Showing posts with label Groupthink. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Groupthink. Show all posts

May 27, 2020

The Nail That Stands Out

So everyone knows what happens to the nail that stands out...

It gets hammered down!

Deviation from the norm or the groupthink is met with a resounding klop on the head. 

You conform or you face the guillotine. 

Way too dystopian. 

Freedom, individuality, diversity, self-expressionthese are the engines of innovation and growth. 

If every nail gets hammered down, you have a society that implodes with inbreeders and Stone Age stale ideas. 

Tradition is one thing, a closed mind is something that is an extinction level event. ;-)

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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June 27, 2019

Is Beer A Color?

So thought this was an interestingly funny flip chart. 

It's titled "Colors".

And it has the typical ones you'd expect: blue, red, green, yellow, orange, purple, black, white, grey, brown, and tan. 

But thrown into the mix is beer (and Summer)--maybe these go together! 

Perhaps, someone had a little too much beer when asked about colors.

On second thought, maybe beer is a color.  ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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May 6, 2019

Wrong Direction--Who Stands For The Truth?

So I thought this was pretty funny in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. 
A wife is listening to the radio and she hears that a car is dangerously going in the wrong direction on the highway. 

Immediately, she calls her husband to tell him about the car going in the wrong direction, and to be careful. 

He husband replies: One car going in the wrong direction...there are hundreds of cars going in the wrong direction!

How true this little story is about life and what direction we choose for ourselves--in the face of the groupthink and the tidal wave of public opinion that will sweep you away if you aren't strong of mind and especially of character. 

Whenever we choose the road less traveled, others see us as dangerous and going the wrong way. 

Yet to us, others may just be following blindly, and we may truly see something that everyone else is missing...could it possibly be that they are really the ones going the wrong way!

But there is always some doubt in our minds...we are fallible, we can wrong, we can be crazy.  

Whose truth is it anyway--Mine?  Yours?  Or could it really be "The (objective) Truth"?

Alternatively, maybe we just lack confidence or courage?

It is very hard to be the nail that stands up (and doesn't get hammered down) and say that something is wrong and everyone should pay attention and change direction or their ways. 

Perhaps, they are all heading off a moral cliff or just heading towards disaster.

In some cases...

We know the agendas of the people who want to steer you wrong. 

We hear the propaganda and lies they are feeding you. 

We can see down the road or just around the bend where the danger lies in wait. 

- Can we stand up to the crowd?  

- Can we demonstrate the moral truth?  

- Can we get others to see what we see?  

It is certainly not easy to be the contrarian in the crowd. 

Not only may you not be recognized for what you are doing, but you may even be persecuted for it. 

It doesn't matter...

Because you need to do it anyway just because you know deep inside that it's the right thing to do. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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October 24, 2018

Herd Mentality

What do herds do?

First there are big mouths and groupthink.

Then there is chasing each others tails.

This could lead to literally going off a cliff. 

Typically, like wolves, they hunt viciously in packs.

When they are stalked, they run scared leaving the weakest to serve as prey. 

When hunted, they are separated and slaughtered. 

Sometimes they stampede and can run over anything in their path.

Occasionally, they even devour their own young to keep the herd fed. 

Herds serve a survival function in nature, but when the herd is dumb, as if often the case, they die off and are left extinct. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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August 11, 2016

7 Mind-F*cking Arguments

So my daughter took a training class in critical thinking at work. 

And she brought home an excellent handout from the instructor, Haywood Spangler, about how people try to get you to their point of view, but without any real solid reasoning behind it.

My mother-in-law calls this concept in blunt terms, mind-f*cking!

Here are some examples:

1) Genetic Fallacy - Rejecting an idea based on where or who it comes from, rather than the merits of the idea itself.  I call this one, you're an idiot, so your ideas are idiotic. 

2) Circular Reasoning - Restating the conclusion, rather than proving it. I call this hammering or going no where fast. 

3) Red Herring - Diverting from the real issue as a distraction. I call this the shell game. 

4) Ad Hoc Reasoning - Coming up with a reason to simply reject your every objection. I call this just say it isn't so. 

5) False Dichotomy - Oversimplifying a complex situation and making it into only black and white. I call this my way or the highway.

6) Slippery Slope - Supposing that if one thing happens then something else terrible must necessarily follow. I call this following the false causality. 

7) Band Wagon - Everyone is doing it, so you need to also.  I call this classic groupthink or be careful not to stand in front of a moving train. 

Basically, when someone is not taking with you, but at you and trying to make you just do what they want, period, then watch out, you are probably being gloriously mind-f*cked. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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July 1, 2016

Say It And They Believe It

This was pretty funny in Starbucks. 

This guy comes in with a briefcase and sets in down on the table. 

He opens it up and proceeds to take out an electronic device--turns out it's his laptop computer. 

But on the briefcase, there is a label that says:


"POWERFUL ANTI-TERROR DEVICE INSIDE."

So everyone is looking like there really is something to this.

You can almost tangibly feel them wondering what the heck type of device is this that he is carrying...it must pack a real punch!

Then one person near me, bends over sideways, and whispers in my ear..."Does he really have a powerful anti-terror device inside?"

Like I look as if I'm in the know on these things!!! 

I lean back over in the other direction to the other person and whisper back, "No, I'm pretty sure that it's just a gag...the guy must be looking for some serious attention."

And all of sudden, it's as if all the heads around me start to nod, like I stated some amazing insight here or perhaps that they somehow knew it all along. 

Anyway, it's incredible what people will believe...if you just state it (in an official way, of course) on your briefcase, a badge, on your forehead or wherever, it's got to be true, because we are so gullible and willing or wanting to believe. 

Yes, I believe! I believe!  ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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May 4, 2016

Clothing Optional

This was a funny painting in the gallery. 

A naked lady with a big colorful sun hat on. 

Be careful you don't want to get too much sun!

The painting also makes me think of the saying "The empress (or emperor) has no clothes."

The leader thinks they are wearing beautiful clothes, but the reality is they are naked in front of their subjects. 

People see when their leaders are shelling out a clouded vision, tempting them with empty (campaign) promises, or pushing ideas that don't hold water in the real world, but often people are simply too afraid to say anything.

Instead, they acknowledge the beautiful clothes or brilliant ideas that aren't there and in groupthink fashion, they fail to call out the folly for what it is, when it is. 

Naked is naked, and we should say the truth albeit with respect and in a constructive way, if we really want to make genuine collective progress. 

True--lauding or blinding following what simply isn't there and has no substance may land you a seat at the royal table, but what good is it, if you are sitting with some leaders that may be nothing more than naked idiots. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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February 7, 2016

Cloud Pleasing

Technology vendors have wised-up and are rushing to the cloud to give customers what they want. 

You want cloud?  

You got cloud!

Cloud Computing with the virtually infinite promise for flexible, cost-effective, on-demand computing--all centrally managed by the vendor--you can sleep easy at night, oh baby. 

CIOs love it. 

The only problem as everyone moves to the cloud is the promise of the cloud continues to fall short

Now how unpopular a thing to say is that? 

Take out the guillotine...

Seriously though, it was supposed to be flexible, but it isn't so much as vendors contract with customers for multi-year deals and customers find switching vendors not quite so easy...anyone hear of vendor lock-in?

Also, cloud was supposed to be more cost-effective, but vendors still need to make their margins, so longer commitments, service bundling, minimum fixed costs, and variable month-to-month pricing--sure helps things add BIG DOLLARS for the cloud vendor. 

Then you have vendors that simply call everything cloud...ah, "cloud washing" that is.  If you think you are getting cloud (even if it ain't so much so), yippee are you happy...you have drunk the cool-aid and it is sweet.

Technology leaders swooping into a new job want to come in with a bang..."Hey, look what I did to modernize, transform, reinvent, revolutionize...and save money too--thank G-d, they hired me."

So cloud, cloud, cloud...it sounds so CLOUD PLEASING, I mean crowd-pleasing. 

Whether in the specific situation it's better or not, that's not the point, stupid. 

At least, it's out of our hair--let the vendor worry about it!

One, two, three...everyone say "CLOUD!" ;-)

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)
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February 23, 2014

Don't Let Debbie Downer Take You Down


Saturday Night Live has a spoof about Negative Nellie's and they call her Debbie Downer. 

We all know people like this who are the Voice of Doom and the Doctor No's.

Whatever the topic is--they've been there, done it, and have seen it fail--"We tried that before," "That's not the way we do things here," "You just don't understand," "It will never work."

They see danger and bad everywhere and in everything, even in the face of positive and promise. 

These are the people who are obstinate, the naysayers, and are against change at all cost--they fear it or just don't want to deal with it. 

BusinessWeek has an interesting perspective on this--how even these people can be employed to have a beneficial impact on projects--by having them tell you everything that can go wrong, so you can take steps to plan and mitigate against these. 

Some people only want to have positive people around them--"yes men," who only tell them how smart and right they are all the time. 

However, the best leaders don't want kiss ups and brown nosers, but rather value"truth tellers," who will provide them solid advice and guidance on issues, tell them when they think something is wrong or risky, and even take an opposing point of view or play devil's advocate.

I remember when I was asked about whether a certain project was going to meet a very near deadline, and I said point blank, "Do you want me just to say yes or do you want me to tell you the truth?"

I got a big smile to that and the appreciation that I was real and truthful and there to make a difference and not just be another lump on the log. 

The point is not to be a Debbie Downer or a brown noser, but to be an Honest Joe or Jane. ;-)
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November 8, 2013

Cloud Kool-Aid

We've all drunk the Kool-Aid and believe in using the cloud.

And with almost 1 million active apps alone in the Apple Store it is no wonder why.

The cloud can create amazing opportunities for shared services and cost efficiencies.

The problem is that many are using the cloud at the edge.

They are taking the cloud to mean that they in government are simply service brokers, rather than accountable service providers.

In the service broker model, CIOs and leaders look for the best, cost effective service to use.

However, in NOT recognizing that they are the ultimate service providers for their customers, they are trying to outsource accountability and effectiveness.

Take for example, the recent failures of Healthcare.gov, there were at least 55 major contractors involved, but no major end-to-end testing done by HHS.

We can't outsource accountability--even though the cloud and outsourcing is tempting many to do just that.

Secretary Sebelius has said that the buck stops with her, but in the 3 1/2 years leading up to the rollout relied on the big technology cloud in the sky to provide the solution.

Moreover, while Sebelius as the business owner is talking responsibility for the mission failures of the site, isn't it the CIO who should be addressing the technology issues as well?

IT contractors and cloud providers play a vital role in helping the government develop and maintain our technology, but at the end of the day, we in the government are responsible to our mission users.

The relationship is one of partners in problem solving and IT product and service provision, rather than service brokers moving data from one cloud provider to the next, where a buck can simply be saved regardless of whether mission results, stability and security are at risk.

In fact, Bloomberg BusinessWeek outlines the 3 successful principles used in the creation of consumerfinance.gov by the new CFPB, and it includes: "Have in-house strategy, design, and tech"!

Some in government say we cannot attract good IT people.

Maybe true, if we continue to freeze salaries, cut benefits, furlough employees, and take away the zest and responsibility for technology solutions from our own very talented technologists.

Government must be a place where we can attract technology talent, so we can identify requirements with our customers, work with partners on solutions, and tailors COTS, GOTS, open source solutions and cloud services to our mission needs.

When Sebelius was asked on The Hill about whether Healthcare.gov crashed, she said it never crashed, which was technically incorrect as the site was down.

The cloud is great source for IT provision, but the pendulum is swinging too far and fast, and it will by necessity come back towards the center, where it belongs as an opportunity, not a compliance mandate.

Hopefully, this will happen before too many CIOs gut the technology know-how they do have and the accountability they should provide.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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July 6, 2013

Teamwork or Telework?

Clive Thompson makes an interesting point in Wired (15 May 2013) on productivity versus creativity.

He says that people seem more creative when interacting with other people in a group, and more productive when left alone to get their work done. 

Hence, he advocates for telework to improve individual productivity, but basically only after the team first gets together to figure out what creative things they should be doing. 

While I agree that group interchange can be good for bouncing ideas around and sparking innovation, and that with some quiet time, people can plow through a lot of work on their own--this is only a very narrow perspective.

Really, very often, the exact opposite is true....think about it. 

When alone, and with some quiet time to think, you may come up with some of your best and most creative ideas. That is because the pressure is off to strut your stuff with the others, the groupthink is gone, and you can concentrate and free associate.  Inventors, writers, painters, and other creative types come up with some of the best innovations, when they are left alone to do their thing. 

Similarly, when people are in a group, they can often be much more productive than when working alone. Whether in mass producing good as a team in a factory, as team mates in sports passing and scoring, as warfighters waging battle side by side, and even as the construction crew in the picture above putting up a brand new high-rise building--people, when working together, can do amazingly great and productive things.

So yes, while at times groups can spark creativity among each other and quiet time can be good for getting (some paper) work done, often the exact opposite is true--and the group can produce in quantity and quality and the individual can think, experiment, and truly innovate.

Group and individual work is not correlated one for one with creativity and productivity--it all depends on what you are trying to get done. 

But either way, you need both telework and teamwork to think and produce. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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January 6, 2013

We Don't Accept You Here

A number of years ago I had received an interesting job offer--not actually for a job I had applied to, but for "something else", and apparently the job was supposed to come without any questions asked. 

Because when I asked about the typical things that you like to agree on before you start a job, I found that it wasn't going to work out then for this executive because of "cultural fit."

At the time, it was quite clear that cultural fit was just another term used to discriminate not those that could do the job well from those that couldn't, but rather those who would be too thoughtful, innovative, or even challenging to the (failing) status quo. 

In this particular case, the leadership was highly corrupt (in more ways than one) and it came out in front-page investigations and findings not long after, with the actual sacking of many of the head honcho bunch.

When it comes to hiring, it is challenging for many leaders to not just punch the checklist for diversity, but too really embrace it, and this stems from many reasons including fear, bias and hatred of cultures that are different than our own, but also the need for highly insecure leaders to singularly "rule the roost" without any challenge of opinion. 

These leaders think that if everyone fits their mold and subordinates themselves to them alone, then they are by default always right--regardless of the actual consequences of their decision-making.

The problem is that there is no one to vet issues with, play devil's advocate or give an alternate viewpoint--and the insecure leadership with their minion of look-alike, think-alike followers will often drive the train over the cliff--without anyone so much as saying a boo. 

This last week, when a record number of women Senators (20) and congresswomen (82)--were sworn in to the 113th Congress, there was hope of their bringing to the old political mix a new sense and style of collaboration that could help the nation resolve the many issues that we are embroiled in heated negotiation and impasse (e.g. the debt ceiling, the national deficit, the budget, immigration, and more).

Similarly, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (3 January 2013) published an article called "Only BFFs Need Apply"--about how job applicant's cultural fit often trumps their actual qualifications.

BusinessWeek sums up the dilemma with hiring based on cultural fit: While it "may summon up obnoxious images of old boys clubs and social connections...a cooperative, creative atmosphere can make workdays more tolerable and head off problems before they begin." Put another way: the "American ideals about team diversity collide with the reality of building a cohesive, practical staff."

However, the problem with relying on cultural fit is not only that you don't often get the best candidates, but that it is used not just to describe common values and work ethics, but rather inappropriately "as an excuse for feelings interviewers aren't comfortable expressing" such as not being able to accept a person's accent or that they cover they head for religious reasons. 

While hiring lackeys may have a short-term benefit of cohesion, in the long-term, the lack of diversity may result in groupthink and even that "the one person who has a different thought could have saved a business."

Of course, there is also legal prohibitions against discrimination in hiring and personnel management, as well as the ethical issue of hiring unfairly and what that does to the moral fiber of the organization and its people--it's corrosive to their values and capabilities and will lead to the revulsion and loss of good employees, customers, stockholders, and others over time.

Here's the enterprise architecture slant on this topic: "you have to decide if you're hiring for the culture you have or the culture you want." ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Tobucil and Klabs)

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September 14, 2012

Following The Guy In Front Of You Over A Cliff

Ira Chaleff speaks about his book The Courageous Fellowship.

After seeing holocaust survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms from the horrors of the concentation camps, Chaleff asks "How does this happen?  How do people follow murderous leaders?"

In response Chaleff comes up with the five dimensions to follow courageously:

- Courage to assume responsibility--don't expect your leader to provide for you, but you act for the common purpose that you both serve. (as John F. Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.")

- Courage to serve--recognize the tough job of leadership and help to unburden and support the leader so he/she can be successful.

- Courage to participate in transformation--become full participants in the change and transformation process; ask what you can do differently to improve.

- Courage to constructively question and challenge--when policies and behaviors are counterproductive, step up and voice discomfort and objection.

- Courage to take moral action--in rare, but needed circumstances, you must be willing to dissent, leave, or refuse to obey a direct order when it is unethical or illegal.

I greatly appreciate Charleff speaking out and teaching others to do so and calling for all to "act as principled persons with integrity."

Charleff see leaders and followers less in the traditional hierarchical model and more as partners in achieving a common purpose--and this flattening of the hierarchy enables followers to question, challenge, and dissent when the boundaries of integrity are violated.

While I too believe we must serve courageously and not just follow blindly--as one of my teachers used to say, "if the car in front of you drives off a cliff, are you just going to follow him?"--I am not sure that Chaleff fully addresses the challenges and complexity in what it means to "step out."

While we may like to envision a flat organization structure, the reality in most organizations is that there is a clear hierarchy and as they say, "the nail that stands out, gets hammered down"--it is not easy to challenge authority, even though it can, at rare times, be necessary.

Finally, while Charleff focuses primarily on speaking up when there is a moral issue at hand, I think it is important to also be forthright in everyday issues and challenges that we confront.

Being good at what we do means that you don't just participate in leaderthink or groupthink, but you think on your own and share those thoughts earnestly.

However, once the decision is made--as long as and only when it is moral--then you must serve and support that decision and help make it as successful as possible.

Leaders and followers are a team and that means having the courage to fully participate and having the humility to respect chain of command and serve a noble mission, appropriately.
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July 7, 2012

The Winning Move

My daughter sent me this amazing picture portraying how we can "think outside the box." 

How many of us would ever have envisioned this as a possible solution to this age-old children's game? 

Important lesson learned--it's okay to think differently, be creative, even change the rules when you can get a better result. 

Groupthink drives so much--too much--of what we do at work, politically, and more. 

Often, we can do better when we question the status quo and give things a fresh look--without the colored lens on of how things should be, have always been, or need to be done.

With the huge challenges we face as a nation and globally, we need to open ourselves to new solutions to old and emerging problems.  

Like a simple tick-tac-toe game, the winning move may simply be right outside the box. ;-)

(Source Photo: LOL Pics)

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April 17, 2012

Let's Come Clean About The Cloud

An article in Federal Times (16 April 2011) states that "Experts See Little Return For Agencies' Cloud Investments."

The question is were the savings really achievable to begin and how do you know whether we are getting to the target if we don't have an accurate baseline to being with. 

From an enterprise architecture perspective, we need to have a common criteria for where we are and where we are going.

The notion that cloud was going to save $5 billion a year as the former federal CIO stated seems to now be in doubt  as the article states that "last year agencies reported their projected saving would be far less..."

Again in yet another article in the same issue of Federal Times, it states that the Army's "original estimate of $100 million per year [savings in moving email to the DISA private cloud] was [also] 'overstated.'"

If we don't know where we are really trying to go, then as they say any road will get us there. 

So are we moving to cloud computing today only to be moving back tomorrow because of potentially soft assumptions and the desire to believe so badly. 

For example, what are our assumptions in determining our current in-house costs for email--are these costs distinctly broken out from other enterprise IT costs to begin? Is it too easy to claim savings when we are coming up with your own cost figures for the as-is?

If we do not mandate that proclaimed cost-savings are to be returned to the Treasury, how can we  ensure that we are not just caught up in the prevailing groupthink and rush to action. 

This situation is reminiscent of the pendulum swinging between outsourcing and in-sourcing and the savings that each is claimed to yield depending on the policy at the time. 

I think it is great that there is momentum for improved technology and cost-savings. However, if we don't match that enthusiasm with the transparency and accuracy in reporting numbers, then we have exactly what happens with what the papers are reporting now and we undermine our own credibility.  

While cloud computing or other such initiatives may indeed be the way go, we've got to keep sight of the process by which we make decisions and not get caught up in hype or speculation. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Opensourceway)

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January 21, 2012

Finding Better Ways

Saturday Night Live had a funny skit last week about people in the future looking back at us in 2012 as "digital pioneers"--and how silly many of the things we do today looks from the outside.
Here are some examples that may resonate with a lot of you:
- Driving--We drive 1-4 hours a day and "are okay with that."
- Email--We boot up our computers, go to the Internet, log unto to our accounts, and send an email and think that "was so easy, fast, and convenient."
- Clothing--We get dressed in underwear, shirts, pants, belt, socks, shoes, tie, and wrap it all under a jacket and feel that it's "not way too many pieces."
- Bathrooms--We have bathrooms in our homes and have it close to where we eat and that "seems smart to us."
There were other examples making fun of us eating fruits and vegetables, keeping domesticated animals in our homes, and thinking that living to the age of 91 is old.
While we don't know exactly what the future will look like, when we look at our lives today "under the microscope"--things really do sort of appear comical.
I believe that we really do need to look at ourselves--what we do, and how we do it--with fresh eyes--and ask why do we do that? And are there alternatives? Is there a better way?
Too often we believe that the way things are--"is simply it"--when if we would just think how this would look to someone 100 years from now, perhaps we would be quicker to open our eyes to other options and innovations.
It reminds me of the story in the Torah (Numbers 22) where Balaam is sent to curse the Jewish people but ends up blessing them. In this story the donkey that he is riding on refuses to proceed, because it sees an angel in front of them. Balaam does not see the angel and beats the donkey thinking that was the right thing to do. G-d then miraculously gives the donkey the power of speech and the donkey complains about the harsh treatment from Balaam, and G-d opens Balaam's eyes to see the angel, at which point he understands that the donkey really saved his life.
This Biblical story is similar to our lives where we go along sort of blind to the realities right in front of us, and not only that but we keep pushing forward along the very same route not seeing the obstacles or other alternatives that may be better for us.
While we (generally) don't have donkeys talking back to us with feedback or the ability to see angels, I think by sensitizing ourselves more, we can open ourselves up to question the status quo and break the paradigms that we just take as givens.
So when we do get to the next 100 years out--it'll truly be a lot better than today and without the traffic! ;-)

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August 20, 2011

Cloud Second, Security First

Leadership is not about moving forward despite any and all costs, but about addressing issues head on.

Cloud computing holds tremendous promise for efficiency and cost-savings at a time when these issues are front and center of a national debate on our deficit of $14 trillion and growing.

Yet some prominent IT leaders have sought to downplay security concerns calling them "amplified...to preserve the status quo." (ComputerWorld, 8 August 2011)

Interestingly, this statement appeared in the press the same week that McAfee reported Operation Shady RAT--"the hacking of more than 70 corporations and government organizations," 49 of which were in the U.S., and included a dozen defense firms. (Washington Post, 2 August 2011)
The cyber spying took place over a period of 5 years and "led to a massive loss of information."(Fox News, 4 August 2011)

Moreover, this cyber security tragedy stands not alone, but atop a long list that recently includes prominent organizations in the IT community, such as Google that last year had it's networks broken into and valuable source code stolen, and EMC's RSA division this year that had their SecurID computer tokens compromised.

Perhaps, we should pay greater heed to our leading cyber security expert who just this last March stated: "our adversaries in cyberspace are highly capable. Our defenses--across dot-mil and the defense industrial base (DIB) are not." (NSA Director and head of Cyber Command General Keith Alexander).

We need to press forward with cloud computing, but be ever careful about protecting our critical infrastructure along the way.

One of the great things about our nation is our ability to share viewpoints, discuss and debate them, and use all information to improve decision-making along the way. We should never close our eyes to the the threats on the ground.

(Source Photo: here)

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March 28, 2010

How To Brainstorm and Not Tempest

Thinking “out of the box” is fundamental to free us from the prevailing status quo. Brainstorming can enable us to tackle problems creatively and open up new possibilities for the future.

An Insight piece from Psychology Today (February 12010) called “[How To] Brainstorm” by ChiChi Madu points to some of the typical challenges with brainstorming and offers a new approach to it.

The challenge: “A typical brainstorming session can involve clashing personalities, uneven contributions, hurt egos, and hours of precious work-time wasted.”

When people come together to brainstorm, there are two things going on—one is the brainstorming and the other is the interaction between the people. And if the interaction is not collaborative and is dysfunctional because of the pervasiveness of functional silos, groupthink, competitiveness, or power politics, then the brainstorming and overall problem solving is going to suffer as a result.

Let’s face it, productivity is in large part of function of people’s ability to pull together rather than push apart!

A new approach: One way to work more collaboratively comes from an approach called “brainwriting,” by Peter Heslin. Brainwriting works as follows:

  • Write—Everyone writes an idea, in a different color pen on a piece of paper and passes to the next person.
  • React—Each person reacts to the idea they received and adds their own idea—“feeding off the others.”
  • Review—Once the slips of paper have about five ideas, they move to the center of the table for “systematic consideration of each.”
  • Select—Everybody lists their favorite ideas and the most popular ones are selected.

What is great about brainwriting is that everyone has a chance to contribute ideas, to have their ideas considered by others, and for them to consider the ideas of their peers carefully and thoughtfully. Moreover, brainwriting actually facilitates ideas to be incrementally built and improved on by having group members feed-off of the idea they received, rather than just hastily dismissing them or talking over others. Finally, since everyone has to put ideas and reactions to ideas down on paper, no one can just “sit it out” and not participate—and the more earnest the participation, the better the brainstorm will be.

People can innovate amazing things, solve problems, and really work together constructively when: the underlying process facilitates information exchange, collaboration, and the freedom to say what they really think. If we encourage and facilitate more brainwriting activity and other constructive engagement between people, we will be able to take on and resolve the ever larger and more challenging issues facing our organizations and society.


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January 31, 2010

Nurture Diversity to Achieve Better Results

Diversity is essential to critical thinking, innovation, and improved decision-making/governance. The more ways we have at looking at a problem, the more likely we can be to challenge the status quo, break old paradigms, and find new and better ways of doing things.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2010, often diversity—even at the highest levels, such as on boards of directors—doesn’t produce the desired results.

WHY? “People often feel baffled, threatened or even annoyed by persons with views and backgrounds very different from their own. The result is that [those]…with views or backgrounds that are different are isolated or ignored. [Moreover,] constructive disagreements spill over into personal battles.” In the end, Groupthink and poor decision-making—rather than diversity and constructive dialogue—prevails.

Therefore, the imperative to improve governance mechanisms is “to unlock the benefits of diversity, boards must learn to work with colleagues who were selected not because they fit in—but because they don’t.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO:

1. Assist Newcomers”—Help new people to fit in. Explain how things work and how they can play an important role. Introduce them to others, provide them opportunities to connect, and make them feel comfortable to share their points of view.

2. Encourage Dissent—“diverse boards must not be afraid of conflict, as long as it is constructive and civil.” Alternate views should be encouraged, recognized, and even rewarded for benefiting the governance process.

3. Ask Everyone What They Think-- It is easy for new people “to tire of the struggle of making themselves heard. Feeling isolated and ignored, they end up self-censoring.” Obviously, this is counter-productive to having diversity and hurts decision-making. So the chair of the board needs to make it easy for people to express their views and to elicit participation from everyone around the table.

4. Assign a “Devil’s Advocate”—choose different governance board members to play the role of devil’s advocate at different meetings to counter the inclination for everyone to agree just to get along and fit in.

Overall, the key to benefiting from diversity on governance boards is not to let any individual or any group predominate. The proverbial “my way or the highway” approach is how decision-making becomes one-sided, narrow, and deficient. Instead, every one on the board must be treated with respect, courtesy, and be given the opportunity to speak their mind.

In my opinion, leaders must ensure that governance boards do not just create an appearance of diversity, but rather encourage a genuine and productive encounter between very different people that is richer for the interaction.


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November 1, 2009

Decoding Decision-Making

Decision-making is something we have to do every day as individuals and as organizations, yet often we end up making some very bad decisions and thus some costly mistakes.

Improving the decision-making process is critical to keeping us safe, sound, and stably advancing toward the achievement of our goals.

All too often decisions are made based on gut, intuition, politics, and subjective management whim. This is almost as good as flipping a coin or rolling a pair of dice.

Disciplines such as enterprise architecture planning and governance attempt to improve on the decision-making process by establishing a strategic roadmap and then guiding the organization toward the target architecture through governance boards that vet and validate decisions based on return on investment, risk mitigation, alignment to strategic business goals, and compliance to technical standards and architecture.

In essence, decisions are taken out of the realm of the “I think” or “I feel” phenomenon and into the order of larger group analysis and toward true information-based decision-making.

While no decision process is perfect, the mere presence of an orderly process with “quality gates” and gatekeepers helps to mitigate reckless decisions.

“Make Better Decisions,” an article in Harvard Business Review (HBR), November 2009, states, “In recent years, decision makers in both the public and private sectors have made an astounding number of poor calls.”

This is attributed to two major drivers:

Individuals going it alone: “Decisions have generally been viewed as the prerogative of individuals-usually senior executives. The process employed, the information used, the logic relied on, have been left up to them, in something of a black box. Information goes in [quantity and quality vary], decisions come out—and who knows what happens in between.”

A non-structured decision-making processes: “Decision-making has rarely been the focus of systematic analysis inside the firm. Very few organizations have ‘reengineered’ the decision. Yet there are just as many opportunities to improve decision making as to improve other processes.”

The article’s author, Thomas Davenport, who has a forthcoming book on decision-making, proposes four steps (four I’s) organizations can take to improve this process:

Identification—What decision needs to be made and which are most important?

Inventory—What are the factors or attributes for making each decision?

Intervention—What is the process, roles, and systems for decision-making?

Institutionalization—How do we establish sound decision-making ongoingly through training, measurement, and process improvement?

He acknowledges that “better processes won’t guarantee better decisions, of course, but they can make them more likely.”

It is interesting that Davenport’s business management approach is so closely aligned with IT management best practices such as enterprise architecture and capital planning and investment control (CPIC). Is shows that the two disciplines are in sync and moving together toward optimized decision-making.

One other point I’d like to make is that even with the best processes and intentions, organizations may stumble when it comes to decision making because they fail into various decision traps based on things like: groupthink, silo-thinking and turf battles, analysis paralysis, autocratic leadership, cultures where employees fear making mistakes or where innovation is discouraged or even frowned upon, and various other dysfunctional impediments to sound decision-making.

Each of these areas could easily be a discourse in and of themselves. The point however is that getting to better decision-making is not a simple thing that can be achieved through articulating a new processes or standing up a new governance board alone.

We cannot delegate good decision-making or write a cursory business case and voila the decision is a good one. Rather optimizing decision-making processes is an ongoing endeavor and not a one-time event. It requires genuine commitment, participation, transparency, and plenty of information sharing and collaboration across the enterprise.


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