Monday, September 20, 2010

If You Liked "Tipping Point"...

If you're a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's and the Freakonomics crew, then you need to check out Chris Chabris' and Dan Simons' The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. In some ways, it's a counterpoint to Gladwell's Blink in which one of the arguments is that we can intuitively sense the authenticity of a situation (artwork, facial expression, etc.) with enough years of experience behind us.

Chabris' and Simons' book, however, postulate that many of the mental connections we make between what we perceive and what we "know" are faulty. We don't "see" everything (hence the famous invisible gorilla experiment). We don't remember events very well. We're overconfident and falsely assume we "know" things we don't. We see cause and effect in coincidental circumstances. And we believe we can improve our skills through easy, unrelated efforts like listening to Mozart or playing video games.

Why is this important?

These illusions, for which they have conducted many experiments and cited numerous studies, affect our relationships at work. We attribute others' potential and whether we consider them an ally or an enemy in work politics (i.e. power struggles and allocation of resources) based on our perception of their behavior. We let our memories of certain interactions with them, our cause-effect linkages projecting into their motivations, and our beliefs about their abilities cloud a real assessment of our relationship with a person, a team, a department or a whole organization.

One of the pieces of advice that I give to teams: If you get a strange response to a comment or a question, ask the other person what they thought they heard in words, tone or body language, and what assumptions the other person is making.

I often ask questions on both sides of the issue. If I start with a question from an opposing viewpoint, the proponent often makes the mistake of presuming that I'm against his/her suggestion. I may get a very diplomatic, unsurprising and unemotional response to my question. However, they create a cause-effect connection that a questioner is not in favor of the suggestion. Rather than presume I'm trying to tweak the suggestion to make it the better, this question has created an adversarial relationship. Later in recalling the meeting, the person will remember that I was opposed to his/her idea. My question will change in his/her memory to a form that I never uttered but takes the oppositional question to an extreme (maybe even to the point of being belligerently opposed). The more this incident is shared, the more entrenched is the relational position of me to this person. It may even make them defensive, relying more on their confidence and knowledge behind the position. Therefore, they can never give it up. This not only affects this one relationship on this one project, but it has created a whole new dynamic within the organization: one that will be difficult to modify.

Do these illusions affect our work relationships? Yes, more often than we realize.

I'm not doing justice to the book. Please buy a copy and get a better understanding of the implications than I can provide. There are more implications than just work relationships too. We can apply their information to manufacturing defects and corrective action investigations (but that's an entirely different blog entry perhaps).

No comments:

Post a Comment