Tag Archives: Strategic Thinking

Open Mind: A Cure for Cognitive Bias

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Fake News…. Alternative Facts….

These are two terms that we hear too much of in the news these days, and they are invading our team and project meetings.

I don’t intend to get into a political debate. What I do want to highlight is the phenomenon of cognitive bias that causes us to rely only on that information which is not in conflict with what we already believe to be true and how it is detrimental to sound critical thinking. Every critical thinking process you can employ adheres to the old adage; “Garbage in, garbage out.” Thereforeif you only use information with which you believe to be true or agree, chances are you will fail in solving your problems correctly, creating solid strategic plans or making accurate decisions.

Cognitive bias occurs because of several reasons:

  • You take mental shortcuts when solving problems or making decisions to save time.
  • Too much information is available, and you gravitate to only that information with which you are most familiar or you believe to be true.
  • You are motivated by emotional or moral reasons.
  • You yearn to be “in-sync” with your associates or friends – Peer pressure or Groupthink.

There are 120 types of cognitive biases that we all experience when assessing situations, solving problems, generating solutions, and making decisions. It’s a regular smorgasbord! Without having to spend years in therapy to break through these biases there is one easy solution we can all practice which will help us steer clear of cognitive biases – having an open mind. An open mind will permit you to look at information that may be in conflict with your experiences and what you understand to be true. Ultimately, an open mind leads to more accurate decisions, plans, and solutions.

Here are ten suggestions you should consider acting on to keep that door to your mind open on a regular basis:

  • Listen More Than You Talk!

When you talk, you reinforce what you already know and believe. When you listen, you hear information that may be different from what you know and believe.

  • Think Positive, Before Negative

Our brains are prewired to protect us. When someone brings up a new idea our brains have an “Automatic Negative Thoughts” trigger. Our first reaction is to give a dozen reasons why the idea is bad or why it won’t work. Force your brain to start thinking about the positives. Think how an idea will work, or what the benefits of that idea could be.

  • Never Say Never, Never Say Always

This mindset keeps your thoughts and beliefs static. The world around us is moving fast. Things DO change. Your thinking and thoughts must also change in order to stay up-to-date. By saying NEVER and ALWAYS you do not allow your thinking to evolve.

  • Avoid Making Snap Decisions

When you make snap decisions it’s usually because of overrated intuition– your gut. That means you do not think through decisions by using established criteria and facts. The more you do this, the more comfortable you feel making decisions “on the fly” which keeps your mind closed.

  • Respect Others’ Point of View

By respecting other people’s points of view, it prevents your brain from being immediately defensive about views, opinions, or feeling that are different than yours. This invites people to express their points of views more often. You will find It increases collaboration and teamwork!

  • Look for New Opportunities

Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “There is a better way to do it, I have to find it.” Be like Edison and look for new opportunities to be more productive and more efficient. This mindset will help keep your mind’s door wide open.

  • Expand Your Network

We surround ourselves with people who tend to think like we do. They are your comfort zone and provide you a “safe place.” Expand your business network. Add new people to your circle of friends. These people will provide a diversity to your views and what you think.

  • Make Failure an Option

When thinking through new ideas, or different ways to do things, make failure an option in your mind. We naturally avoid failure at all costs so we will make judgments sometimes because of uncertainty or lack of knowledge. When you let yourself consider failure as an option you will not be quick to dismiss those ideas that appear on the surface as unsafe.

  • Get Away from Your Screens

This is the most difficult of all of the suggestions. We are addicted to our screens – computer screens, cell phone screens, TV screens, tablets, and even touch screens on our car’s dashboard. Make an effort to go on a technology diet. Each day, make a conscious decision to detach yourself from all screens for a period of time – one or two hours, initially. When you get on your screens you gravitate to information with which we agree – Facebook pages, Twitter or Instagram accounts, or texts to and from our friends. It confirms our beliefs. It makes us feel “safe.” Turn them off. Walk the dog. Go for a run or a bike ride. Better yet, sit down and talk with your family, friends, and neighbors.

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Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Times are a Changin’… Lead!

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Leadership is defined by changing times. Businesses must always change in order to maintain their leadership in the industry. Those organizations that don’t change remain stagnant and end up falling behind their competition. Consumers’ wants, change. Industry standards change. Regulations change. Business demands change. Therefore, change is inevitable. Those organizations that achieve and maintain success do so through competent leadership.

A significant barrier to leading through changing times is that people are creatures of habit. We don’t like change! Change takes us out of our comfort zones.  It causes confusion because most of the time people do not know what is changing and what is not changing. In addition, many times the whys of what are causing the change are not clearly understood. Most of the time success is also defined by new measurements on which performance is judged and this creates fear that can be crippling

So how do great leaders break through this confusion and fear in order to blaze a new path to success? Here are some important tips:

  1. People Tend to Support What They Help Create. This may sound like a tired, old adage but it’s true. People like to be included in the development and planning of new processes, policies and procedures. Inclusion opens up understanding of the business journey on which employees will have to travel. It allows for mutually defined goals and plans. Most of all it provides ownership which yields responsibility and accountably.
  2. Be a Better Listener. Good leaders listen to the people around them. They listen to suggestions on how things might be accomplished and new ideas. They listen to people who just need to “vent” even when that venting may not be productive. People are trying to regain their footing during changing times.
  3. Great Leaders are Empathetic to Feelings. Change produces a wide range of emotions. Leaders must not be apathetic to people’s emotions — “I don’t care just suck it up.” Nor, should they jump to being sympathetic to their emotions — “I agree, you should be angry.” Instead, they should be  This means acknowledging the person’s emotions — “I see this has you frustrated. What about this is frustrating?”  Being empathetic shows a person you recognize the emotions they are fighting through and then allows you to deal with facts — or the root causes — of their frustration. It’s easier to deal with facts and actual situations than to try and negotiate with individual emotions.
  4. Communicate.  Communicate. Communicate. You can never communicate too much during changing times. Change causes confusion. People initially hear only what they want to hear. People draw conclusions based on their past experiences. Developing a consistent message and delivering that same message over and over again facilitates implement all changes.
  5. “What’s In It For Me? Don’t highlight what the changes mean to the company. Highlight instead on what the changes mean for the individual. Your answer to this questions should always focus on the positives or benefits, such as, increased productivity, elimination of ‘busy’ work or less stress.
  6. Identify and Rely on Key Stakeholders. Identify other key stakeholders and rely on them to provide you support, answers to questions you can’t answer, and for resolutions to issues that may be outside of your authority.

Following these six principles of managing change will make you the best leader you can be during turbulent times.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Is Conformity Keeping You from Success?

Social conformity is a powerful and hidden motivation that influences our decisions and strategic planning in ways we don’t even realize or understand. It’s called “that’s the way we have always done it.” This is a way of thinking that hinders innovation and success. Let me demonstrate the power of conformity with this personal experience…

Recently I joined a few friends at an NBA game. Tickets were free, parking was free and we sat in a private box. Even the food and drinks were free! Who could say, “No?”

Initially we were all acting very proper because of the luxury trappings that surrounded us. It was a close game and soon we were all behaving like the less fortunate people that were sitting in the cheap seats.  We were all cheering, standing, shouting, and high-fiving each other. Decorum quickly died. Assisted by prompts on the scoreboard, we were screaming and behaving like “true fans” by halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the huge video monitor above center court displayed the “Kiss Cam” – random shots of couples in the arena. The activity dictates that when the camera is pointed at a couple they would smile and smooch. It was an entertaining distraction while the teams strategized during a timeout, especially when one young guy refused to kiss his “date.” As the crowd began to boo, the guy mouthed the words, “She’s my sister!”

But he kissed her on the cheek anyway and the crowd erupted. Conformity is a powerful thing.

The behavior in the arena that night got me thinking about how the need for conformity impacts our organizational decision making and strategic planning. Our corporate cultures can be so strong, that we stop questioning our decisions and planning.

If your organization needs to innovate, but is stuck in “the way we’ve always done it” mentality consider these tips for re-framing your decisions and plans.

  1. Beware the “sunk cost” trap: Often times we support a decision or system simply because of the time and money already invested in the solution. Before sticking with the status quo, ask yourself, “If we were making this decision all over again, would our current path be the best decision for achieving the objectives we had set for ourselves?” If not, reconsider.
  2. Behave like the enemy: The military uses a process that is called “Red Teaming.” It’s where they gather a group of subject matter experts and review plans and decisions through the eyes of the enemy. They look for holes or weaknesses in your thinking. Businesses are beginning to adopt this process to expose questions such as; How might your competitor sell against you? How can they overcome your new product launch? How can they position their services to steal business with a mutual client? What can they do that might completely disrupt the way you do business?
  3. Develop a tiger team: Some of the most innovative organizations spin off a small team of people with varied backgrounds and allow them to solve complex problems in a new environment – physically removed from the prevailing culture. They might take on a new name, benchmark different industries, and run pilot projects to test the waters and avoid conformity.

Moving forward, avoid falling into the “that’s the way we have always done it” way of thinking. Challenge yourself, your teams and your associates on a regular basis to get out of this destructive way of thinking. Take action to overcome the comforts of what is accepted as “normal.”

Reprinted from Action Management Associates

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Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making, Group Effectiveness, Red Teaming, Strategic Thinking

Breaking Through Groupthink with Simple Questions

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

How many times have you been in a meeting and have been afraid to say something because you believed it went against what the group was thinking? Or, worse yet, nobody in the meeting spoke up because everyone believed it’s not what the “authority” in the meeting (or residing in Mahogany Hall) desired.

It’s common place and happens far too often. In fact, it can set an organization up for failure or be an impediment to complete success.

This phenomenon is known as Groupthink. The group dynamic syndrome was identified and explained by social psychologist, Irving Janis in 1972. In his book, Victims of Groupthink, Janis outlines what he calls “Eight Symptoms of Groupthink.” In the situations described above, two of those symptoms are occurring. First, Self-Censorship. This is where an individual(s) withhold any doubts and deviations from what is believed to be the group’s perceived consensus. The second symptom is Direct Pressure on Dissenters. This is where members of the group believe that they are under pressure (both real and perceived) not to express arguments against any of the group’s or organization’s views.

In my work assisting clients to resolve problems, to make decisions and to develop strategy, I have personally witnessed bona fide “subject matter experts” sit quietly while they knew that the group’s final solution, decision or strategy was either extremely risky, or downright wrong. We are social creatures and one of our biggest fears is losing favor amongst our peers or being seen as someone that causes trouble or creates conflict. Therefore, our individual need for acceptance many times trumps what we know is best for the group or are keys necessary for its success. We protect our status by simply providing no opinion at all.

People who lead groups or facilitate meetings need to be keenly aware of this group dynamic. As I always tell my clients, you can’t judge a meeting by how few differences and conflicts the group had, but instead by how many a group had and most importantly how they dealt with or resolved the conflicts. If you had differences and conflicts then you had a great meeting. If you had none, then I suggest you look in a mirror because you have been blind to potential risks and failures.

The prescription to Groupthink that I offer my clients is a process that I have adapted from several different facilitation techniques. I call it the “PIVOTS Maneuver.” I coined the phrase from a debating tactic. During a debate a participant might clarify a question or stated position by “pivoting.” This involves listening to others’ opinions, understanding their position, and then finding a common goal in that opinion and convincing them that your solution to achieving the goal is the best by offering facts that are not present or were not considered by the other person.

PIVOTS is an acronym for a series of questions that permit individuals in the group to explore a solution, decision, or strategy from several different perspectives. By asking these questions you are “giving permission” to everyone to explore and offer answers to those questions in a “safe environment.” The key phrases in the previous sentence are “giving permission” and “safe environment.” When people believe that they have “permission” to speak up and that there will be no retribution or consequences, only then will they know the environment is “safe” to offer up differing opinions or contradicting facts.

Here are the PIVOTS questions:

PWhat are the Positives that can result from our solution, decision or strategy?

IWhat additional Ideas do you have regarding this solution, decision or strategy?

VWhat Vulnerabilities do you believe the group might face on account of this solution, decision or strategy?

OWhat Opinions – feelings or hunches – does this solution, decision or strategy conjure up in your mind?

T What Truths — facts — do we know that will support the solution, decision or strategy we are recommending?

SIn moving forward with this solution, decision or strategy; what are our potential next Steps or required actions?

Next time you’re leading a meeting and you detect Groupthink to be setting in, call time out and lead the group through these questions one-by-one and record every answer on a whiteboard or a flip chart so that everyone can see them. By “pivoting,” the symptoms of Groupthink will evaporate because you have encouraged the group members to turn over every stone and to explore every objection, fact or opinion. This facilitation technique can be successful to help “neutralize the intimidator” in the room and to also crack away at a silo-like or authoritarian culture that might exist throughout the entire organization.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Don’t Ask the Wrong Questions When Creating Strategy

In 2000, Robert Nardelli was hired to run Home Depot. By 2006 he had nearly doubled sales, cut costs, improved process, increased efficiency and doubled profits. In 2007, the board of directors released Nardelli. Why? He focused on the wrong question. According to Ric Merrifield in his book Rethink, Nardelli fell into the trap of asking the “how” questions when he really needed to be addressing the “what” questions.

While the “hows” will narrow your focus (and there is a time for narrowed focus), focusing on the “whats” will broaden your understanding of the organization and what makes it successful. The “whats” ensure you are looking at the operation in its entirety and focusing efforts on the most desired outcomes. Merrifield offers a five-step approach for using the “whats” to improve performance:

1. Identify the “Whats” that are truly valuable
2. Know What you are (and aren’t) good at
3. Make (and break) connections
4. Understand what can (and can’t) be predicted
5. Unravel (and follow) the rules

In 1999, Proctor & Gamble Company (P&G) focused on the “whats” and decided to change their process for product innovation and began gathering ideas from outside inventors. Within five years, P&G doubled their success rate of new product innovations sparking significant sales and earnings improvements.

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Action Management and Associates

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