Tag Archives: Harvard Business Review

Ozzy Osbourne on Overconfidence and the Power of “I Don’t Know”

ozzy osbourneThere’s a classic track off Ozzy Osbourne’s debut solo album Blizzard of Ozz called “I Don’t Know.” In this song, Ozzy sings of people looking to him for answers, “asking me who to follow,” “what’s the future of mankind,” and “looking to find the truth.” His simple response: “Don’t ask me, I don’t know.” You may see this as a copout from the self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness, but admitting you don’t know may lead to the most strategic decision you can make.

In a wide-spread international study of managers, consultants, academics, and students, Mark Chussil created a tournament to record how decision-makers solve a competitive-strategy problem. The contest is based on three fictitious industries that each have three competitors. The industries starts out identical (cost structure, product line, performance, etc.) and the participants are tasked with devising the most successful three-year strategy. A computer then analyzes the simulations and compares them with the other participants.

If this tournament sounds easy, consider that the number of possible outcomes in each industry is 3,201,872,665,419. In an attempt to discover successful decision making traits, Chussil has found many interesting results ranging from market adaptability to goal selection to the ability to predict outcomes. One finding I’d like to focus on is what I’m calling the Ozzy Effect, i.e. the willingness to say, “I Don’t Know.”

In Chussil’s research, he analyzed participants’ speed and processing abilities before they finalized a decision. He then split them up into three groups: 1) the I-already-knows whose confidence led towards snap judgments, 2) the Now-I-knows who felt confident after deliberating, and 3) the I-don’t-knows who made a thoughtful decision but did not feel overly assured.

Mark Chussil Strat Decision

Of the three styles, the best-performing tournament strategy was overwhelmingly the I-don’t-knows. These individuals were able to avoid the traps associated with overconfidence, including a willingness to explore all options, test multiple theories, and keep an open mind. They also took more time to make a decision and continued to search for solutions (versus trying to bolster the decision that was already made).

Before you make your next big decision, consider the Ozzy Effect. Start with an I-don’t-know mindset so you can attack the problem with a clear perspective and avoid the assumptions associated with thinking you already know. You can then communicate the new cultural expectation, differentiate the good decision-makers from the bad, and promote those on your team who display these Ozzy-fied characteristics.

Suicide Squad’s Three Steps to Turning Enemies Into Allies

Suicide Squad bannerHave you ever experienced a workplace rivalry? Moving beyond healthy competition, I’m referring to opposition that is counterproductive to both you and your organization’s success. It can be as obvious as jockeying against an adversary for a promotion, or as subtle as a colleague undermining your authority, abilities, or accomplishments. In some extreme cases, it can feel like we are being forced to work on a team with psychopathic criminals. No wait, that’s the plot for the new movie Suicide Squad.

In DC Comic’s movie Suicide Squad, a secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to perform dangerous missions in exchange for clemency. Imagine the opposite of the Avengers or the Justice League, where instead of working together for a common good, each member of the team is self-serving, manipulative, and basically evil.

Your worst-case experience (hopefully) is not as bad as the Suicide Squad, but there may be similarities— infighting, a lack of mutual trust, bickering, backstabbing. When faced with these situations, you have two options, run away or deal with it. The first is self-explanatory and, being the leader you are, is not a likely choice. To deal with it, we need to learn how to turn our enemies into collaborators.

In Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap’s Harvard Business Review article, they introduce a method that, if executed correctly, turns adversaries into allies. Unlike previous techniques that rely on reasoning and logic, Uzzi and Dunlap focus on the emotional aspects of forming trusting relationships. Their process called the 3Rs is as follows:

Step 1: Redirection

To begin your rivalry-conversion program, you need to re-establish the relationship. This involves channeling your adversary’s negative emotions away from you. In a comfortable setting, demonstrate that you understand their value. A sincere compliment, public recognition, and flattery can go a long way to redirecting the relationship towards more positive rapport.

Then, if possible, clear the air. Take responsibility for your actions and admit fault. Don’t push them to concede their part in stoking the rivalry, nor should you seek an apology. This is about you displaying a willingness to improve the relationship. Once redirection has taken place, which may take more than one instance depending on the relationship’s toxicity, you’ve set the groundwork for the next step.

Step 2: Reciprocity

After exhibiting energy to repair the broken relationship, it is time to loosen their negative feelings by giving up something of value. The idea it to consider how you can fulfill one of their more immediate needs or reduce a pain point. Carrying out this assignment will further establish trust and demonstrate the benefits of your partnership.

Once you’ve satisfied your promise(s), ask for something in return. Choose a task that requires little effort for them to reciprocate. If you get greedy, they will question your motives, which will only intensify the rivalry. Also, don’t give and then instantaneously ask for something in return. Let the good feelings simmer before trying to collect.

Step 3: Rationality

The final step establishes your expectations of the new relationship. You can get lost in redirection and reciprocity, but that won’t necessarily patch up a conflict. By expressing your expectations, you are mitigating your challenger’s ability to second-guess your intentions. This pushes your adversary to consider a reasoned perspective, comprehend the benefits, and recognize that they are being offered a valuable opportunity.

Rationality is like offering medicine after a spoonful of sugar: It ensures that you’re getting the benefit of the shifted negative emotions, and any growing positive ones, which would otherwise diffuse over time. And it avoids the ambiguity that clouds expectations and feedback when flattery and favors come one day, and demands the next.—Brian Uzzi & Shannon Dunlap

Workplace enemies are harmful to all involved. It distracts us from reaching our goals, absorbs our energy, and is a certain culture killer. As leaders, we cannot ignore or attempt to contain these caustic relationships. We must first model positive behavior by mending our rivalries and then assist our team to do the same. The other option is to form a team of self-interested supervillains, but with their proclivity towards destruction, that’s probably not a long-term solution.

The Superman Effect of Contagious Leadership

superman cavillI was speaking to a colleague last week who wasn’t feeling as if his leadership mattered. He has a high functioning team that needs little motivation and even less direction. These are good problems to have unless you 1) are an overachiever, and/or 2) achieve fulfillment through your ability to “fix” the work environment.

You may say my friend is humble, but he’s not…he’s really, really not. He is downplaying the contagious nature of his leadership. If this sounds unlikely, consider the superhero equivalent of the super-leader, Superman. With his “S” emblem and red cape, Superman outruns speeding bullets and leaps buildings in the pursuit of truth and justice. He doesn’t do it for glory or wealth; it is about doing the right thing.

The suit doesn’t make the hero. A hero is made in the moment by the choices that he makes and the reasons that he makes them. A hero brings out the best in people.—Clark Kent, Smallville

Superman’s ideals and the ways in which he chooses to accomplish these ideals make him a powerful symbol to other superheroes, the public at large, and those who read about his adventures. His leadership is infectious…and if you think this sounds corny, consider the research.

We already know behaviors are contagious. Studies by UC San Diego’s James Fowler and Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis have found that having happy friends increases the probability of your happiness by 25%; overweight friends make it 60% more likely that you will also be overweight; and if you have a close friend who’s divorced, you are 33% more likely to follow suit. A new study shows that “social contagion” is a natural by-product of effective leadership, as well.

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, strong leaders are more likely to churn out strong leaders. According to the findings, high-level managers whose overall leadership effectiveness was in the top 10% had direct reports (mid-level managers) who were also rated far above average. These mid-level managers scored in the top 81st percentile and, to continue the contagious snowball effect, their subordinates scored in the top 74th percentile. Conversely, the direct reports of the worst-performing high-level managers (those in the bottom 10%), scored in the 15th percentile and their subordinates scored in the 24th percentile.

The study also reported that behaviors with the highest correlations between managers and their direct reports include (listed from most to least contagious):

  • Developing self and others
  • Technical skills
  • Strategy skills
  • Integrity
  • Global perspective
  • Results focus

If you want to be a Super team with a Super culture that generates Super leaders, you don’t need to break your company dress code with a skin-tight, blue onesie. Modeling the virtues, traits, and behaviors of a leader is communicable. The more you do it, the more others will, too.

Andrew Kreisberg on Developing Your Core Ideology

legends of tomorrowHow do you make decisions for your organization? I’m not asking about your problem solving skills or ability to perform critical thinking, I’m more interested in your core ideology — the consistent identity that guides you and everyone on your team. Don’t have one? Let’s try to change that. To help us is writer and producer Andrew Kreisberg.

Andrew Kreisberg is the co-creator of three (and by the end of the week, four) of my favorite shows. If you’re one of the millions who have been watching CW’s Arrow and Flash and CBS’s Supergirl, you know Andrew’s work. This week marks his fourth venture in DC Comics’ television world as he continues the interweaving stories of Arrow and Flash with the premiere of Legends of Tomorrow. This is the superhero team-up show we’ve been waiting for. Finally, a weekly series with the likes of Hawkgirl, Hawkman, The Atom, Firestorm, Rip Hunter… it’s almost too much.

Andrew KreisbergBuilding this track record of success is not easy. Many live action superhero shows have aired in the last 60 years and most are—shall we say—not good. You can blame their issues on inadequate special effects or a limited budget, but the real problem involves storytelling. These shows tried to lean too much on action and not enough on making you care about the characters. In an extensive interview on Fatman on Batman, Andrew Kreisberg discussed how he cracked this code with a three-part ideology that he and his team live by.

We write on the board, ‘What are Barry [Allen/Flash]’s attributes?’ And we always keep looking at it for every scene. And we actually have written in the writer’s room: heart, humor, spectacle. Cause for us, that’s the secret of the show. Equal parts ‘heart, humor, spectacle’… that’s the order and if we have an episode where there’s too much spectacle and too much humor but not enough heart, then it’s not a good episode.

According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, core ideology defines the enduring character of a company. It holds the organization together as it grows, acts as a source of guidance and inspiration, and attracts like-minded people. With “heart, humor, and spectacle” (in that order), the writers know how to focus their efforts—there’s no lazy reliance on extended fight scenes to eat up time; every scene matters, depth is balanced with levity, and characters have a purpose beyond their visually impressive super power.

Andrew Kreisberg mantraThere are three things to consider when determining your organization’s core ideology. As discussed in the HBR article:

Core ideology is bigger than one product, one goal, or one leader. Knowing who you are is more important than knowing where you’re going. The direction you go will change with time, while the ideology in a durable company is enduring.

You do not create core ideology, you discover it. Ideology cannot be deduced by examining the external environment; you understand it by looking inward. Use your collective genius to discover yours. This is bigger than solely the job of the leadership team. Kreisberg relied on comic book-loving experts, not network executives or studio heads. Explore and embrace feedback from all levels.

Ideology must be authentic. Discovering your ideology is not a time to daydream about what the organization ought to do—that’s what your vision statement is for. Ideology involves the core values you truly and passionately hold today, the best of who you are.

Want to provide a lasting and significant contribution to your organization? Be a Legend of Tomorrow today by leading the charge to nail down your core ideology. Kreisberg is running four successful television shows with three simple words. Discover yours to focus your team and ensure a better work product. What better way to form your own superhero team-up.