Category Archives: Forecasting

The One Way to Constructively Defuse an Argument

Constructive conflict is a healthy part of any organization. Deprived of it, we end up with a lack of innovation, status quos are not challenged, necessary questions are avoided, and there is a lethal amount of consensus. The key is how we address this conflict.

One way to face conflict is fast and furious. Like the multi-sequel movie franchise, we can follow Dom Toretto’s philosophy:

I live my life a quarter-mile at a time. Nothing else matters; not the mortgage; not the store; not my team and their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.

When we lead through a “quarter-mile at a time” mindset, we are likely to engage in such practical strategies as seeking compromise, utilizing empathy, avoiding blame, apologizing, and forgiving past actions. However, while these techniques can be effective, they do not work when we are in the midst of a heated argument where we feel emotionally invested. So how can we improve our ability to resolve our interpersonal conflicts?

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, you are more likely to resolve conflict through superior reasoning strategies when you consider the situation in the long run. By distancing yourself from your current feelings, you are better equipped to unravel negative events and find resolution. Otherwise, according to another study, you are prone to ruminating, recounting, and re-experiencing the negative event indefinitely.

Still not convinced you are better off with a marathon (versus sprint) mentality? A study in Psychological Review found that imagining the future is a natural outlet to thinking more abstractly about an interpersonal conflict. Once we are able to transcend the present moment and put the negative events in context, we are less focused on recounting it and more focused on thinking about the bigger picture. And with enhanced adaptive reasoning strategies, the research reported that participants had a greater influx of positive emotions and insight.

To resolve conflicts, we need to think beyond a “quarter-mile at a time.” How will it pan out tomorrow, next week, and next year? It may not be as harrowing as a fast and furious solution, but the measure of successful leadership is not reliant on how quickly you reach the finish line.

To Minimize Biases, We Might Need to Minimize People Input

cognitive-biasWere you surprised by the election results? If not, you were in the minority. Most professional pollsters had Clinton winning by anywhere from 3% to 11%. We can chastise their incorrect results, but first we need to consider the accuracy of our own decision making and what we can do to increase precision in the future.

When Trump won the election, I immediately bashed the forecasters; they were all so certain of a Clinton win and had been for weeks—on the night of the election, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight predicted a 71% probability of Clinton winning, and out of 21 possible scenarios, Election Analytics had only one where Trump could prevail. Then I read an article on Defense One and it began to make sense.

The output of polling results is only as good as the data put into the model. And unfortunately, this data is manipulated by people. According to Kalev Leetaru, a big data specialist who discovered the location of Osama Bin Laden through a statistical analysis of news articles, the problem with the election polling was tied to flawed judgment about which data was relevant.

When it comes to the kinds of questions that intelligence personnel actually want forecasting engines to answer, such as ‘Will Brexit happen’ or ‘Will Trump win,’ those are the cases where the current approaches fail miserably. It’s not because the data isn’t there. It is. Is because we use our flawed human judgment to decide how to feed that data into our models and therein project our biases into the model’s outcomes.—Kalev Leetaru

For the most accurate election predictions, the best indicator was from the artificial intelligence system, MogIA. Through it’s 20 million data points pulled from online platforms (Google, YouTube, Twitter, etc), MogIA has successfully predicted the last four presidential elections. Why? Because as per its developer,

While most algorithms suffer from programmers/developer’s biases, MoglA aims at learning from her environment, developing her own rules at the policy layer and develop expert systems without discarding any data.—Sanjiv Rai, founder of Genic.ai

People are chalk-full of biases that distort how information is absorbed and comprehended. One of the more common biases is motivated reasoning, where we interpret observations to fit a particular pre-conceived idea. Psychologists have shown that much of what we consider to be reasoning is actually rationalization. We have already made the decision about how to react, so our reasoning is really cherry-picking data to justify what we already wanted to do.

All leaders (and people) are susceptible to these types of biases. How many times have you hired someone only to find that they are not the same person you interviewed? Sure, they look the same, but the intelligent, driven professional you met is starkly different from the person you are know working with. Somehow your intuition led you down a wrong path. Rationalize it as the result of outside forces, but you decided who they were within five minutes of interviewing and then looked for proof to support your gut.

To remove some of the bias, aptitude tests have been found to be highly predictive of performance, as have general intelligence tests and behavioral assessments. Interviews, however, are far less likely to foretell who will succeed. Research from Society for Judgment and Decision Making found that people make better predictions about performance if they are given access to objective background information and prevented from conducting interviews entirely.

If we want to make the best decisions for our organizations, we cannot rely solely on intuition, nor can we dismiss our instincts. There must be a balance between logic and perception. This begins with collecting and analyzing data is the most objective manner possible. Once we understand the facts, we can consider the less tangible factoids before coming to a final decision.

If this past election teaches anything, it’s that we cannot fall victim to our cognitive biases. Something feeling correct does not make it correct. Find ways to avoid being emotionally or intellectually invested in the findings; that’s the best way to keep an open mind. Include others who will challenge your biases and have no preconceived notions, like an independent contractor. Or maybe we should try to concern ourselves more the actualities and lean away from trying to predict outcomes. I’ll try to remember that in the mid-terms.

Weekender: Greg Fitzsimmons on Enshrining Your Legacy

Greg Fitzsimmons thumbWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a puppy of thought to start your weekend off with a positive mindset. Why just a puppy (versus a full size dog)? Because it’s the weekend!

I spoke with an accomplished entrepreneur recently who is contemplating retirement. The only thing holding him back, he stated, is his legacy. He feels the need to garner one more big win to solidify his place on the Mount Rushmore of Success. He went on to explain that this need to establish a lasting legacy weighs on him much more than any of the financial pressures he felt at the infancy of his career.

I use to dismiss this legacy-emphasis as nothing more than insincere actions taken in an attempt to preserve ego. Sure, I want to be remembered in a positive light, but my legacy does not guide my decision making. Then I heard Greg Fitzsimmons discuss this on his podcast, Fitzdog Radio.

You see Louis C. K. now and you see what he’s accomplishing, but he’s always wanted that. I remember him using the word legacy at one point, before things blew up. And I see guys like [Dave] Attell and I think he really cares. You know, alot of these are the guys people are watching. I don’t know that I ever cared about the legacy thing and maybe that’s been my downfall in a way. I always shot for what’s in the moment good, what situation comes up, and I grab it and react… But you know there’s an argument that if I had been focused on one thing, I maybe would have gone farther down a road.

Before hearing this, I never correlated legacy with focus. This is not the need to focus on legacy, mind you, but the legacy that results from remaining focused on a goal, collecting a congruent body of work, and fostering positive relationships with those who choose to follow your vision. With this understanding, many of us have been working towards a legacy without realizing it. Who knows, a little more focus and we may just get there.

Erroneous Mind Reading: How Leaders’ Intentions are Misinterpreted

KeurigI was recently speaking to a mid-level manager about why his CEO was approving the coffee supply order for the break room. The manager explained that the CEO is very particular about the Keurig selection. As a coffee lover, I can appreciate the degree of importance placed upon the morning brew; but as a business-minded leader, I had to wonder whether the CEO should be spending her precious time on such a task.

So, being a sensible person, I asked. The CEO laughed as she embarrassingly expressed bewilderment. With a little investigative reporting, it turns out that a while back, the CEO asked her assistant to make sure they were ordering one or two of her favorite coffee flavors. Like a kindergarten game of telephone, the message warped into the CEO demanding full control of the monthly order.

Dark_knight_returnsThis is not an unusual situation. Frank Miller felt it thirty years ago when he was writing the single greatest comic book story ever published. Miller’s Batman: Dark Knight Returns changed the superhero landscape. His four-issue miniseries told the story of an aged Bruce Wayne who returns from retirement to clean up a dystopian Gotham City. It was a gritty, dark, “real world” comic book geared towards adults. This may seem commonplace today, but that’s only because DKR blazed the trail.

When coming up with DKR, Miller faced opposition. This is not surprising; he was trying to alter one of DC’s principal superheroes. What is surprising, however, is who within DC was challenging him. In the mid-’1980s, the two most important authorities at DC were Paul Levitz and Jenette Kahn. According to Miller,

Jenette and Paul were the ones that did approve it, and enthusiastically, and encouraged me to go further with the violence in it. It was the other people on the staff that resisted it, because I was playing with their childhood.

So the heads of the company supported Miller’s vision while the “lower-tier” repeatedly told him, “Jenette and Paul will never approve this.” Why do staff make the assumption that they know what the leader is thinking? One comment from five years ago becomes the basis for how the leader will make all future decisions. This happens all the time (and it’s probably happening to you right now).

When staff think they can read your mind, you end up with an army of intelligent, capable individuals who are carrying out orders that were never given or intended to be given. Information is blocked from reaching you and decisions are unknowingly made on your behalf. Thankfully, there are steps you can to minimize the need for a clairvoyant workforce:

Explain yourself. You’ve heard of an open door policy; consider an open mind policy. Provide the rationale and context behind your decisions. This lessens miscommunication and reduces the chances of someone erroneously interpreting your motives.

Be consistent. If you want others to have a clear idea of you intentions, acting with predictable behaviors and decisions can help. According to a study from the Journal of Business Ethics, a leader’s self-consistency resulted in significantly higher organizational commitment, employee willingness to exert extra-effort, staff satisfaction with their supervisor, and team effectiveness. The summary—a predictable leader is a more trusted leader.

Remain approachable. The best way to alleviate inaccurate mind reading is by maintaining a culture where those on your team feel comfortable asking you questions without having to worry about being belittled, dismissed, or judged. When they begin to ask “why”, you’ll know that your true intentions are coming through.

Frank Miller’s masterpiece, Dark Knight Returns, would not have happened if he had listened to all the people who were positive that the executive level would shoot down his idea. Imagine how many great ideas you are losing out on because others think they know what you want. Don’t let others assume what you actually mean; tell them, and support a culture that encourages people to question you for clarity. It’ll be cheaper than hiring a psychic and more time efficient than having to approve break room supplies.

Adele on Building Hype

adeleOver the last few weeks, Adele has overtaken the music industry. This was after taking a three-year break, at which time Adele surprised her fans with a 30-second snippet of her new song “Hello” before releasing the video a week later. One month later, 25 was on sale and has since become the biggest-selling album of 2015.

Did it happen through raw talent, of which she has plenty, or is a portion of her success attributable to how she views overexposure, overly extended promotions, and hype in general? In an interview with Time, Adele said:

I’m not throwing shade at anybody, but when you have a six-month build up, don’t expect me to be there the day your album comes out, because I’m bored.

She went on to discuss artists who release music without immediately following it up with an album:

It doesn’t matter how amazing [the album] is. You put seven songs out. I’ve heard the album. I’ve heard everything you want to say about it. I’ve heard it all over radio. Don’t expect me to not lose interest before it’s even happened.

In reading Adele’s views on building excitement, how many leaders are equipped with the insights to launch a “hype campaign”? Think about it. We are tasked with launching a vision and goals that engage those on our team. To accomplish this, we exert significant mental strain in the development stage but then undercut the communication phase. The result is a beautiful, well-crafted set of goals that no one cares about, believes in, and/or is aware of.

To build your next hype campaign, consider the following three tips.

Get Informal Leaders On-Board. Before your product launches, you need the support and buy-in of your top thought leaders, the people who influence and guide your culture. Get these individuals engaged early. Your idea does not have to be fully formed to get them on your side. Discuss your intentions and seek their feedback. And as you get closer to launch, keep them in the loop.

Turn Your Launch into an Event. If you are debuting a project that is important to you and the organization, don’t rely on a memo or a mass email. Get personally involved and make it special. For some, “special” is a box of doughnuts on the outside lunching area; for others, you may need something with more pizzazz. Either way, make it stand out to stress that this is not some run-of-the-mill initiative.

Draw out Suspense for a Short Period of Time. To build hype, people need to look forward to whatever it is you are launching, and they cannot do this if they are not aware that something is being launched. Let people know that something is on its way. Don’t drag out the mystery for too long, but it may help to leak a few details or discuss the problem that you are trying to solve.

Adele-25Based on the mega-success of Adele’s recent album, her outlook on hype is worth studying. Don’t rely on how great your product/idea is. Avoid over-exposure. Prepare your launch purposefully, with detailed precision. Include a few surprises. And, if done right, there will be no need to set fire to the rain.