Management, Posts

Outsmart The Planning Fallacy

Projects go over-budget and over-schedule; small ones, like renovating your kitchen, and huge ones, like constructing the Sydney Opera House. One main reason is our overconfident optimistic approach to planning. Behavioral psychologists call this the “Planning Fallacy“.

This post defines the concept of planning fallacy, gives examples of its consequences on some global projects, and provides some tips to mitigate it.

The Planning Fallacy

The planning fallacy is when we underestimate the time and resources needed to complete a project. We are often optimistic about our performance and the outcome of the project, so we take our desires for real plans.

The planning fallacy is a cognitive bias that fools our decision-making ability into considering the best-case scenario. It has a somewhat positive side, which is risk-taking. This cognitive bias allows us to take both small risks, such as opening a small business, and huge risks such as starting a war.

Catastrophic Project Plans

The following chart presents some major projects around the globe that went catastrophically over-budget. Notice the trend; the bigger the project, the higher the overbudget.

Sans titre

Mitigate the Planning Fallacy

Among the methods to mitigate the planning fallacy, we present the major three: Continue reading “Outsmart The Planning Fallacy”

Book Review, Posts

Deep Work – Cal Newport

  • Deep Work audiobook cover artTitle: Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
  • Author: Cal Newport, PhD
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Recommendation Score: 4 / 5

Book Review

The population of “knowledge workers” is increasing with the shift towards an information economy. These workers, such as researchers, journalists, engineers, computer programmers, designers, etc. need “deep work” to be productive and creative. However, they often find themselves in a working environment where they are prone to distractions and frequent interruptions. They are losing calm offices to get open spaces, they spend their time in multitasking, jumping between meetings, chats, and emails, they are expected to remain available for instant messaging platforms, and sometimes they are forced onto social media.

Cal Newport addresses these topics in his book “Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”. He coined the term “Deep Work” to define the professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration, and that stretches one’s capabilities to their limits.

Deep Work is Valuable, Rare and Meaningful

The author argues that:

  • Deep work is valuable for learning, productivity, and creativity.
  • Deep work is rare since we live in a world where we are distracted permanently.
  • Deep work is meaningful and brings calm and satisfaction to our lives.

The book investigates several ways to incorporate deep work into our working habits, illustrated with real-life stories. Continue reading “Deep Work – Cal Newport”

Posts, Quotes

There is nothing so practical as a good theory.

Kurt Lewin

Management, Posts

6 Tips for New Managers

Becoming a manager is a stressful, yet rewarding, experience. Beginners in management often fail in their first role. This is mainly because of their misconceptions about what it means to be the boss. In this post, you will find the main misconceptions about management, reality, and tips for successful leadership. The main misconceptions of the new managers are:

  1. I can rely on the same skills that led me to the management role.
  2. Being a manager means I am more independent.
  3. Formal authority is a source of power.
  4. Results delivery requires controlling people.
  5. I must build relationships with individual subordinates.
  6. I will make sure that the operation will keep running smoothly.

1 – Be a leader. Don’t be a star.

  • Myth: I can rely on the same skills that led me to my new role.
  • Reality: The required skills to be a successful manager are completely different. You learn them mostly by experience. You need to put your emotional intelligence at work.
  • Tip: Prepare yourself for the management role before you take it. If you already are a manager, it is never too late. Learn and practice.

2 – Stay humble, you can’t do whatever you want

  • Myth: Now I can implement my brilliant plans. I can change everything.
  • Reality: You are tied with a complex chain of interactions. You discover that someone who works for you could get you fired.
  • Tip: Build your network inside the organization. Learn how to negotiate and influence. Understand the interdependencies and stay humble.

Angry boss yelling at his assistant secretary

3 – Don’t rely on your formal authority. You must earn it.

  • Myth: My position is a source of power. 
  • Reality: You can’t be more wrong. It will surprise you that people will not give you respect and trust you for your formal authority, you need to earn it.
  • Tip: Demonstrate competence (listen more than talk), character (your willingness to do the right thing) and influence in the organization.

The more talented the subordinate, the less likely he/she is to follow orders.

4 – Don’t seek compliance. Seek commitment.

  • Myth: I must get compliance from my subordinates. I am in charge; I control.
  • Reality: More often than not, direct reports will not respond when you tell them to do something.
  • Tip: Build commitment by empowering individuals to achieve team goals. Don’t use orders.

Continue reading “6 Tips for New Managers”

Personal Development, Posts

When Can We Trust an Expert’s Intuition?

I recently read the book “Blink, the power of thinking without thinking“, by Malcolm Gladwell. A book about the magic of experts’ intuition. The book left me with big questions on expertise and intuition, so I had to dig deeper. I am convinced that experts’ intuition is not always reliable, what I found is that it depends on the domain of expertise and the expert’s experience in the domain.

In this post I summarize 2 approaches to intuition:

  • Naturalistic Decision-Making (NDM)
  • Heuristics and Biases (HB)

The confrontation of these 2 approaches results in 3 conditions for reliable intuition, abbreviated as REF:

  • Regularity
  • Exposure
  • Feedback

For starters, we define intuition as the ability to detect a pattern and solve problems rapidly, without relying on conscious reasoning.

Reasoning versus Intuition directional signs

Two Approaches to Intuitive Expertise: NDM vs. HB

The first approach to intuitive expertise is naturalistic decision-making (NDM). It is focused on the decisions made in real life by experienced people such as firefighting commanders, nurses, chess-masters, etc. NDM aims at demystifying the intuition by searching for the cues that led to the expert judgment.

Continue reading “When Can We Trust an Expert’s Intuition?”

Management, Posts, Quotes

Plans are worthless, but Planning is everything.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Personal Development, Posts

How to Learn New Skills Quickly

Image result for The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything ... Fast

Learning new skills is paramount in today’s world. Whether you are searching for a first job, seeking a promotion in your current job or planning to make a career pivot, your ability to learn new skills (fast) will be your best friend. 

In his book “The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything. Fast!”, Josh Kaufman suggests the following 10 steps to gain a new skill quickly:

  • Choose a project you love, a project you are very curious about.
  • Focus your energy on one skill at a time, don’t try to learn everything at once.
  • Define your target performance level, when you become “good enough” on the skill. This will define how long and how much energy you will put in this project.
  • Deconstruct the skill into sub-skills. Divide and conquer.
  • Obtain critical tools, the tools you need for practice and performance.
  • Eliminate barriers to practice, including emotional barriers. Set your environment in a way to reduce the effort required to practice. Remove distractions, put your mobile phone away, etc.
  • Make dedicated time for practice, MAKE it.
  • Create fast feedback loops. Feedback is to get accurate information about how well you are performing. Using this information to improve the performance creates a feedback loop. The faster the loop, the faster the learning.
  • Practice by the clock in short bursts. You may try the Pomodoro technique.
  • Emphasize quantity and speed. Don’t seek perfection. Quantity is better than quality for learning a new skill.

To be at your best performance, and accelerate your learning curve, make sure you are in the zone, or in a flow state. More on that in future posts.

Management, Personal Development, Posts

The Optimal Level of Stress

Stress is the response of your body to challenge. Your level of stress predicts your performance in your job and your relationships. On the one hand, high levels of stress would cause strong anxiety, exhaustion, and impaired performance. On the other hand, low levels of stress would result in boredom, inactivity, and disengagement.

You need an optimal amount of stress to perform at your best. In psychology, this is known as the Yerkes–Dodson law, depicted in the figure below.

The Optimal Level of Stress

If you are a manager or a leader, make sure that your people are experiencing the optimal level of stress to stay engaged, motivated and at their best performance.

Book Review, Posts

Blink – Malcolm Gladwell

Image result for blink audible
  • Title: Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
  • Author: Malcolm Gladwell
  • Publication Date: 2005
  • Recommendation Score: 3.5/5

Book Review

“Blink” is about experts’ intuition. The takeaway of the book is: the experts cannot be fooled easily because of their “thin-slicing” ability, that is, they can judge and find patterns in events based on a narrow window of experience, thanks to their intuition. On the other hand, experts can be easily (catastrophically) fooled, as in the case of “Warren Harding Error” (chapter 3). The book leaves you confused about when to trust an expert intuition and when not to.

Gladwell is a good writer and knows how to attract his reader’s attention. He is a talented journalist, who reads tons of articles and books, and interviews a lot of people, to write a good story. His storytelling style makes the reading of the book pleasant. When it comes to the content, the author is far from being an expert on the topic. In many chapters, Gladwell seems to jump between 2 or 3 stories to come to some conclusion, without citing solid evidence about the conclusion.

If you want to read a book that is based on solid scientific research, “Blink” may not satisfy your need.

Personal Development, Posts, Understand Yourself

Outsmart your Confirmation Bias

The first cognitive bias that we will review in the series “Outsmart Your Biases” is the Confirmation Bias, that is, the tendency to search for, interpret and recall information in a way that confirms our opinion, and neglect information that contradicts it.

The Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is one of the most common biases that have direct consequences on our personal life and professional career. The examples are endless. We often seek information to prove that our political party is right. When we like a person, we don’t want to see her character flaws. To prove the validity of our proposed strategy we search on google for “Is the [proposed strategy] better than [opposite strategy]?”. In a job interview, we frame our questions in a way to confirm our beliefs or our first impression of the candidate. etc… Try to figure out in which decision you were prone to it.

Jeff Bezos about today’s internet: “a Confirmation Bias Machine”.

To outsmart your confirmation bias, you may use the following tricks:

  • Ask for an outside view of the topic at hand and seek criticism.
  • Search for the pros and cons of the different options.
  • Suppose the opposite: be the devil’s advocate.

Such debiasing strategies can be performed in brainstorming format, in informal discussion, etc.