By Shawn Hunter, Vice President and Executive Producer, Skillsoft
Trying is the first
step toward failure
– Homer Simpson
Lake Wobegon, where
all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children
are above average.
– Garrison Keillor
86% of Harvard
students believe they are more attractive than their classmates. 82% of drivers
believe they are in the top 30% of safe drivers. Most employees claim to have
greater knowledge of industry facts and of their own company’s business than
they actually do. Most managers overstate their understanding of these same
questions by an even greater margin. Physicians overstate their confidence of
accurate pneumonia diagnosis, and lawyers claim their likelihood of winning
cases at better than 50% – a statistical impossibility. Salespeople are not
immune either. Salespeople claim their likelihood of winning a final proposal
at better than 70% which, considering there are often at least one other
bidder, is a statistical impossibility.
I recently sat down with
Jill Klein, Professor of
Marketing at Melbourne Business School, to discuss her work, and her particular
interest in some of the cognitive bias tendencies that we, humans, have when
interpreting circumstances and events, and then choosing decisions based on our
understandings and instincts. She pointed out that we all often suffer from an
overconfidence of our abilities and knowledge on a wide range of subjects. In
other words, we believe that we will be correct more often than we usually are.
There are a variety
of psychological explanations for our overconfidence bias, but the most
compelling reason may stem from our need to believe in our own sense of
self-importance and optimism. If we recognized the statistical truth, we might
be a little more pessimistic and grumpy getting out of bed in the morning.
bias can be a useful motivator toward driving action and initiative, and might
even further our own careers and success socially, but if unchecked can lead to
action in the wrong direction. Unchecked by organizational culture, managerial
oversight and self-reflection, overconfidence can lead to failed endeavors and
poor decisions for us and for our work.
Here are a few
actions and behaviors to help overcome decision overconfidence:
the opinion of more people. As James Surowiecki, author The Wisdom of Crowds, argued in
his book, and as the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” demonstrates on
prime time television, when we ask a larger group their opinion on a question,
their collective judgment is almost always better than our own.
your own second opinion. When we average our own second opinion with own our
first opinion we are almost always headed in the right direction.
If we place our own odds of success, or effort, or time required, at X, we
should also ask ourselves what we consider the extreme positive and negative
boundaries of these outcomes. That consideration will likely lead toward
moderation – one way or other – of how we should proceed.
our “deciding” self from our “doing” self. When we acknowledge
that the estimate we make, however fact-based and analytical, is not actual but
hypothetical, we can temper our own judgment by visualizing what will be
entailed in the “doing” of our endeavor.
After reflection and
consultation, remember ultimately the doing matters. WD-40 is named for the
40th chemical concoction which worked, and according to Sir James Dyson it took
him over 5000
prototypes to build the world-renowned Dyson vacuum cleaner.
Do, or do not. There
is no try.