Saturday, April 05, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (3 of 5)

The second of four steps in a decision making process that should replace pros/cons in your life!! This is from a summary I wrote for work colleagues a little while ago.

Reality-test your assumptions

1. Spark constructive disagreement:
  • Best practice for executives to assign a few people on the leadership team to prepare a case against a high-stakes proposal. (pg 97)
  • When too much arguing in a meeting, take each option and ask, “What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer?” (pg 99)
2. Asking the right questions of proponents of an option:
  • If a non-hierarchical culture/situation, ask probing, disconfirming questions in meetings i.e. Not “what do you think about this option?”, rather “What problems does it have?”
  • If there’s a power dynamic, ask open-ended questions like “what do you think about this option?”
3. Considering the opposite: give people permission to make a deliberate mistake (leaders consciously decide to try something that’s expected to fail if you see a high potential of learnings/benefits)

4. Zoom out: look at the averages or base-rates for results of a situation/decision like yours. Believe them. NOTE: use outside experts for learning about past/present! Do NOT use experts for an opinion about your decision and the future outcome!!)

5. Zoom in: look at decision/option close-up for texture and what’s missing from averages (i.e. instead of just reading reports/reviews, try a competitor’s product for a while)
 6. Ooch (“little bets”, or “rapid prototyping”): run small experiments to test our theories. NOTE: This is best for situations where we genuinely need more information and not for situations that require commitment i.e. give potential hires a trial run, but this wouldn’t apply to Army boot camp. Or, the 25-year-old who wonders about marine geology degree from college should ooch, but the guy who knows he needs an M.A. degree but dreads going back should not ooch.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (2 of 5)

The first of four steps in making better decisions from my favorite of the last year or so, "Decisive" by the Heath brothers. Practical tips that I don't want to forget!

Widen your options
For when you have options but want to ensure good quality:
1. Assess opportunity cost. “What are we giving up by making this choice? What else could we do with the same time and money?” (pg 49)

2. Run the vanishing options test, especially if you hear someone asking “whether or not” to do something. “If you cannot choose any of the current options, what else could you do?” (pg 49)

For when you don’t have many options:
1. Find someone who’s solved your problem.
  • Look inside: ask yourself or colleagues, “Who/what are outliers or bright spots? When there were small successes, why did they occur?” (pg 73)
  • Look outside: “Who else struggled with a similar problem and what can I learn?” Look at competitors and best practices. (pg 69)
  • If you are making an unprecedented decision or still have few options, “ladder up” by looking for analogies and seek inspiration from an industry/situation that is vaguely similar. (pg 82) For example, naming a fast computer chip could include looking at names for fast skis. Designing a better check-out line for retail could talk to a plumber about water flow.
NOTE: Orgs must not forget to then capture these options by creating a “playlist” of questions or possibilities for the next time (pg 73-79)

2. Multitrack: have several teams produce 2-6 meaningfully distinct options and get feedback simultaneously (vs. creating/tweaking one version at a time). Decision paralysis from too many options rarely occurs. (pg 58)
  • executives who consider more options make faster decisions (pg 55)
  • multitracking feels better  because it keeps egos in check (pg 55)
  • it gives you an immediate fallback plan(s) (pg 55)

NOTE: To diagnose if you are being given “sham options” designed to make the “real” option look better, poll colleagues for their preferences and make sure there is not easy consensus. (pg 59)

3. Ensure you intentionally cycle between “prevention of problems” and “promotion of opportunities” focus during your analysis. (pg 62-63)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (1 of 5)

Wrote this for some work colleagues. This is truly the best book I've read in a while!

Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work
by Chip & Dan Heath

More than a trendy business book! Based on literature reviews of ‘decision-making’ and ‘human judgment’ research, it is written by respected behavioral economists who translate Kahneman’s Nobel-prize winning theories into practical tips/tricks.

The authors’ goal? Globally, the “pros/cons list” is the only decision making model that is common. So they propose a 4-step process that isn’t revolutionary, but is comprehensive and reduces the negative impact of human biases.

Purpose of the book: “In recent years, many fascinating books and articles have addressed this question, ‘Why do we have such a hard time making good choices?’ …But less attention has been paid to another compelling question: Given that we’re wired to act foolishly sometimes, how can we do better?” (pg 4)

Thesis of the book: Given research which found that process matters more than analysis in making good decisions (by a factor of six, pg 5), they present a four-step process based on behavioral psychology discoveries. The only other decision-making process in wide circulation is the pros-and-cons list (invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1772, pg 7) but that is deeply flawed. “This book will address decisions that take longer than five minutes to make. …We want to make you a bit better at making good decisions, and we want to help you make your good decisions a bit more decisively. We also want to make you a better advisor to your colleagues and loved ones who are making decisions, because it’s usually easier to see other people’s biases than your own.” (pg 24)

What about our instincts? (i.e. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”, etc.) “Intuitive decisions, which can be surprisingly quick and accurate…[are] only accurate in domains where it has been carefully trained…[this] requires a predictable environment where you get lots of repetition and quick feedback on your choices.” (pg 25) For example, a chess grand master should trust his gut! A hiring manager should not because you only hire a small number of people over most careers and feedback from those hires is delayed and complicated by other factors.

The four villains of decision making (pg 10-18):
  1. You encounter a choice, but you miss options. This is narrow framing – the tendency to define our choices too narrowly.
  2. You analyze your options, but gather only self-serving information. This is confirmation bias – the habit of developing a quick belief about a situation and then seeking out information that bolsters our belief.
  3. You make a choice, but are tempted to make the wrong one. This is short-term emotion – letting short-term pressures, politics, etc. obscure long-term needs and perspective.
  4. Then you live with the choice, but aren’t prepared to deal with unexpected developments. This is overconfidence – thinking we know more than we actually do about how the future will unfold.
The next postings will cover their WRAP Decision Making Process – it isn’t always sequential but generally address each of the four mistakes above. “The value of the WRAP process is that it reliably focuses our attention on things we otherwise might have missed. A more subtle way [it helps] is by ensuring that we’re aware of the need to make a decision.” (pg 26)
  • Widen your options
  • Reality-test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Influencer: a checklist for change anywhere, anytime

About a year ago, I summarized one of my favorite books for my Nike Foundation colleagues. Whenever I'm struggling to provoke change in people over whom I don't have authority (ahem, like my kids), this list of six areas is a helpful prompt to see what I'm missing. Enjoy!

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change
by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzer

Most books are about being a change agent, but do NOT give a theory of influence. We will fail if we only use one of the six factors, even if that particular thing is done successfully (typically companies try #5, incentives). Because we can never really know what is going on in people’s heads and truly change their motivation, we must instead focus on ‘vital behaviors’.

These are revealed by answering the question, “In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?” This is where most organizations mistakenly talk about desired outcomes or what they want to achieve (i.e. we need to build trust among employees) instead of a specific, tangible action (i.e. we need to change the last paragraph of every message from executives).

EXAMPLE: Weight Loss – we often set goals, like losing a certain amount weight a week/month.  The problem is, we’re setting a goal, not a behavior that will get us to our goal.  95% of diets fail.  What are the vital behaviors of those who are successful in dieting?  According to the National Weight Control Registry, the following three behaviors have been found to be the most important to losing weight and keeping it off: A) Exercise at home, B) Eat breakfast every morning, C) Weigh yourself more than once a week (page 42 of the book says “daily.”)

This isn’t a leadership opinion book based on a fad. It came out of two decades of consulting with organizations (starting with piloting the principles in 24 companies, 250,000 employees in late ‘90s). Then in-depth literature review of behavior change learnings over five decades. Then interrogating ‘outliers’ and documenting success stories around the world. Awesome stuff!

The 6 influence factors:
1. Personal Motivation - help people change how they feel about a vital behavior by connecting them with consequences (both positive and negative) through direct experience and potent stories

Inspirations: Pavlov, “try it, you’ll like it”, make it a competition against yourself, make consequence personal

Key questions: What stories do people have about negative consequences? What powerful testimonial of a team that does __ well is inspirational and illustrates a positive consequence? If we have people who resist change, who is a champion physically located near to them who can help them experience the right thing?

2. Personal Ability - overinvest in helping people learn how to master new skills and emotions

Inspirations: Take it step by step, focus on clear/repeatable actions, practice in low-risk environment

Key questions: What specific skills does a person need to do ___? What behavior needs to be coached? And what interpersonal skills are needed to motivate non-compliant team members? How do we get someone to deliberately practice a skill and receive immediate feedback? How do we take complex tasks and make them simple, long tasks and make them short, vague tasks and make them specific, or high-stakes tasks and make them risk free?

3. Social Motivation - harness positive peer pressure (social influence) by engaged leaders AND opinion leaders to encourage vital behaviors

Inspirations: village system of chiefs and elders in clans, negative example of Hitler’s manipulation, compelling nature of early adopters over crazy innovators, light exposes problems, giving away praise motivates people, peer pressure

Key questions: Who are the opinion leaders in each office? Who are the 2-3 people most widely respected? If changes are controversial, how do we hold a public discussion? How do we put resisters in the midst of a social circle that rewards the right behaviors?

4. Social Ability - Provide help in order to change how people act during crucial moments.

Inspirations: Mohammad Yunus and self-help/micro loan groups, wisdom of crowds, find strength in numbers (social capital), point out blind spots and the value of outside perspectives, training of trainers

Key questions: What help will people need from the community? What consent or cooperation will I need to change behaviors? How do we promote solidarity among any ‘graduates’ of training that we give?

5. Structural Motivation - modestly (!) and intelligently reward early successes; punish only when necessary. BE SURE TO USE INCENTIVES THIRD, NOT FIRST. Connect vital behaviors to intrinsic motivation; next line up social support.

Inspirations: demand accountability, negative example of wide-spread failure of corporate award ceremonies, giving small privileges, “catching” and rewarding behaviors and not just results

Key questions: What are small improvements in behaviors (not results) that can be immediately rewarded? What incentives in the past did NOT work? Before any punishment/confrontation, how can respected leaders clearly convey that we’re measuring progress and define consequences? What kind of random checks could be done to see if individuals/teams are trying new behaviors?

6. Structural Ability - change people's physical surroundings to make good behavior easier and bad behavior harder.

Inspirations: sweating the small stuff in NYC like broken windows to reduce crime, “fill to here” dotted line to make invisible expectations more visible, media impact on public perception of issues, new labeling of prescription drugs

Key questions: What are two small things could we change to make behaviors easier (i.e. tech interface, physical tool/reference card at desks)? What visual cues can we provide near each person to remind them of the behaviors they must change? What data can we collect and then present to everyone to illustrate the problem or potential? After starting the campaign, what selected info or data about behavior changes and consequences can we provide to leaders to create mindshare? How can we hardwire the behavior into already scheduled meetings or processes?

Also, there are great corporate case studies (in "Influencer training" section) and inspirational success stories from abroad including Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease and Preventing AIDS in Thailand.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Board games for the whole world

The holiday season is upon us. I grew up enjoying board games during vacations and have made many memories at home and abroad around some good fun with a game. But which games truly transend culture? I'd love to hear your ideas, but here some at the top of my list.

Uno. Classic card game.

Qwirkle. My newest favorite. Kinda like dominoes but much more interesting which six shapes and six colors.

Six. Takes 10 seconds to learn and involves hexagonal tiles in two colors...and quite a bit of strategy.

Othello. Like checkers on steriods.

Gobblet. Like checkers but in 3D.

Pass the Pigs. This could be offensive in certain religious cultures, but I've seen it produce many laughs from dozens of onlookers in a crowded train heading through India...

Dominoes. Numbers on tiles....or you can just set them up and knock them over.

In general, anything that mostly involves numbers and colors is highly likely to be cross-cultural. Surprisingly, I've seen Settlers of Catan played in a few countries. But the ones above can be played with a person from any educational or societal background, in my opinion, and learned very quickly on a train or plane. What great games did I miss?

Monday, November 18, 2013

On my reading list: Autumn 2013

Enjoying too many books lately! Part-way through all of these. Still about 50-50 on Kindle vs. hard copy...

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and at Work, by Chip and Dan Heath. Builds on the Nobel-prize winning work of Kahneman as well as other behavioral economists like Ariely. However, while those books give insights into how human make flawed decisions (usually too logical, or too emotional), the authors give a 4-step process and tons of practical tips and tricks for making decisions more likely to be successful. Easy read and very helpful! Authors used to write for Fast Company magazine and have two other books that I've not read but heard good things about.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business, by Patrick Lencioni. I've been reading and re-reading this for several months. Most Lencioni books are fables. This summarizes his main management and leadership principles from the last decade. Very pragmatic and covers the basics: forming a great leadership team, communication with clarity, great meetings, and more. As with many classic books, the concepts aren't new but it gives us a solid checklist or process to follow so we don't have blind spots.

Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential, by Gordon T. Smith. I've always distrusted people who say they knew exactly what career or even what country or community they wanted to serve. I like the "vocational" approach to life which Smith advocates. The idea is that you may have several different careers in life but there is a thread of commonality between them. This thread combines your unique design, temperment, interests, and, eventually, experiences. It becomes a vocation or a "calling" that will provide consistency -- and freedom -- to your life.

The World Is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good, by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. Just downloaded this one, but can't wait to read it. I've always worked with extremely visionary and idealistic organizations that are trying to do big things (i.e. reinvent computing, end caste-based discrimination, or stop poverty before it starts)! Looking forward to balancing this with a proper sense of my role in the world. As the book summary says, "...passionate enthusiasm can quickly give way to disillusionment, compassion fatigue or empty slacktivism. As we move from awareness to mobilization, we bump up against the complexities of global problems...Veteran activist Tyler Wigg-Stevenson identifies the...pitfalls that threaten much of today's cause-driven [approaches]."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

After a long silence, good news

I've always wondered about the plethora of cross-cultural assessments that exist. Are they all created equal? Which is most useful to accurately predict an individual's success in an intercultural situation? Are certain tests more appropriate for specific audiences (i.e. exchange students vs. professionals)?

Now there is an answer. Last week I was thrilled to hear about a paper published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology in July ("Assessing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Review of Available Tests" by David Matsumoto and Hyisung C. Hwang). It reviews 10 popular assessments. I was pleased to see that the CQ assessment, which I'm certified to facilitate, was in the top three!

I look forward to exploring the other two which were listed as highly reliable: MPQ (Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire) and ICAPS (Intercultural Adjustment Potential Scale). As for CQ, I just recently re-discovered this helpful video which summarizes the field's emergence since 2003:

I'm hoping to blog more regularly. The last 9 months flew by with a move to a new house, lots of busyness with the family, and work trips to Rwanda, Turkey, England, and Lebanon. I'm continuing to enjoy consulting with two great non-profits -- both of which recognize the need for cultural intelligence!