We have looked at sampling of research this week that tells us that our perceptions are not what we thought they were. That often our beliefs and expectations can cloud our judgement of reality. How then do we accommodate for these inherent flaws in our mental makeup and remove as much uncertainty as we can around our decisions as leaders?
Coming to terms with uncertainty
The key starts with understanding that you will never completely remove "all" uncertainty. Managing risk is about finding measures that reduce uncertainty. To quote Douglas Hubbard from his best-selling book "How To Measure Anything" measurement is defined as "A quantitatively expressed reduction of uncertainty based on one or more observations."
But wait you say, didn't you just explore this week that even with data available we are still prone to bias? And you would be right. However, we don't stop making decisions because of that, we focus instead on constantly looking to augment our data set and in taking new approaches to reducing uncertainty. The instant you feel certain you are in trouble.
The myth of certainty
You only have to look at the events around this last Presidential election to understand the hubris that comes with being "certain" about something without factoring in these issues. There is a valuable lesson to be learned here around how get in front of faulty perceptions. That there was bias on the part of the punditry was obvious I suspect to everyone but them. If there were concerns that they did not have a handle on how things were unfolding or were expected to unfold they either ignored them or castigated those who brought those observations forward. In other words, they chose to only look at the data that supported their bias and refused to be rigorous in looking at data that did not.
More is better, be it data or input
Here is the lesson; you can never be certain and to ignore data that does not support your instincts undermines your management of risk. Whether you have a small team that you lead or a large company you must foster an environment that encourages sincere exploration of measures and information that is contrary to the goals around your decisions and mission. You must never accept certainty as a forgone conclusion as that is the medium where biases flourish.
Shape your team culture
Develop your team to operate with a critical mindset and from a perspective that there is always more to a decision than meets the eye. The process will be iterative which is why continuous improvement is so much a part of operational excellence. Every answer will lead to further questions. If your data is not giving you what you need then find data that will. Metrics are iterative as well and should evolve and change along with the needs of the team.
Don’t ignore the cues
Develop a sensitivity for language that betrays undue certainty or bias. If you saw Money Ball you laughed at the scout’s discussion around what made for a good player, looks, height, confidence (based on whether they had a good looking girlfriend) and so on. What wasn't funny was that this was so engrained into the culture of the sport that no-one questioned it. If a movie were to be made around how you and your company make decisions how would the audience react?
The bottom line is don't hang your hat on one piece of information or input from only one source. Make it a habit to find as many measures as possible to reduce the level of uncertainty around a decision. Foster a culture that encourages critical analysis and input. Finally, don't be afraid to admit that you are going to bring "blind spots" and biases into your decision making process and make sure you are not ignoring them either. Performance Leadership - Think About It!