded as something which individuals should cope with on their own. That these emotions can be important to their learning is generally not recognized. Management training programs usually offer no forum for such discussions. In fact there seems to be a taboo against people being candid about these experiences. Consequently, they do not have support to talk over such episodes and feelings in a constructive way.

This is in marked contrast to the experience of training for psychotherapists. In this professional culture it is accepted that psychotherapists need to integrate emotional and cognitive learning. It is expected that trainees will experience their training as distressing at times. They take it for granted that they should work with their distressing emotions. They assume that the pain associated with learning is significant for development, and that painful episodes and emotions should be actively explored for their meaning and their contribution to the individual’s development.

Admittedly psychotherapists and managers work with different populations, for different purposes, and with different contracts. However, the manager’s role has significant elements in common with a psychotherapist, especially a group psychotherapist. Managers’ work is largely with people, and their competence in relationships is important. Managers work with group dynamics. The manager’s role induces projections and transferences which distort communications with employees.

This contrast in training approaches led me to research the significance of emotions in learning to become a therapist, which I anticipated would throw light on management training. My paper "Emotional Pain in Learning" describes the nature of the work on emotions that psychotherapists do during their training and explains why they see this work as important. See Emotional Pain in Learning

Several of the reasons psychotherapists described for working with feelings apply directly to the manager’s situation. They reported that they gained:
  • Support for and release from the feelings (anger, guilt, shame, etc.) that drained their energy and affected their ability to function.
  • The ability to convert their emotions into an articulate language which helped them develop the concepts they needed to understand the situations they encountered and to be less hostage to their emotions.
  • The ability to distinguish their own emotional issues from their client’s. e.g. Are they empathizing with the client or are they projecting their own feelings on to the client?
With little guidance in managing painful emotions, managers are handicapped in gaining fluency with the feelings their work relationships stimulate in them. They often fall back onto gut reactions and dysfunctional attitudes and models for their roles. For instance, the first impulse of the manager mentioned at the opening of this paper was to retaliate in some way. Another manager worked with a deputy who disagreed with a number of her policies and approaches. She experienced his criticisms as a personal attack. At one point, he sent out a memo with alternative suggestions for a particular project. The manager was offended, felt that the deputy had not shown her the respect due to her, and responded with a letter of reprimand. He lodged a formal complaint of harassment as a result.

Negative emotions are part of a manager’s experience, and the way he or she handles them is critical to success. Organizations can help their management trainees through:
  • accepting and supporting trainees’ emotional experience.
  • building time for personal development into training programs,
  • providing regular supervision of case material from the trainee’s practice.
Provision of this support can be a straightforward matter. One international corporation provides a leadership development program that helps its managers deal with the emotional stresses of their roles. Professional coaching helped in the two examples given earlier. Coaching groups for managers are another useful approach.

Unfortunately the dominant ideology within corporations denies the significance of emotions in management learning. There have been some shifts in this ideology in recent years as companies have recognized the need to support managers who lose their jobs with downsizing and communities understand that victims of disasters need counseling and other emotional support. However, the overarching belief remains that emotions do not matter in management learning. As a consequence much that has been learned about professional development in the field of psychotherapy is excluded from or pushed to the margins of the management training discourse.

Reference Nichol, B., (1997), Emotional Pain in Learning: Applying Group-analytic Experience in Non-clinical Fields. Group Analysis, Vol. 30, 93-105. Emotional Pain in Learning

About the author:

Brian Nichol, Ph.D., principal at the Business Coach Institute (BCI), has worked in the private industry, university teaching, and independent consulting. He is co-founder and director of the North Carolina State University Business Coaching Certificate Program, which provides training for people who want to become a professional coach. As an executive coach he has coached executives, business owners, management teams, and HRD professionals. He also has interest in group psychotherapy and is an active member of the Carolinas Group Psychotherapy Society. Brian holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology and has taught graduate courses in Organization Development (OD) and Human Resource Development (HRD) at the University of Manchester in England and North Carolina State University. In industry he was a training specialist with Kodak (UK) Ltd. and the Beecham Group (now GlaxoSmithKline). In 2000 he was President of the Triangle Organization Development Network.

Transparency Is The New Objectivity

A friend asked me to post an explanation of what I meant when I said at PDF09 [Personal Democracy Forum Conference] that "transparency is the new objectivity.” First, I apologize for the cliché of "x is the new y.” Second, what I meant is that transparency is now fulfilling some of objectivity’s old role in the ecology of knowledge.

Outside of the realm of science, objectivity is discredited these days as anything but an aspiration, and even that aspiration is looking pretty sketchy. The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark. Nevertheless, objectivity — even as an unattainable goal — served an important role in how we came to trust information, and in the economics of newspapers in the modern age. 

You can see this in newspapers’ early push-back against blogging. We were told that bloggers have agendas, whereas journalists give us objective information. Of course, if you don’t think objectivity is possible, then you think that the claim of objectivity is actually hiding the biases that inevitably are there. That’s what I meant when, during a bloggers press conference at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I asked Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Walter Mears whom he was supporting for president. He replied (paraphrasing!), "If I tell you, how can you trust what I write?,” to which I replied that if he doesn’t tell us, how can we trust what he blogs? 

So, that’s one sense in which transparency is the new objectivity. What we used to believe because we thought the author was objective we now believe because we can see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position. Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.

This change is, well, epochal.

Objectivity used be presented as a stopping point for belief: If the source is objective and well-informed, you have sufficient reason to believe. The objectivity of the reporter is a stopping point for reader’s inquiry. That was part of high-end newspapers’ claimed value: You can’t believe what you read in a slanted tabloid, but our news is objective, so your inquiry can come to rest here. Credentialing systems had the same basic rhythm: You can stop your quest once you come to a credentialed authority who says, "I got this. You can believe it.” End of story. 

We thought that that was how knowledge works, but it turns out that it’s really just how paper works. Transparency prospers in a linked medium, for you can literally see the connections between the final draft’s claims and the ideas that informed it. Paper, on the other hand, sucks at links. You can look up the footnote, but that’s an expensive, time-consuming activity more likely to result in failure than success. So, during the Age of Paper, we got used to the idea that authority comes in the form of a stop sign: You’ve reached a source whose reliability requires no further inquiry.

In the Age of Links, we still use credentials and rely on authorities. Those are indispensable ways of scaling knowledge, that is, letting us know more than any one of us could authenticate on our own. But, increasingly, credentials and authority work best for vouchsafing commoditized knowledge, the stuff that’s settled and not worth arguing about. At the edges of knowledge — in the analysis and contextualization that journalists nowadays tell us is their real value — we want, need, can have, and expect transparency. Transparency puts within the report itself a way for us to see what assumptions and values may have shaped it, and lets us see the arguments that the report resolved one way and not another. Transparency — the embedded ability to see through the published draft — often gives us more reason to believe a report than the claim of objectivity did. 

In fact, transparency subsumes objectivity. Anyone who claims objectivity should be willing to back that assertion up by letting us look at sources, disagreements, and the personal assumptions and values supposedly bracketed out of the report. 

Objectivity without transparency increasingly will look like arrogance. And then foolishness. Why should we trust what one person — with the best of intentions — insists is true when we instead could have a web of evidence, ideas, and argument?

In short: Objectivity is a trust mechanism you rely on when your medium can’t do links. Now our medium can.

Creative Commons License

About the author:

Dr. David Weinberger has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently a Senior Researcher at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Co-Director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab at Harvard Law School, and a Franklin Fellow at the United States State Department. He has written for the "Fortune 500" of business and tech journals, and writes an influential business technology newsletter and a well-known daily weblog, Joho the Blog. His latest book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder explains how the new rules for organizing ideas and information are transforming business and culture. David turns his experience and knowledge to the important question facing businesses today: How is technology changing the way my employees, partners and customers are putting themselves together, and how is that changing the basics of my business... and beyond. You can learn more about David here and connect with him on twitter @dweinberger.
Photo by Leah Weinberger

Stuck In The Drama Triangle


A manager’s job is inherently stressful – that’s what makes it fun; an opportunity; a challenge. But it can also be an emotional rollercoaster.

My husband once worked for a manager who repeatedly called his employees at home to discuss… nothing. I think it was his way of sorting out all the ‘clutter’. (I kept wanting to grab the telephone and ask, "What Do You Want From Them?!”)

When emotions run high and ‘thought clutter’ dominates my brain, I have learned that it’s time to make a change. A change that starts with me and the way I think. 

You know how it works; you are aggravated because a rude, opinionated customer complains to you - until you realize that his or her feedback helped you solve a problem or improve a process.

Marlene Chism writes: "The drama is the situation. Your drama is how you react to it.”
I recently read her book Stop Workplace Drama and discovered how relevant the topic is for managers. I learned that a drama-free workplace is ‘peaceful and prosperous’. 

That’s a matter-of-fact way to think about management, too: Great managers create peace and prosperity.

Getting Stuck

Business is about relationships. Relationships that prosper. If you’ve ever dealt with people, you know that not all encounters with other humans end on a high note. Marlene describes the three roles people play in dysfunctional relationships: rescuer, victim and persecutor (the drama triangle).

Me stuck in the drama triangle:
● Lending an employee money (rescuer)
● Feeling sorry for myself because I am overworked (victim)
● Chewing someone out while feeling superior (persecutor)

In the picture above, empowerment describes the life outside the triangle. But I’m not a big fan of it. It’s like the word leadership – not very practical.
A New Perspective

Marlene makes the concept of empowerment actionable:
"The path to developing a great team and positive workplace is empowerment. Leaders must be able to develop other creators. Creators take responsibility. They don’t blame the economy, another person, or a situation. […] ‘Become a creator’ is a fancy way of saying take responsibility.”

It gets even better:

"Responsibility is the recognition of choice."

I love that.

When emotions run high, I can identify the choices I have made, own them, and move forward.
Check out an excerpt from the book here: Setting boundaries and turning employees into problem-solvers.

Our Strengths And Weaknesses Are Known

This is one of my guiding beliefs and I invite you to take it on, too. This belief has the power to reduce stress, improve clarity, and make your likeability skyrocket. Really! 

Our strengths and weaknesses are known. Leadership is a social act. It occurs in conversation. It is visible. And because leadership is visible, what we are great at and what we stink at is known. If we are a control freak, everyone knows this. If we tend to become defensive when people offer alternative ideas, everyone sees this. If we meet our time lines, this is known, If we routinely miss deadlines, people have learned this about us. The ways in which we ADD to the team are known and the ways in which we REDUCE team effectiveness is known. 

And we all excel at some things and not at others. We are beautifully flawed leaders, even the best of us! The reason that adopting this belief – that our strengths and weaknesses are known – is freeing is that this means that there is no downside to being open about our challenges and fatal flaws. Our employees will not respect us less if we acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses. In fact, if we are open and show an interest in reducing derailing factors, peers and employees will respect us more. 

Your strengths and weaknesses ARE known. Make sure you are not the last to know and that you use the power of this belief to grow while improving your reputation.

About the author:

Lisa Haneberg is the Vice President and OD Consulting Practice Lead at MPI Consulting. She has over 25 years experience providing consulting, training and coaching solutions for large and small companies, and government and nonprofit organizations. Lisa has written several business books and speaks on a broad range of topics of interest to leaders and managers. She joined MPI after running her own successful consulting practice for several years. Prior to this, she held internal leadership positions in companies such as Black & Decker, Mead Paper, Intel,, Cruise West, and the Beacon Hotel Corporation. Lisa is the author of the popular blog Management Craft. You can follow her on twitter @lisahaneberg.

Why Isn’t “Thinking Time” Part Of Your Standard Work?

I'm continually struck by the relentless, frenzied pace that people maintain at work. Whether it's an engineer at a high-tech startup in which speed is part of the company's DNA, or an attorney at a law firm who insists she has to respond immediately (if not sooner) to a client's call, or the head of a non-profit focused on building community support for the organization's mission, everyone is obsessed with speed and responsiveness.

But does a myopic focus on one aspect of performance really lead to the best results? Are we sacrificing quality on the altar of speed?

[A] Corner Office interview in the NYTimes was striking for the assertion — once again — that there's nothing more important than taking time away to (gasp!) actually think. John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, says
I take days away. This is the only phone call I’m taking today, because it’s a thinking day. It’s a day to just get away and step back and reflect. And I find that very hard to do in the office or in a familiar environment. I find that if I don’t schedule a little bit of structured time away, where there’s no interruption, that it’s very hard to get the kind of thinking time and reflection time that I think is so important.

He goes on to explain that even though he takes one of these days every two months, he thinks he should take more of them — at least one per month. As it is, he uses long flights where's there's no email or cellphone service to give himself some pure, uninterrupted thinking time.

Donahoe also maintains that email can be a real problem. He points out that
On the one hand the BlackBerry’s a productivity tool. On the other hand, it can be a very fragmenting thing. If I’m spending all day checking my BlackBerry, by definition I’m reactive. And so I try to only do e-mail first thing in the morning or in the evening, because I find if I check e-mail during the day, I go from being proactive about what I want to get accomplished that day to being reactive, and that’s a bit of a trap. Being reactive is a lot easier than being proactive, and e-mail and the BlackBerry are natural tools to facilitate that.

I think that Donahoe has really nailed it here: email leads us to become reactive, rather than proactive. If all you're doing is responding to new, incoming messages, by definition you're putting out yesterday's fires. And further, you're implicitly placing greater importance on the newest thing (by giving it attention) rather than what you're currently doing — which is patently ludicrous.

Some people think that it's all well and good for a CEO to unplug himself — when you're the big cheese, you make the rules — that's just not possible for the folks in the trenches. But I think that's a lie. Unless you're in a sadly dysfunctional organization (and if you are, feel free to stop reading now and go to for the latest baseball scores), you're being paid to create value for customers (internal or external). You're not being paid to respond to every random thought or idle question in 8 nanoseconds. And to create value, sometimes you have to actually stop and think.

Action without thought leads inevitably to one of the seven forms of muda. It's very hard to actually stop doing and start thinking, but that's the real way to eliminate waste and create value. There's a [recent] story about a computer room at Toyota's Torrance headquarters that was getting too warm. Most people would get that email and immediately turn up the air conditioner. You know, respond immediately to the email. But these guys did a root cause analysis and found that the real problem was a blocked air duct. The symptoms didn't go away immediately, but the real problem was actually solved. It just required some time to think.

Here's the challenge for you: build some of this thinking time into your week or month. Make it part of your standard work. It's easy to be lulled into the safety of immediate action. But thinking is critical to ensuring that the action you take is actually of value. Donahoe knows that. Toyota knows that. You should know it too.

About the author:

Daniel Markovitz is president of TimeBack Management, a consulting firm specializing in the application of lean concepts to individual and group work. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He also leads a problem solving workshop at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. He is the author of the forthcoming book, "A Factory of One," to be published by Productivity Press in late 2011. You can reach him at or via twitter @timeback.

Where Are the Rewards for Reflection?

One of the definitions of the word reflection is "the bending or folding back of a part upon itself”. In a way, when we reflect, we fold back upon ourselves. The act of reflecting can us to become aware of our past actions in order to impact the future in a positive way.

Leadership requires a great deal of reflection in order to improve and change; yet we resist the idea of doing something that feels stagnant. We don’t get obvious and immediate rewards for doing it. Nobody is out there giving us high fives for reflecting. We don’t get paid for it. It takes time. And sometimes reflection makes us cognizant of our imperfections, and that doesn’t feel very good.

Besides, we’re really busy and seem to be hard wired for action. There are organizational goals to be made. Children to raise. Volunteer activities to be involved in. These things make us feel like we’re moving forward; and the action we take makes us feel good. It gets our adrenaline going, and may also release a few endorphins or serotonins to reinforce busy-ness.

We get rewarded from the external world for moving forward. So that’s what we do. We move forward. We stay busy. We take action. And…..we resist reflecting.

What are the rewards for reflection?
The rewards for reflection are subtle and less than obvious (when was the last time you received a bonus from your organization for excellent execution of reflection?). However, if you notice, you may observe some rewards when you make reflection a regular practice: 

Improved action: When you ask yourself what you did well and what you could have done better following a specific action, it can help to improve future similar actions. It’s also possible that by reflecting on specific actions in light of your values, your organization’s vision or strategic goals – that you’ll be better prepared to take the right
actions in the future.

Better decisions: Similar to improving actions, decisions will get better as you reflect on them. For every decision, there are often positive results and less-than-positive results. If you spend some time reflecting after a decision, you may be able to understand what the good and bad outcomes were in order to be able to make your future decisions better.

Increased intuition: Intuition involves a "knowing” based on learning from past experiences and is often described as a gut feel. Learning to "go with the gut” provides a definite advantage for leaders in fast moving organization. Reflection can build up your intuitive abilities as you regularly spend time reviewing past performance and apply what you’ve learned to current and future situations. 

Healthier relationships: When you reflect on your actions and decisions, some of our thoughts may be around how you’ve treated others. As you reflect and practice new and better ways of interaction with others, what you’ve learned can be applied to developing healthier relationships.

Reflection may very well be one of the most impactful actions you can take as a leader. The rewards are not always immediate, but the effort that you invest in reflection will pay off over the long run.

What other rewards have you reaped from reflection?

About the author:

Mary Jo Asmus, founder and president of Aspire Collaborative Services, is an executive coach, writer, and business consultant who partners with senior leaders and teams to support them in achieving their goals. Her Fortune 100 background as an executive in global business areas as diverse as human resources; research and development; organizational development; and business strategy allow her to provide valuable insights about individuals and organizational systems. Mary Jo delivers keynotes and workshops for leaders at regional and international conferences on the topics of leadership, coaching, and organizational communication. You can read Mary Jo's blog at and follow her on twitter @mjasmus.