At Thrive we talk a lot about how the things we accomplish and become, both as individuals and organizations, are the result of two things; the natural capabilities and environment we inherit and the decisions we make throughout our lives.
Changing our genes is impossible, of course. (Although, our behaviors and environment can influence how our set of genes may react, or express, over our lifetimes.) Adding to this, our ability to make the right decisions has been made more difficult by the cognitive biases that have evolved along with our brains. These biases can “distort” our perspectives in curious and often counterintuitive ways such as Anchoring, Loss Aversion, and Optimism Biases.
Complex problems are the norm in modern society due to the multitude of influences in today’s environment, with direct causes and outcomes being very difficult to predict or imagine. It is quite common for us to make a decision and then construct a story that rationalizes the decision post facto. And, if you don’t remember ever doing that, it is more an indication of your level of self awareness than some special cognitive attribute. We all do this, and more, and most of the time it works out (but when it doesn’t it can change your life, or even end it!).
Farnam Street published a set of articles on decision-making that includes an introduction offering five common root causes of “mistakes” we make in thinking. At Thrive, these are exactly the kinds of problems we like to solve:
- We’re (sometimes) stupid.
Problem: Harsh right, but what we are saying here is that “IQ” is not a stable base of intelligence, it varies over long periods and short periods for all kind of reasons (see the articles on judges sentencing behaviors before eating and after). Intelligence is also contextual, the less familiar you are with a situation the dumber you will act. Finally, intelligence is not uni-dimensional, and is much more accurately describes across a vast range of skills and aptitudes.
Intellectual Humility is the key. Be very careful before assuming a situation is “just like before”. Validating assumptions to see if the situation looks the same but there are new factors that make yesterday’s answers wrong today. Thrive’s programs look for evidence of Semmelweis Effect, a bias that tricks us into not noticing the changes because the simplest thing to do is what you have always done.
- We have the wrong information.
Problem: When approaching the problem we misread it, and then set off to create a large effort to fix a problem, but it is the wrong problem.
It could be as simple thinking that the reason for poor product performance was a lack of engagement and starting a recruiting effort to find “better” workers when the actual cause was a defective design process.
Validating Assumptions can save a lot of time and resources – understanding the problem correctly could lead to a much simpler and faster path to improving the products. Thrive’s Programs guide our clients through the detail oriented task of validation assumption while providing a set of data that quickly builds the confidence that you have found the issue and understand it well.
- We use the wrong (mental) models
Problem: You use models to make decisions, so do I and that person that just walked by, either subconsciously or purposefully we form “models‘ of a situation to base our decisions.
When you walk into a hardware store and ask for a screwdriver you have a totally different “model” of the expected experience than if you go into a bar and ask for the same thing. If you were given a tool instead of the expected beverage you would be shocked.
We have a rich context in both situations to help us understand the norms of that environment and our expectations form a mental model we use to thank the merchants for knowing what we were looking for and meeting our needs.
Knowing the cognitive state of a customer or coworker at any given time is much more difficult, the few available contextual clues may look the same but the expectations are all driven by individuals emotional states at a given time.
Q: Why are Mental Models so essential for decisions?
A: The quality of those models often determines the quality of our thinking.
If we use false, incomplete, or incorrect models we will get a less than optimal result, and building a set of useful models takes time and experiences, and as we know, our cognitive context changes the accuracy of our models may lower and need updating.
Thrive can help the development and validation of the Mental Models that you need to create and hone to ever higher levels of accuracy so that you can confidently and expertly make the important decisions that lead to your success.
- We fail to learn.
Problem: Time has a lot of qualities but one thing that isn’t always true is that the experiences of every year are additive to previous years in every area.
One thing that we have seen in looking at lives and careers is that 20 years of experience can be one year of an experience repeated 20 times or 20 different experiences that lasted a year each. A person has to seek new learning over time to keep them growing as an individual or live an existence like Groundhog Day where the problems and answers seem to stay the same, a very dangerous existence in a fast changing environment.
Thrive helps to make learning both continual and easy through well designed learning packets that come to you in the flow of your work day, a proven method that creates high levels of comprehension and retention with the minimal amount of time and cognitive depletion.
- Doing what’s easy over what’s right.
Problem: We seek the path of least resistance.
You can think of this as looking good over doing good. In this case, we make choices based on optics, explainability, politics, habits. Mostly this comes from not having a strong sense of self and seeking external validation or avoiding punishment.
Thrive lets you test out new scenarios at a distance, making it easier for you to make the right decision, especially when it isn’t the first that comes to mind, or is unpopular. Think of it as a living pro-cons list, at scale, with the ability to include a global network of perspectives.