You’re Doing it WRONG — Top 10 Thinking Glitches

Here is a list of my top 10 thinking glitches. A former neighbour told me the other day that he had sold an identical flat to mine and revealed the selling price. It was treble what I had received two years previously. So why had I sold mine when I could have continued to rent it? The resulting self -reflection was uncomfortable and revealed major glitches in my thinking and decision making. It prompted me to investigate how our brains work and basically how we think with very interesting results. Alas here is my short list of top 10 thinking glitches.

I discovered that I was well and truly tricked by the ‘recency’ effect.

1. Tricked by recency

As I was saying, I had been renting out my London apartment with, latterly, the lodgers from hell: broken crockery, water damage (theirs), constant complaints and all with an amazingly aggressive attitude. So when I was made a reasonable offer for the flat I jumped at it. I had completely forgotten all of the other perfectly charming rentees and only remembered the last difficult ones. We are compelled by recent memory for example sales people tend to remember the latest product when selling to clients not the one that might be best for you. With performance appraisals, both parties tend to remember the previous month’s performance and not the sweep of a year. Combine that with an emotional experience of the upsetting kind, then the recency effect overrides rationality.

So should we not just stick to the information? Well not really as data produces emotions too.

2. Just the data

Do you recognise this scenario? The figures are not looking good for the final quarter so an edict is sent from the board of the Bank to reduce costs or ‘lose head count’. A recently appointed head of department is horrified as he can’t see a way to cut costs and just as he has hired his team, it now looks as if he will have to lose most of them. With a heavy heart he writes an email inviting his team to a briefing meeting. No discussion, no thinking, just action. There might have been another way…..and there was. They added 1p on to transaction costs and no one noticed.

Trying alternative solutions helps us see things from different perspectives.

3. The Optimist

Optimistic thinking is essential for success but it can cloud decision making. Optimism is only one thinking style we can adopt given the circumstances and we all have the cognitive flaw of looking for evidence that confirms our beliefs rather than challenging them.

We should be realists when making decisions and optimists when implementing them.

4. The way we do things

It’s terribly tempting to think our ways are best and others are less rigorous. It stops us having to learn anything new.

A good example of this was a guy from Microsoft I met in an airport business lounge. He had just joined the board of a very much smaller IT company and he was amused at how strongly they insisted that he went on their induction programme so that he learned their ways of doing things. Not once did they ask how things were done in Microsoft. He saw so many ways that they could have changed their systems to be more efficient and profitable but he no one was interested.

Our ways are not always best.

5. Group think

Surely if you put enough intelligent people in a room you will get a sound rational result? No not necessarily. Conformity to an autocratic leader no matter how intelligent a group can be will deliver a biased outcome. Everyone agrees then mutters disagreement in the bar afterwards.

Recent research reveals that companies with more women on their boards outperformed rivals, with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on capital and 53% higher return on equity. It’s something we actively encourage in companies with our Women As Leaders Programme.

So diversity challenges group think and aids good decision making.

6. Low appetite for risk

To increase the workplace appetite for risk then failures must be tolerated. It was Howard Schultz of Starbucks who talked of Fast Failure being the way to institute new ideas. Keeping a close eye on outcomes and a preparedness to pull the idea if it is not working, is according to Schultz, the way to progress. If we know we will not be blamed and publically humiliated then we are much more likely to take riskier decisions

7. Polarised thinking

Another thinking glitch beloved of individuals, organisations and indeed countries is polarised thinking. It tends to appear when something major has happened generating extreme feelings. For example take the recent banking crisis when mortgages were sold to people who ultimately couldn’t afford them the banks then swung from massive risk to complete security.

The answer to the crisis probably lies somewhere in between so to avoid this glitch go for go for both /and thinking and stop relying only on either/or thinking.

8. Stress

Now the kind of stress we were exposed to in prehistoric times was the sort that involved large animals intent on eating us so we fought this threat or ran away. So with evolution we kept our middle and lower brain as it reacts more quickly to threats by preparing us for fight or flight. The logical, “thinking” part of the upper brain shuts down and good decisions are placed lower as a survival becomes a priority. Decision making is impaired when we are stressed so relax then decide.

9. No review

I think is goes without saying that it is the power of feedback, of review that helps progress. So why for the most part do we not do it? Stress, work overload or perhaps there is a reluctance to look failure in the eye. Or what might be nearer the truth is that we embellish the past a put a positive spin on our errors. There are many ways of doing this. We distort our memory, deny all knowledge or blame others for our mistakes. So our thinking remains unchanged and errors are repeated.

10. No learning

Experience is inevitable; learning is not. No review no learning. At work we log performance, sales figures, profit and loss but all too rarely our thinking and decision making.

What I learned as a result of my research was that instead of thinking rationally the majority of our thinking is emotional, knee jerk and in a rut. William James put it succinctly ‘A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices’.

So relax, ask friends and colleagues for input, try new ways and monitor how effective they are and constantly challenge the decisions you are making. This concludes my list of Top 10 Thinking Glitches — if you have any other suggestions I would love to hear from you at Ros Taylor Company

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