Rationality Is an Illusion

Illusion of Rationality

As mature adults and business professionals, we like to claim we approach life rationally. However, the evidence is stacked against us. We err either on being too optimistic or too pessimistic. We take too long to cut losses on bad investments or unhealthy relationships. We regularly make statements like, “I know this is bad for me, but…” We have long lists of phobias. You get the picture. Even the most rational among us cannot be 100% rational.

Why is this?

Rationality is an illusionFirst, our perception is not necessary reality. If you have ever seen a magic act, 3D sidewalk artist, or flipped through a book of optical illusions you have experienced this truth. Our brains are wired to try to make sense of the complex world around us. Add to that the ways our eyes work with our brain to process sight, and you have a fun world of parlor tricks.

However, our brains don’t stop filling in gaps and jumping to conclusions just because we aren’t being entertained by an illusion. It’s not something we can turn off. It is neurologically impossible for us to understand and process everything going on around us. We can’t even process everything our eyes see. Our brains are constantly making decisions on what information to keep and what to ignore. Our brains are also adding information to make incomplete information make sense.

Try to read the following paragraph. Even if you struggle with the first few words, keep pressing on. You might be amazed.

Fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. cna you raed tihs? Olny smoe plepoe can. I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrdgde Uinervtisy, it dseno”t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm.

Think about the implications of what you just experienced. If your brain did that with letters on a page, what other information is it making up?

Most of the time this process is very useful as in the example above. We are unique in this regard. Our brains are simply amazing, but we must always remember that what we see is not necessarily what is. Simply ask any police detective about eyewitness reports. He or she will tell you that only by looking at similarities across multiple eyewitnesses can the actual events begin to be determined.

Second, biases from experiences and education impact our perception. From the moment we are born, we are developing biases. They allow us to apply our experience for survival. Again, in most cases this is a healthy thing. However, it can also cause us to be irrational. For example, a person who had an overbearing teacher might have a bias against all educators. Similarly a traumatic experience that happened to a loved one or us can impact our perception of situations or people who remind of the traumatic experience. This is something we all do. It is the way we are wired.

Here are four implications for leadership.

A diverse, cohesive leadership team is important. Your core management team should be made up of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences connected by a bond of trust. Multiple perspectives and interests help create a more complete picture of reality. The trust is necessary to allow the team to bring those perspectives together in debate without harming the ability of the team to work together. The trust will not be automatic. It has to be built and maintained intentionally.

Challenge your assumptions. Past successes can cause us to make foolish mistakes. For more on this one, read my last post titled The Delusion of Competence.

Consider all perspectives and data. When making decisions, gather enough information from various perspectives until the proper course of action is clear. To avoid group-think or dominant contributors overshadowing others, consider the following technique. Ask your question, but tell responders to write their answers down without discussing them with one another. Then those answers are read aloud, posted, and duplicates eliminated. If needed, participants can ask for clarification of a response. Then the group is asked to write a ranking of the choices from 1 to however many options were available. The group facilitator then tallies those rankings. This process is called Nominal Group Technique (NGT) and is just one way to make sure everyone’s input is considered.

Have a defined, objective decision-making processes. There are many good decision making process, and one process will not work on all types of decisions. Therefore, it is important to have managers trained in the various techniques and when to apply them. Far too often managers make a decision, and then set about gathering evidence to support their position.

While it is impossible for us to be 100% rational, there are things we can do to hedge against our irrational tendencies. Being disciplined enough to have these four areas covered will improve the quality of the decisions made in your organization. By making better decisions, you’ll find you improve the culture and overall financial performance of the organization too, and that’s very rational.

The Delusion of Competence

Delusion of Competence
If you have achieved almost any level of success, it’s very easy to get caught up in all the praise and exaltation. This can create what I call the Delusion of Competence. This is our tendency to Continue reading The Delusion of Competence

Negative Emotions and Memory

I have just read a study the negative emotional experiences actually enhance memory accuracy better than positive ones (Negative Emotion Enhances Memory Accuracy (Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Boston College).It is very interesting and makes a lot of sense. As a coach I have long realized that many of the issues we face come from things in the past that get triggered. I have also found that the negative triggers stay in play longer than the positive ones. Yet I believe there is more to the story.

We at the Cirrus Business Group do a good bit of work with personalities and personal styles.  All of our work and research of the many profiles has shown us that certain personalities and  styles are prone to be quite positive and optimistic while others always see the more pessimistic side of things.  Can this play into the equation?  We think so to a certain degree.

Even with negative triggers the more optimistic person may be able to recover and bounce back rather quickly.  In my life I have found that those with a more pessimistic nature dwell on that negative memory a lot longer making it into something it may not have been.  There is no doubt from the study that those with a negative memory remember is more accurately than the positive ones.  Yet our imaginations are very powerful so over time we may insert details that were not really there.

This is all fascinating to me and something to think about.  I have not yet seen a study comparing the accuracy of negative emotions and memories to personalities.  Just some thoughts a possibilities based on my years of experience with personalities and styles.  Until next time–Coach Judi

Personal Development and Business Development

As a consulting company focused on the development of businesses we have realized in no uncertain terms that a business that is focused solely on the business and not on the needs of the people is doomed to failure.  Along with the business development side of things, we at the Cirrus Business Group have a strong focus on human talent development, and this part of the business is growing rapidly with more offerings in this area.

It does not matter what the size of the business is; there is a need for personal development in every business. An entrepreneur with a strong technical skill must develop him/herself as a person and gain business skills to run the business side along with the technical side of the business.  This goes for small and micro businesses as well.  We have programs specifically designed to meet the need for this personal development.

A larger business may need team and management development along with the personal development. Learning leadership and management skills is a must, however, if the leader is struggling with the personal side of life a lot of the effectiveness can be lost.  Our coaches are trained to sort through the personal side with the coachee while also assisting the business to grow.

Most big businesses do not address this side of their business at all. Just looking at the turnover rate goes a long way to show what is missing, and exit interviews are a must.  The exit interview is where the understanding of why people leave comes from and it is often they are leaving their manager, not the company. Providing the employee at all levels with personal development opportunities can help to slow down the revolving door. When the person understands him/herself and others better, and has opportunities within the company to support their necessary life adjustments, they feel supported and will stay longer. Having a confidential personal coach for one-on-one work is a great investment.

When you look at the most successful large businesses you will find those companies are investing in their people. They see this need and fill it.  The investment in the people actually slows the turnover and saves money.  Turnover is very expensive.  When you look at the loss of experience, cost of recruitment and on-boarding, training and ramp-up time for every employee lost, especially at the senior levels, the cost of personal development and a coach seems to be a most effective way to go.  A third party coach that is not actually on company staff may be the most effective since he/she is looking from the outside in with no vested interest in the company.

We at the Cirrus Business Group have certified, trained coaches to develop the employees from the business side and the personal side. Many leaders believe the two must be kept separate.  It is not possible.  Employees are people first.