Avoid Fatal Errors by Avoiding Untested ConclusionsBy: Donald Mitchell
You see your father fall to the ground. A stranger runs to him and grabs your father's neck. Afraid that the stranger is choking your father, you pull the stranger away. Only then do you notice that the stranger has been loosening the tie around your father's neck to help him breathe better. Oops! Your action had delayed giving your father the resuscitation he needs to save his life.
The second level of thinking develops when training, usually in high school and college, gives teens and young adults a grasp of sophisticated concepts that are counterintuitive to the five-year-old's thought process. Here's the problem: The student memorizes the concepts long enough to pass the examination. But Gardner argues that relatively few adults reach the third level of thinking where they can apply the sophisticated concepts to real-life problems. In the absence of that faculty, almost everyone reverts to the five-year-old's misconceptions for making decisions.
The person who can apply the principles learned in school to a real-life situation becomes a disciplinary expert. But those effectively working minds are few and far between in most organizations. Think of what could be accomplished if you consciously shed your five-year-old's misconceptions, applied sophisticated adult reasoning to expert knowledge, and questioned common assumptions of the prevailing five-year-old mind.
I'LL GET RIGHT ON IT
Even if people attempt to apply sophisticated thinking, they will still jump to conclusions too often. If service was slow the last two times you went to a given store, you may decide this store will always offer poor service and don't go back. Statistically, two experiences do not constitute a trend. It's possible that the manager was away on vacation on both occasions and the rest of the employees took it easy.
The executives of one award-winning multibillion-dollar manufacturer were clearly intelligent, well educated, and widely admired for their decisions. Ever curious, these managers wanted to measure the quality of their decisions. They knew good decision making has to reflect solid statistically based data, and they wondered what statisticians would say about their decisions. Statisticians were assigned to follow the executives around for six months to watch them in action. Almost without exception the executives treated random events as representing what was typically occurring in the business.
Executives were constantly trying to eliminate these few random variations in performance. All this scurrying around kept the executives from having time to work on more promising opportunities for gain. Despite learning this profound insight, the organization faltered by continuing to mistake the actual trends. The lesson: Be sure you are focusing on the areas where action will do the most good.
This example also shows how wide the gap can be between perceptions of management quality and actual effectiveness, another example of misconceptions. You have probably noticed the frequency by which "widely admired" companies rapidly fall from grace as performance plummets.
When the CEO Speaks, People Take Action
Management authority Peter Drucker told us that one of the most dangerous beliefs in organizations is that an increase in brains comes with being promoted. Here's verification of that observation: Executive assistants at selected companies were asked by us what was the single, most important thing their CEOs could do better. The aides spoke almost as one in reporting that anything the CEO said was treated as gospel. Underlings, for instance, scramble to make changes even when the CEO was only asking an innocent question. The CEOs assume that the response would come at little or no cost from someone who already had the answer. Some executive assistants estimated that 25 percent of executive and managerial time in their companies was taken up with answering such casual inquiries and making changes that hadn't, in fact, been requested. The assistants wished someone would advise their CEOs to stop asking casual questions and making off-hand comments because the rest of the organization operates on the misconception that these words are major priorities on which careers will rise and fall.
Encourage Unmasking False Assumptions
A company had assumed for decades that advertising would work only when demand was highest for its seasonally consumed food, yet others promoted similarly seasonable foods all year around. Eventually, an advertising test was run during the lean part of the year, and sales promptly took off.
Here are questions to help you avoid making such false assumptions:
© Copyright 2007, Donald Mitchell
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