Are you limited by the people around you?

You are being limited by the experience of the people around you.  Many Leadership teams fall into the Thinking Trap of Experience because they believe that once a subject or idea is discussed and debated by the team it is sufficient to make a good decision.  Sadly, most Leadership teams are lacking the necessary diversity to fully consider the complexities of the current technological, political, social and volatile economic environments. 

It is still a fact that too many Leaders recruit and promote in their own image and seek out people with similar experiences.  In many ways this is totally understandable – we like people who are like us.  However, in business it is increasingly a matter of survival to avoid the Thinking Trap of Experience. 

Thinking Traps are the short-cuts your brain likes to take.  They help to conserve energy and avoid the effort and discomfort of having to admit you may be wrong or don’t have all the answers at your disposal.  This is the third article in a mini-series about the SEEDS® Model developed by David Rock.  His convenient model groups the dozens of biases that have been identified into five categories.  For a brief overview of the model, click here.  For other articles in the series check out my blog

E is for Experience

The second ‘E’ in the SEEDS model is for ‘Experience’ – this bias is about believing that “my perceptions are accurate”.  While certainty can be a useful trait for a leader there is a danger that it can become unbalanced.  In fact, sometimes our strongest traits can become a weakness because they create blind-spots.  The more certain we are, the more likely we are to fall into the Thinking Trap of Experience. The complimentary and paradoxical trait for being certain is being open and reflective.  For more on this paradox click here

There are a few specific dangers that arise with the Thinking Trap of Experience.  One of them is the ‘False Consensus’ effect.  This was first named and described in the late 1970s by researcher Lee Ross and his colleagues.  It is where you overestimate the extent to which you believe that the majority of other people share your opinions, values and beliefs.  The UK Prime Minister had a bad dose of this in the Spring of 2017 when she made the decision to call a general election.  She had a rude awakening on the morning of 9th June when she realise that she had closely surrounded herself with people who shared her opinions and the general population did not.  She promptly fired her closest advisers which was a wise thing to do.  However, it is interesting to observe how she is still fallible to this Thinking Trap by surrounding herself with a core of people who believe that a Hard Brexit will be good for the UK, even when most major business leaders are telling her it is not a good idea for the UK economy to leave the single market. 

The ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’ is another problem that arises with the Thinking Trap of Experience.  This is where you may label someone who is long-term unemployed as lazy and job shy.  You attribute their situation to their character – an internal effect.  However, if you were to find yourself in long-term unemployment you would say it was due to the economy or other external factors and nothing to do with your character.  This effect is exploited by certain elements of the press when it comes to migrants or people on benefits.  Leadership Teams suffer from it when it comes to staff engagement, motivation or productivity.  They blame the individual for not being engaged rather than the working conditions, lack of management capability or lack of strategic leadership. 

It is also worth mentioning how the ‘Illusion of Transparency’ falls within this Thinking Trap.  We have a tendency to think that others know how we are feeling and what we are thinking.  There are numerous experiments that show that we are generally quite poor at perceiving the mental state of others and yet we have an illusion that what we are experiencing internally is totally transparent to others.  This is very prevalent amongst Senior Leadership teams who assume that everyone knows what the organisational purpose, vision and values are.  Leaders also often assume that their direct reports know exactly what they are thinking and neglect to articulate the key issues, priorities or objectives and then are dismayed when people don’t know them. 

Does any of this sound familiar? 

The Antidote

The above patterns of thinking are quite ingrained and a normal part of being human. However, they can get in the way of effective decision making, especially when it comes to creativity, innovation, strategy and people. 

The antidote to the Thinking Trap of Experience is to seek out other perspectives.  You need to question your thinking and the thinking of the people around you.  Are you getting a broad enough perspective?  Is there enough diversity in the team?  Are the others you are working with aware of their own biases and thinking traps? 

It is also useful to consider a number of ‘If – then’ scenarios.  This means that if you easily reach a consensus with your team then you need to revaluate the decision rather than take it as the right one.  If you notice that you are labelling others with personal labels or characteristics then you need to explore the external factors that may be influencing their behaviour – and the role you may be playing in it.  If you find yourself making assumptions that others know what you are feeling and thinking then check it with them and be open to the fact that things may not be as clear to others as you thought.  

I like the quote “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.  Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power” which is attributed to Lao Tzu a wise thinker from 4th century BC. 

Unless you put active effort into your thinking you will always be vulnerable to falling into one of these precarious Thinking Traps.  It begins with self-awareness and being able to distinguish that these traps exist.  Feel free to share these articles with your key people and discuss show you can collectively avoid them. 

If you have any questions about any of the above or would like to know more about developing strategies for raising the self-awareness of your Leaders and Managers please get in touch. 

Remember . . . stay curious! 

With best regards,

David Klaasen

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