Joshua Bell is one of the world’s finest violinists.
He’s the Musical Director of the highly acclaimed Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. He’s played for 3 American Presidents. Recorded 40 albums, winning GRAMMY®, Mercury®, Gramophone and OPUS KLASSIK awards.
Want to see him in a concert? From £50 to £100’s. Want to book him for a concert? Tens of £’000s.
In 2007, he busked at a Washington Metro station for one hour. Playing majestic classical pieces on his £3m Stradivarius.
One thousand and seventy-nine people walked past. Twenty-seven gave money. Seven stopped to listen. He earned $52.17 (and $20 was from the only person who recognised him).
Fast forward seven years … Bell busking again at the same Metro station. This time thousands stopped to hear him play.
In 2007, no-one expected him to be there, so they walked past, oblivious.
In 2014, they announced his presence. Drawing people’s attention changed what they saw. Changed their perception of what was happening.
Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize Winning Economist, describes this phenomenon as…
Joshua Bell's plays globally and his concerts sell-out within days. Not bad for a solo classical violinist!
I've edited my Peer Advisory Group information page nearly 50 times. And each and every time I read, "…Munger attributes his success to...". A friend pointed out a typo. What I’d actually written was "…Munger contributes his success to…"
How many times have you read and re-read an important email searching for typos, only to notice some glaring errors when you receive a reply? Doubtless you'll find some in here too, despite my diligent efforts!
The problem is we see what we expect to see, not what is there. This lack of ‘sight’ has significant consequences for making decisions and solving problems.
If all that we see is all there is, how do we know …
… we’re not missing something crucial?
… we’re answering the right question?
Consider the following "Will Jane be a good team member? She is caring, considerate…"
What do you think? For most of us, it’s "yes, she will".
What, though, if the next two words were "impulsive and irresponsible"? What now?
Our natural tendency is to jump to conclusions based on the information in front of us.
Sometimes that’s OK, because the patterns are obvious. The answer clear.
But, often, it’s not OK, and WYSIATI leads to serious errors in judgement. We take poor decisions that cost money. Decisions that annoy our teams and our clients.
Kahneman, in "Thinking, Fast and Slow", says: "Information that is not retrieved (even unconsciously) from memory might as well not exist".
So how do we avoid the perils of WYSIATI and retrieve more information to help us?
We need to "See More"
If "what you see is all there is", then, by definition, we need to "see more" to help us take better decisions.
Forgive me for stating the blindingly obvious (and mixing my metaphors) but the easy way to "See More" is to involve other people. Provided, of course, they’re able to give you an independent view, and they have a different perspective from you.
Start with the Team
- Before the meeting, describe what you’ve observed, keeping to the facts, and ask them to write down what they believe is the underlying issue
- When you’re concluding the discussion, ask people to write down what they believe to be the solution before and ask each person to share. Then have the discussion about the way forward.
Find external help
You can work with a coach or a mentor to help find different perspectives.
Shameless plug time - it's one of the things I specialise in my coaching program, of which you can read more here: Breakthrough Business Coaching ProgramNow then, onto Swiss chocolote and delivery couriers.
Bern is Swiss town near the Matterhorn, which has long been associated with bears… since the 13th century its seal and coats of arms have incorporated a bear. And it's the home of Toblerone, a chocolate covered bar of nougat.
Toblerone's brand logo was designed to link it to its birthplace.
The representation of the mountain is obvious, but do you see the bear?
When you do see the bear you won’t be able to unsee it. You'll have a different perspective.
It’s like the arrow in FedEx. You’ve seen that though haven’t you?? Don't worry if you haven't, I'll show you a different perspective below.
But what if you can't get an external perspective?
Do It Yourself
This is simple to do, but requires discipline and focused attention (and will never be as good as external perspective, but it will help).
You need to create a habit of challenging your assumptions. Of asking questions to get a better understanding. Becoming more curious. Asking questions like …
- What do you mean by…?
- What might possibly go wrong here?
- What’s the elephant in the room I’m ignoring?
- What advice would I give someone else if they had this issue?
Almost like being a kid again. But, perhaps not with the same level of relentless that drives parents mad!
Apply the process to common phrases and assumptions too.
Going back to the question about “Will Jane be a good team member?”, most of us assumed we knew what was meant by “team”. But checking that assumption will help us make a more informed decision about Jane’s fit.
What if the team’s job was to eliminate mice from an Antarctic island? What’s your view now on Jane’s fit for the team?
Eventually you’ll find yourself doing it automatically.
So, getting external perspectives and being more curious helps you “see more” enabling you to make more informed decisions, but what are the downsides?
The main downside is the discipline of “Seeing More” slows the process. Time we often feel we don’t have, because the team need answers, or you’re frustrated at progress and want to make things happen.
But what happens if you don’t take the time and make a poor decision?
Imagine a key team member has left. Your Project Manager, say. You’re desperate to get the role filled because you’re having to stand in. It’s consuming your time, distracting you, and preventing you from doing the high value activities only you can do.
You get some interviews lined up. The first person you meet seems the ideal candidate. Their CV looks the part. They look the part. They talk the part. You’re impressed. The other candidates don’t seem so good.
And, because what you see is all there is, you offer them the job.
Sometimes, you make a good choice. But, more often, you don’t.
It takes a few months until you start to get a bad feeling, and maybe six months or more to fix the problem you created by hiring the wrong person.
If you’d “seen more” by seeking opinions from the team, by having a more challenging recruitment process, and by detailed reference checks, you probably wouldn’t have hired them.
Yes, doing that might have added two or three weeks to your decision-making process. But you’d have saved six months of personal pain and avoided the damage they caused your business.
And the reason it can take months for you to accept there’s a problem with your recruit?
We focus on what we expect (and want) to see
You focus on what the recruit is doing right, looking for signs you made a good decision. You’ll downplay the negatives. Shrug off your concerns.
Eventually, it becomes obvious they’re not up to the job, and you have to ask them to leave.
The team’s response? “Thank Heavens. What took you so long?” They see the issues long before you do.
It’s a form of Confirmation Bias. A condition we all suffer. One which is particularly prevalent (and dangerous) during decision-making and problem solving.
When presented with a problem, we jump to an intuitive solution. One that just feels right.
We know we need to test our answer, so we do some research. Maybe ask the Team. Maybe Google it.
Confirmation bias leads us (sub-consciously) to seek data compatible with our beliefs. Data to support our answer. We look for validation we’re right. And we lead the team with our questions, restricting their independence.
But that’s the wrong way to go about it. We need to test our answers by trying to prove them wrong! Like scientists testing their hypothesis.
Gary Klein, in the September 2007 Harvard Business Review, proposes we do a Pre-Mortem to avoid this bias.
Gather a group of people knowledgeable about the issue and say to them:
“Imagine it’s this time next year. We implemented the decision we’ve agreed. It was a complete disaster. Take 10 minutes to write a brief history of the disaster and what caused it.”
This overcomes groupthink. It gives people permission to speak up, and gets them thinking creatively and freely.
Try it. You will uncover much you’ve missed. Sometimes it changes the decision. More often, it enables you to develop contingency plans to reduce the risk of the decision going wrong.
Now we’ve identified how to “See More” and avoid the two most common pitfalls, it’s time to wrap up.
First, though, the Toblerone Bear and the FedEx arrow ...
“What we see is all there is” (WYSIATI) hampers our ability to make good decisions and leads us to jump to conclusions.
We don’t see the whole picture. We miss information vital to the decision.
But the more we “see”, the more robust our decision becomes, the better our solutions.
And you can do that through three mechanisms:
- Work with a coach or mentor
- Join a peer-to-peer mastermind group
- Do it yourself by challenging your assumptions and asking more questions
... the need for an answer now short-cuts your decision-making process
... confirmation bias is our inherent tendency to look for supporting data
The first can be avoided by having a process for making decisions and sticking to it.
The second by gaining external perspectives, seeking data that disproves your hypothesis, and carrying out a premortem on important decisions.
A scary thought ...
If you feel 100% confident your decision is correct, you’re 100% wrong!
Stop and re-evaluate because you’ve missed something.
The more I‘ve learnt about how to make better decisions, and become better at applying that knowledge, the less confident I've become in the “correctness” of my decisions.
The pros and cons increase and the risks become more pronounced, but it doesn’t stop me making decisions.
It doesn’t mean I come up with the best solution or make the right decision.
But it greatly reduces the risk of things going wrong and of being better able to cope if things do go awry.
Good luck with “Seeing More”, and get in touch if you'd like my help in bringing an external perspective to your decision-making and problem-solving. Click here for more information