Inoculating Against Ignorance When Solving Problems

I was sitting in the airport recently, reading an article about the NBA playoffs pitting Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers had just gone up 2 games to 1 in the series.  Over my shoulder, I heard someone say,

“The Cavs are doing what they need to do!”

I thought to myself, they sure are.  They have definitely exceeded expectations given their injuries.  I kept eavesdropping as the man added,

“…and they’re growing”

Yep.  I mused. They really have come together as a team since adding a whole crop of new players this year.

“… and they’re feeding…” he continued.

I checked out the stat line, thinking, Lebron does feed his teammates.  He shares the ball a lot, especially for someone who could shoot the ball every time down the floor.

“And we got ‘em vaccinated.”

Vaccinated?!?! I thought.  Who says that about a basketball team?!

That’s when I realized that the man wasn’t talking about the Cavs basketball team, but rather, the calves on his farm.  Like cows.  And of course he was talking agriculture!  I was sitting at gate C6 in the Des Moines International Airport.

This happens more often than I’d like to admit.  I approach a situation from a single-minded perspective, and later find out that I was completely wrong.  It’s a problem that plagues organizations as well. We get stuck in our silos without acknowledging a broader perspective. In the excellent book Why Decisions Fail, author Paul Nutt refers to this as the decision trap of Limited Search and he describes our propensity to limit our most complex and important decisions to very few options. If this sounds like your team, here are three simple tips to avoid misunderstandings and missed opportunities.

  1. Invite Those on the Fringe– When implementing something new, there is a tendency to only involve key stakeholders.  By soliciting input from those not intimately involved in your project, they have carte blanche to ask the “stupid question” that uncovers potential problems or opportunities your team would never consider.
  2. Assign a Devil’s Advocate – Groupthink is a real problem, especially in organizations with a strong corporate culture.  When discussing decisions, select a small team to uncover data and reasoning in opposition to the prevailing view, to challenge your thinking and encourage your team to identify ways to mitigate risk and prevent problems.
  3. Frame Problems from Both Sides – Research shows that problems framed only in terms of what is to be gained encourages organizations to take a conservative approach.  Framing problems from the standpoint of fear and loss encourages more impulsive actions.  Negate these inherent cognitive biases by framing problems and implementations in terms of what is to be gained, and what risks are involved.

At Action Management, we have been helping clients challenge the status quo for nearly forty years. If you would like to vaccinate yourself and your team against single-minded thinking, give us a call at 800-386-5611.  We would love to help!






















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