Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Insidious Advocacy

In a prior blog (http://superinnovator.blogspot.com/2012/05/leader-speak-advocacy-vs-inquiry.html) I talked about how leaders speak and the role of Advocacy vs Inquiry.  Advocacy is about stating your case, and usually begins with “I think...”.  Inquiry happens when people ask questions to seek clarity "How do we...". I pointed to an example that came from Chris Argyris, a Harvard Professor.  
Another example given is “What evidence do you have that our expenses are too high? And how certain are you of this?”  The first question is ok, although I would have replaced the “you” (which can be seen as a bit accusatory) with “we” to distance ourselves from Advocacy.  The second question, “And how certain are you of this” is problematic.  We don’t care how certain someone is of an opinion.  We need the facts, and the only relevant question is “What are the facts?”
Advocacy can create a significant road block to truth.  Psychological examinations of this show how insidious strong Advocacy can be.  In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein talk about research done by Muzafer Sherif.  In his work he had people make judgements about something they observed.  In groups people seemed to converge on a single judgement even though individually their judgements varied greatly.  Then he added a confederate, someone who was introduced to see if strong Advocacy could sway the group.  The confederate would take a radical but very confident stance on the judgement.  This would sway the group to move closer to that position than they’d been inclined to without the Advocate.  What was discovered next was truly remarkable and worrisome.
Once you participated in the group judgement it became thoroughly internalized.  When reporting that judgement later, even a year later, and in a new group, people will adhere to the original judgement.  For some reason we conserve a collective judgement until it can become truly entrenched in our thinking.
In business this is almost always a weakness.  And you are better off guarding against group think.  We train individuals to play “Good Cop” in a meeting.  Their assignment in a meeting is to observe the meta-talk of other participants in the meeting and at the appropriate time, report on where the team has trapped itself.  This requires a bit of team training  to make sure the team handles this part of the agenda correctly.  Otherwise, you end up with decision that are based on opinion and strong advocacy rather than good analysis.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How, not What!

Understanding your competition is only useful if it gives you new insights, or new perspectives into your target customer.  If you have to make a choice between studying your target customer, or studying the competition, always focus on the customer.
When you do study the competition, if you focus mainly on what the competition is doing you’ll miss the most valuable intelligence. 
The what is derivative of the how.  It is more informative to understand how the competition views the customer; how the competition studies the customer; how the competition innovates; how the competition deals with costs; and how the competition expects to grow.
But do not obsess over the competition.  Keep in mind that truly great companies don’t worry about competitors, they don’t have any reason to.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Solving the job interview problem

When I was working on finding competitive advantage in the job interview, I was using it as an example of our innovation capabilities.  We just picked the job interview as the test case because it was something everyone understands. 
The interesting problem I encountered wasn’t in understanding Kahneman’s Peak/End theory which, by the way, he does a nice job of explaining in his new book Thinking Fast and Slow.  Rather the interesting problem developed when I came across two other psychological insights.
First, it turns out that the power of the peaks is dependent upon the activity level in brain.  The more active the brain is, the more powerful the peak.  This should have been a simple problem, just find our what things activate the brain and use the ones available in the conversation.  Perhaps tell a story, or a joke, or craft a particularly clever way to answer an expected standard interview question.  Then came the bigger problem.
Second, it turns out that fMRI studies have shown that the human brain is four times more active when we are talking, than when we are listening.  That meant I would need a way to cause the peaks to happen while the hiring manager was doing the talking, not while I was doing the talking.  The peaks had to happen in the hiring manager's brain.  It took a little more digging to come up with the strategy in the book.  If you can solve this problem differently, I would love to hear about it. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fascinating Human Behavior

Miles per Gallon across different speeds. (Actual data)

Miles per Gallon
at 75 MPH
at 65 MPH
at 55 MPH
Car 1
Car 2
Car 3
Car 4
It is clear that Car 2 is the most fuel efficient car.  Obviously when you drop from 75  MPH to 55 MPH you improve your miles per gallon.  If all four cars drive 10000 miles, which car will save the most gas by reducing the speed from 75 MPH to 55MPH?

Reducing to 55 from 75 MPH
MPG Improvement
Car 1
Car 2
Car 3
Car 4
This question is complex.  In situations like this, rather than do the math our brains look for an easy relationship to use as the basis for the decision.  We substitute something that looks like the same question and use that answer as the answer to the more difficult question.  In this case we are drawn to the MPG change as a stand-in for doing the more difficult calculation.   On that basis, Car 2 is the answer.  
But that turns out to be wrong.  Car 2 will save just over 81 gallons of gas per 10,000 miles driven.  But Car 3 will save over 141 gallons of gas for the same distance.  Only Car 1 saves less gas that Car 2.
Human behavior is very interesting.  As an experiment next time you're on the highway. Drive at say 10% over the posted speed limit (you’d better be in the right lane)  Then count the number of hybrids that pass you.  Assuming that many people who buy hybrids do so because they are “environmentally conscious”, you have to wonder why they don’t drive close the the speed limit where their gas consumption will be lower.  The answer is that we are all comfortable with a certain level of hypocrisy, (except for that lone wolf driving at 55 in the right lane that you nearly rear-ended!)

The issue of framing and looking for an easier problem to solve is covered well in Daniel Kahneman's new book Thinking Fast and Slow.