- What was the best decision you made in the past year?
- What was the worst decision you made in the past year?
- (What was your process for making each decision?)
In Being Wrong – Part One, we looked at some of the reasons – both innate and learned – that contribute to our “need to be right.”
In this post, we’ll look at some things we can do to stop it from getting in the way of good decisions.
One of the first things we can do is to be aware of whether we are reasoning to discover something or to confirm something we already believe.
We can develop practices that will help us overcome our habits and biases so that we improve the odds in our decision making. Help us make better bets.
One recommendation is to cultivate what are called “Negative capabilities.” It’s a strange label because there is nothing negative about these traits except they are less visible and action oriented than those normally associated with success. They’re not the sort of thing we normally put on our résumés. It was the poet John Keats who first used the term and it’s been adopted by psychologists (such as Wilfred Bion) to indicate openness of mind, the ability to tolerate the pain and confusion of not knowing, rather than trying to be certain in an ambiguous situation.
Both “positive” and “negative” capabilities are needed to create a space of learning and creativity.
Source: French, Simpson, Harvey – “Negative Capability: A contribution to the understanding of creative leadership” (2009)
- What are some of your typical reactions when you come to the edge of your knowledge and expertise?
- What might you begin doing if you were not afraid of looking or being incompetent?
- When was the last time you said, “I don’t know?”
- What would be a safe context in which you might express doubt?
- How could you test your assumptions?
- How might you show more compassion to yourself and others when facing the unknown?
Source: D’Souza & Renner – “Not Knowing” (2014)
For each one, ask “What are the chances of this happening?” based on your knowledge of the facts relating to that condition and actual experience in similar situations. Attach a confidence level. “How confident are you?” (You could use your Planning Poker cards.)
Identify the assumptions you’ve made and assess their reliability. Think about any cognitive biases that might be at work. Then make the decision.
- Ask humble questions, not rhetorical or smart-alec questions.
- Challenge your own ideas – train yourself to test alternate hypotheses
- Focus on accuracy
- You might be wrong
- Be open to diverse viewpoints
- Work in groups – easier to see others biases than our own.
- Give everyone permission to ask, “What are we not seeing? And why?”
Other sincerely curious questions
- What is likely to happen if we do X? What’s our level of confidence?
- How do we know? What’s our evidence?
- What would need to be in place for that to work?
- What else might be true?
- How can we find out?
- What are we not seeing?
- Are we examining for discovery or for confirmation?
- What biases do we have that might lead us astray?
Developing the habits of exposing our thinking, acknowledging and neutralizing our biases, and recognizing the value of not having all the answers requires deliberate, conscious practice. It’s worth it. It calls for courage and tact in equal measure. It wakes up our brains so that we build a better foundation for our bets.
Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is give up the need to look smart.