Why Did I Make that Dumb Decision?

Have you ever made a decision you quickly regretted? We have all made choices in our life that seemed well thought out at first, only to have the results turn out sour. Decision making is something we do every day, but very few people take the time to examine their decision making process. Even fewer attempt to understand the hidden factors that effect our cognitive process and cloud our view of the world.

In a recent workshop for PCI Webinars I explored the role that fallacies and probability play in our decision making process. I started out the webinar with a quote from former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld that demonstrates the complexities of our ability to understand the world.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” – Donald Rumsfeld – US Secretary of Defense – 2001-2006

To learn more about six big fallacies the effect our decision making and to discover how our inability to understand probability leads to bad choices, read the text version of the workshop on the Efficient Librarian web site.

What is Your Next Action?

One of the most fundamental moves in productivity is identifying your next physical action.

You may have heard this statement before especially if have studied Getting Things Done (GTD). In fact the question is at the center of the David Allen’s famous workflow diagram. Why is it so important to identify your next action in a very specific way? Because vagueness is the antithesis of productivity.

The reason is simple to understand. When our actions are undefined the mind has nothing to focus on. Sure it may have a sense of what our completed projects will look like in the end, but to get there involves a series of steps. Most of the time our next actions are self evident and require little thought. However when a project becomes stuck it creates stress and avoidance. That is when defining the next physical action is vital to forward progress. Getting specific forces the mind to focus through visualizing success. Often it only takes a minute to figure out an appropriate next action.

In the book Getting Things Done David Allen provides a classic example of what it means to think this way. Imagine you are overdue to take your car in for an oil change. The next action for almost everyone is not “change the oil” unless you are a DYI car mechanic ready for grease. The next physical action might be any of the following:

  • Call to schedule an appointment at your favorite garage
  • Talk to your colleague down the hall who recommended a shop
  • Search the Internet for local oil change deals
  • Check your calendar for an open day/time on your vehicle in
What is your next action?

Not having clarity on the next action could mean that oil change will not happen for a long time. Deciding on the next physical action creates greater clarity and makes it far more likely for the project to be completed.

Your challenge is to identify all the stuck projects in your life and decide on a next action for all of them. Taking these steps will boost the odds of completing them while reducing your stress level at the same time. Sounds like a win-win!

Brutal Truths About Productivity

The feeling of being productive is awesome. There is a deep satisfaction in checking stuff off our to-do lists. However, there is a difference between being productive with simple tasks versus complicated projects. In the book Joy at Work, which I summarized last week, Marie Kondo makes a distinction between the urgent and the important. Urgent things are usually the small tasks that are easy to do but ultimately make little difference to our lives. The important tasks are hard to do, but make the most impact towards our larger goals and objectives. True productivity comes down to focusing on the latter and not the former. But how do we do this?

In an article in the Pocket web site, Thomas Oppong share 6 Brutal Truths about Productivity that can help people focus on what is truly important. For example, one of the six truths has to do with power of getting started.

The biggest hurdle for many of us is simply getting started. Making that important decision to take a step. You can be as big and successful as you can possibly imagine if you build that mindset you need to push yourself to make that all important decision to just start.

You have everything you need to make an impact in the world if you can get past the many reasons why should postpone that task. Don’t think too far into the future.

Use what you have right now at where you are and witness the magic of getting things done.

Read the other five truths on the Pocket web site.

How Leaders Make Decisions

Leadership at one of its most basic levels is the science and art of decision making. To be a leader is to be someone who makes decisions.

This past week I had the honor to present a webinar for PLAN titled “How Leaders Make Decisions.” The webinar explored ideas such as “kind” vs “wicked” environments, the dangers of decision making fallacies, and how to bring a team together around a decision. The script of the talk is available in the Articles section of my web site.

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

Here is a short sample of what I discussed:

We make decisions constantly ever day of our lives.  Most of our decisions are small and only affect ourselves.  However, leadership decisions directly affect others, ranging from a small few to an entire organization.  Therefore, it is important for leaders to understand the art and science of decision making not only for themselves, but their colleagues and customers.

Decision making can be very challenging for leaders because of the impact.  Since leadership decisions often have public implications, leaders are subjected to second guessing regularly.  Psychologically the very act of making a decision is stressful because of the risk of making the wrong choice.  Every decision we make means all other options were rejected in favor of one choice.  This sense of finality can be scary.  Sometimes people avoid making a decision altogether.  However, not making a decision is a form of decision making with consequences in itself.  Deferring decisions may be useful at times, but often there comes a point where making a decision is unavoidable.

Read the rest of the article to learn more.

Are You Being Tricked (By Your Own Mind)?

Here is a quick test. Which would you prefer to receive: $150 today or $180 next month? When this experiment is run most people would rather take the smaller amount now than wait one month. But consider this fact, if you were able to invest $150 now at a 20% rate of return, you would have $180 the following month. In the world of investing, a 20% return is massive. Yet for some reason our minds discount future money, even if it is worth more. This is a prime example of a cognitive bias.

In The Atlantic a while back, Ben Yagoda wrote an article diving into the many cognitive biases that affect everyone. He notes that there are over 185 different biases listed on the Wikipedia page. While not all are important, some affect us more frequently.

The gambler’s fallacy makes us absolutely certain that, if a coin has landed heads up five times in a row, it’s more likely to land tails up the sixth time. In fact, the odds are still 50-50. Optimism bias leads us to consistently underestimate the costs and the duration of basically every project we undertake. Availability bias makes us think that, say, traveling by plane is more dangerous than traveling by car. (Images of plane crashes are more vivid and dramatic in our memory and imagination, and hence more available to our consciousness.)

Photo by meo on Pexels.com

In the article, Yagoda’s explores the question of whether it is possible to educate ourselves to avoid cogitative biases or if we are doomed to always fall for them. To learn his findings, please read the full article.

Deal or No Deal Mr Hall!

I have always enjoyed game shows. Although I have never been on one it is fun to think about different strategies to win.

Recently I was listening to a episode of a great podcast series called Choiceology. It is about how we make choices especially focusing on the factors that lead us astray in those decisions. The specific episode dealt with how framing decisions in terms of potential loss leads us to different decisions than framing them in terms of potential gain. In the episode they interviewed a contestant from the show Deal or No Deal.

I finished the episode not only pondering how we frame problems, but realizing that the contestant made a huge mathematical error that skewed his thinking even as much as the framing. In fact, it is a problem that is encountered on other game shows including one called Let’s Make a Deal.

To explain why a poor grasp of probability not only hurts our ability to win game shows but also to make other important life decisions, I wrote an article to explore the topic. The core of the piece discusses a classic puzzle known as the Monty Hall Problem.

Here is the puzzle. You are a contest on Let’s Make a Deal. Your game is to pick one of three doors. Behind one is a new car and behind the other two are goats. (For purposes of play assume you want the car.) Monty Hall invites you to pick a door, so let’s say you choose Door #1. Monty, who knows what is behind each door, opens Door #3 to reveal a goat. Then he gives you the opportunity to switch your choice to Door #2. The question: Are your chances of winning the car better, worse, or no different if you switch doors?

Read the entire article to learn the correct answer to this problem and how the Deal or No Deal contestant should have behaved.

Living Through Strange Times

On my list of all-time favorite films and books is the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. The core of the story is about a Hobbit named Frodo Baggins who is tasked with destroying the dangerous One Ring to prevent it from falling into the hands of the dark lord Sauron. During the first book/movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, while traveling through the dark and dismal Mines of Moria, Frodo confides his despair to the wizard Gandalf. (Watch the clip.)

Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

I find myself revisiting Gandalf’s advice as we move deeper into these strange times. Often I find it easy to be like Frodo and wish this invisible enemy would go away so that we can resume life as normal. But Gandalf’s words remind us that while we all must endure bad times, the best way to get through them is to decide how we will respond to them.

Recall the formula, E+R=O from our friends at Focus 3. It stands for: Event plus Response equals Outcome. It acknowledges that we are always impacted by external events beyond our control. However, we can mindfully take control of our response to those events in order to get a better outcome. This is essentially what Gandalf is sharing in that moment and it is a wisdom that has profound implications.

Across the world we see normal people stepping up to make a difference in seemingly small but amazingly meaningful ways. Whether it is shopping for those who are home bound, sewing masks for first responders, or giving free food to those out of work, the ways to contribute are endless. For me, an amazing example came out of Spain where a fitness instructor lead quarantined residents of the neighboring apartment buildings through an exercise routine from their balconies. Everyone has the capacity to impact lives. As with Frodo, the small Hobbit in a big and dangerous world, it is ultimately through his perseverance and his friendships that he succeeds. As we walk this path together (in a socially distanced way of course) we can commit to make small differences that will have profound positive impacts on all of us.

So I invite you to consider what you will do with the time that is given you to make the world a better place.

Is Leadership Right for You?

“Leadership has long-since subscribed to the belief that the best way to reward and keep the keepers is to give them other people to keep watch over. It’s just the way the weird world of work works.”
– Jodi Wellman, Forbes Article, What If You Don’t Want To Be A Leader

This past week I presented the first in a three webinar series on Leadership in libraries for the Panhandle Library Access Network. The opening webinar was titled: Leadership – Challenges and Rewards. In the early part of the webinar, I took aim at the idea that everyone can or should be a leader. In fact, leadership has some serious downsides for anyone aspiring it and I listed five downsides of leadership. Here is one for example:

1/ Leaders are Exposed

A leader assumes responsibility for the team’s actions and accomplishments, but there are many factors they have no control over.  Often, leaders have to make decisions in the face of limited information.  Whether it is bad luck, environmental conditions, mistakes by team members, or just simply running into more talented and eager competition, the leader often gets more of the blame for their decisions than is warranted by the actual circumstances.  A leader’s mistakes are often out there for the whole organization to see.

Although it is challenging, leadership does have many upsides. So the webinar also presented six simple steps for those at the start of their leadership journey.

The text for the webinar is available right here at the Efficient Librarian. The recording of the webinar is available on the PLAN web site.

Join myself and Adam Davis, PBCLS Director of System Services, for the second webinar, Leading Diverse Groups and People this Wednesday March 11, 3 pm EST, 2 pm CST. The webinar is free, so go ahead and register today.

Is Your World Outrunning You?

Are your ready for the next surprise? Did you know there is a surprise coming? It is inevitable that something will occur in the next week or so that you were not expecting to happen. It could be a pleasant surprise, or a shocking and jarring one, but it will happen. So, how will you handle it?

David Allen built his GTD system with the understanding that life moves quickly and we can not possibly anticipate everything that is going to happen. In a recent blog post called “Is Your World Outrunning You?” he considers how we came to this point and why systems like GTD help us navigate these fast-changing times:

David Allen – Founder of GTD

There is nothing new in the world, except how frequently things are new, and the number of people having to accept and adapt consistently to that reality. The difference between your world and that of your parents is in how much less you can count on anything providing stability in your life and work, for any significant length of time. Perhaps your father and mother had to totally reconfigure their worlds two or three times in their adult life, if that. You might have to do that two or three times this year.

(Why is GTD successful?) Quite simply, the need people have to create more room in their heads, less stress in their lives, and more control over all the facets of life and work that now impinge on most all of us.

Read the rest of his article on the GTD web site.