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In this section you find thoughts, ideas & articles for extended reading - enjoy!

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Changes - mastering them on individual level

In the previous article we looked at the problems of change processes, the role of unconscious factors and the most central bias.

Now it is time to discuss - what is behind the bias and what can we do concretely?

 

Weiterlesen…

Changes fail - why?

“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.” 

Those wise words of John F. Kennedy are as relevant today as they were around 60 years ago. 

The difference: today we live in a time where we experience a rate of change that was probably inconceivable in Kennedy’s times. 

Weiterlesen…

Looking back at 2020 - a lost year?

How will we remember the year 2020?

As a year of retrenchment, as a year of rethinking, as a one-off slip of "normality"?

The words of the year - "Corona pandemic" in Germany, "baby elephant" in Austria, "systemically important" in German-speaking Switzerland - indicate that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was in focus.

Weiterlesen…

Digitalisation - friend or foe in organisations?

Digitalisation has become ubiquitous in recent years and most organisations are affected by this development. Due to the pandemic many people were and are busy implementing digital changes or are confronted with their effects. But what are we actually talking about?

Weiterlesen…

Remote work biases

Lock-down, remote work, home office - we have gained some months of experience now, of course also with Zoom, Webex, MS Teams, ... Are there any special biases that influence our decisions?

Of course!

It is mainly the "Spotlight Effect" and the "Distance Bias" that can have a significant effect.

Weiterlesen…

Sustainable behavioral change

Have you ever experienced the "honeymoon effect" during trainings?

I know it very well, especially from younger years.

It describes the phenomenon that a short-term improvement occurs after seminars or workshops. But this quickly subsides again, which brings us back to the starting point.

Time and money have been invested relatively senselessly - what are ways to improve?

Weiterlesen…

Inequality, discrimination & ways out

Inequality, exclusion, and fully fledged racism - all items were in the spotlight recently. Whilst most of all countries fall under democratic forms of government, in every society and most of organisations there are differences between different groups which might reach open discrimination of different forms. How can we explain this phenomenon and what can be done against it?

Weiterlesen…

Conclusions from the crisis - how to proceed?

This year has been strange - many people have been rudely pushed off the beaten track and have had many, partly new, experiences in the last weeks. After having written last month about what the crisis is doing to us and which competence is useful right now, I now ask another question: What conclusions can we draw about how to proceed?

Weiterlesen…

Response-ability - more than taking charge

The last weeks have made an impression - life has changed for all my friends and acquaintances. Suddenly home office, financial worries, the loss of the freedom of movement and usual possibilities, more pressure at work, loss of the main content of work - all this and much more.
Which competence helps us to deal with this better?

Weiterlesen…

Biases during company start-up and expansion

Starting up or expanding a business means making many decisions. Our unconscious side is of course highly active and easily leads us on the wrong track - here are the most important biases that have also accompanied me intensively in the recent months.

Weiterlesen…

24.04.2021 18:37

Changes - mastering them on individual level

In the previous article we looked at the problems of change processes, the role of unconscious factors and the most central bias.

Now it is time to discuss - what is behind the bias and what can we do concretely?

 

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

What is behind the status quo bias?

Essentially, moving away from the status quo is perceived as a loss (it does not have to be a loss in reality of course) which gives a close connection the loss aversion, another bias. Changing involves uncertainty, moving out of the comfort zone, maybe risk – these are all elements that our brains perceive to weigh higher than potential gains. This is one of the fundamental ingredients of the “prospect theory” from Kahneman & Tversky which contributed to the former receiving the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Your current status gives a strong reference point (which itself might have been impacted by other biases like anchoring) – moving away seems to be more of a loss than a benefit.

Important: a loss is not meant to be monetary only. Giving up a routine, a concept or a used environment are other examples.


Is this necessarily bad?

It is not.

Imagine that everybody changes immediately after being asked to do so or if a new options comes along. This would not allow any stability and be a massive investment of energy to actually do it.

Our brains have a signature feature which is to act as efficiently as possible. Our neural connections strengthen when they are used frequently and when used for important information routes (they are “well-tuned” then). Patterns, learned from past experiences, helps us to gain efficiency and consequently to save energy. 

We can interpret the preference for the status quo as a protection mechanism for efficiency. Most of the time this makes sense – our routines and habits help us be act energy efficiently.

But: when changing would be the better choice for us, the preference for the status quo becomes the status quo bias: we continue with a pattern when investing energy into something new would be beneficial to us. The consequences of inaction are worse than the results of action, i.e. change.

This is tricky - every change request is a direct challenge to our efficient neural connections. There is a neural cost for change, there is a cost of learning - which has to be well justified.

“To uproot an old habit is sometimes a more painful thing, and vastly more difficult, than to wrench out a tooth.” Samuel Smiles

 

What is a way out?

We have seen before that New Year’s resolutions are an example where individuals express their willingness to change but most of them do not succeed.

But: there are people who reach what they plan for. Hence, not every change attempt is bound to fail.

The same goes for the professional area – maybe you want to:

  • implement a job change
  • learn a new skill or
  • expand your current role or network.

 There is a chance that you reach what head for – here are some ideas how to manage individual change successfully.


1. Acknowledge that biases are present & address them

If you want to change on individual level, the status quo bias will visit you at some stage. Together with many others – it helped me tremendously, both in professional and private life, to understand my individual biases better.

The point is that we all have developed different patterns over time which trigger biases. Some will impact heavily, others less and many will not be relevant – they are individual to you. Consequently, @De-Biasing starts with you – accept that you have biases (as every other human) and address those that are relevant to you.

 

2. Conscious target setting

In practical life, change might not always be something you can choose – however: if you can, be conscious about it.

The first and fundamental question is if change is worthwhile – reflect what is worth spending energy and what do you expect to improve out of it. 

The second question, in case you choose to change, is to define your target in a way that is acceptable to you. Many people have a tendency to overestimate what can be done and by when (another bias…). Try to define a target where you feel 80% confident to achieve – very likely, this means a compromise of the initial idea and ambition.

Hurdles will come – it is easier to manage smaller and fewer ones during the journey.

 

3. Practise self-awareness when you start to move

You decided to change, you have a basic understanding of your biases – now you start to move. Changing means choosing to expose to new experiences. Your brain will take them as input to “rewire”, to establish new neural connections – to learn.

You will experience hurdles. 

Be aware what happens – which thoughts, which arguments against change appear in your mind, what is it that you do not like. Try to get deeper is to understand what is behind - ideally you can directly work on the root cause.

As said before, every change attempt is a challenge to efficient patterns and there will be resistance.

What helped me during change processes: moving away from the question “why”, in the sense of “why do I have to do this is order to change”, to “why not”. What are really good arguments not to change? I usually did not find sufficient ones, so I kept going.

 

4. Make it digestible

Your target might be ambitious, even when you set it cautiously.

Consider that your brain constructs new neural patterns and strengthens them over time (again to gain efficiency). Aiming for an immediately improvement leap conflicts with this. Rather go for small steps - every day, maybe every hour even – and repeat.

Bringing in some structure and breaking change ambitions into smaller components will help you to be more effective. Build in reminders on those tools or routines which you use regularly – in my case, this is the calendar. I see my own ambition and daily tasks there, which helps me realise them.

 

5. Increase commitment if necessary

At some stage you will be on the borderline to stop, you simply do not want to continue.

What helped me in these situations is to expose my change ambition if I believe it will be tough to reach. It can be a public statement, a bet or telling others about the progress (I might ask them to ask me on regular basis).

This kind of self-nudging can be very effective as it build more social pressure in order to continue a change process.

 

Change is difficult but manageable

In the first-place change is a choice – learning needs prior exposure to new situations and contexts, so that new experiences develop.

Change means meeting resistance from yourself – we have discussed some ways to mitigate these hurdles that also relate to biases.

Change is a process, not an event – it needs continuity, persistence and will which all can be developed and practised.

 

Change does not stop at the individual level though, the next article will focus on organisational change and measures to increase its effectiveness.

Thank you for feedback, thoughts and challenges!

22.04.2021 14:24

Changes fail - why?

“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.” 

Those wise words of John F. Kennedy are as relevant today as they were around 60 years ago. 

The difference: today we live in a time where we experience a rate of change that was probably inconceivable in Kennedy’s times. 

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

The consequences of the increased demand in managing change are:

  • The global market for change management consultancy is worth at least 1 billion Euro per year, there are sources estimating it to be significantly higher. 
  • The market growth of this business for the coming years is predicted to be very dynamic with rates clearly exceeding GDP growth.
  • Many people in organisations work on change – this is for instance visible if you enter “change” or “transformation” in the LinkedIn search: it is millions of people.

You could expect decent success rates because of this professionalisation of change management and the significant spend.

The reality?

Studies reveal that up to 80% of change initiatives do not deliver their targets!

Hold on for a moment – what does this mean? Up to 80% of money spent in change projects goes down the drain!

The return on investment is simply horrible.

What is the problem, what are barriers to effective change?

 

The unconscious side

During my corporate career I had exciting jobs, responsibility over teams and the opportunity to lead or steer major projects – all of that involved change. There were many occasions to experience initiatives that worked and others that did not – however, in my first years I had no clear understanding why that happened.

Entering the world of unconscious biases in the mid of my corporate careers helped me to start understanding better. While initially focusing on decision making, it became clear to me rather soon that biases are a major factor in change as well.

Biases form invisible barriers to change.

Change is complex – it involves perception of new elements and judging them in order to finally decide if to go for them or not. Change usually is not done in isolation, other people are involved and there is intense interaction. Finally, implementation is key to create effects on practical behaviour that differs from the initial state.

The complexity of change initiatives means that all of them are touched, hence need to be considered. We will go deeper and address the most relevant biases in this field.

 

Change on the individual level

The classical example of ineffective change attempts are New Year’s resolutions. The picture is rather clear:

  • In Germany 16 % of them are implemented successfully
  • In the UK around 52 % believe to be able to realise their resolutions…but 
  • …only 12 % succeed in doing so

Sources: Business Insider 2018; Alltagsforschung 2009

 

What the studies also show is intriguing: the awareness about the urgency for changes is clearly there in many cases, however the right approach and implementation is lacking.

When going deeper, we find a lot of biases that impact already on the individual level during the different stages of change.

Note: We will take the most central of them and go deeper, adding points from other relevant ones - for an introduction on biases take a look at De-Biasing or book an intro Webinar.

What is the central bias related to change?


The status quo bias.

It essentially makes us say “things should stay just as they are”. Hence, it means the preference to maintain the current way of being and doing (i.e. the status quo) in the absence of pressure to change.

Related to this is the “default-effect” which means that from different option that is preferred which does not need an active decision. Change needs incentives that are sufficient enough to trigger a movement away from the current status.

In simply language: if we don’t have to move, we rather don’t.


In the next article, we go further - we look at ourselves, what lies behind the status quo bias and what we can do about it on an individual level.

21.12.2020 17:45

Looking back at 2020 - a lost year?

How will we remember the year 2020?

As a year of retrenchment, as a year of rethinking, as a one-off slip of "normality"?

The words of the year - "Corona pandemic" in Germany, "baby elephant" in Austria, "systemically important" in German-speaking Switzerland - indicate that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was in focus.

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

This also had consequences for the Mind your business newsletter. While the January issue focused on the topic of founding or expanding a business (and dealt with relevant biases), the February issue already contained the following sentence: " My personal recommendation is to take the issue seriously, but without panicking, and above all to listen to the medical recommendations and to check the facts - in this way we can effectively reduce (though not completely exclude) personal risks. I can still sign this sentence today.

 

Was 2020 a lost year? 

That undoubtedly depends on what conclusions we have drawn from the crisis. 

We have experienced a lot, much of which we did not expect at the beginning of the year – I will pull out a few points and take a closer look at them.

 

  • Our handling of uncertainty and insecurity - what have we observed? 

We humans find it difficult to deal with novel situations and a changed context, our patterns and in-built "short-cuts" then no longer work.

Whereas they still work (in a mechanical sense), they no longer fit. A popular question in introductory workshops on de-biasing is: how do I recognise when biases are active in me?

Well, here we have all had ample opportunity in 2020 to observe ourselves in situations of uncertainty and insecurity. Some may have engaged in panic buying in March, others may have initially downplayed the issue only to succumb to the power of images (e.g. from Italy). Perhaps these same people then shopped in the shopping centre later in the year, largely unconcerned, when the daily rates of new infections were a factor of 10 higher than in spring. 

 

What does this mean? On the one hand, that we adapt relatively quickly to new circumstances and develop new patterns again over time. On the other hand, these "old friends" in the sense of strong biases were very visible throughout the year - the crisis therefore did something to us personally. System 1 often prevailed, the ratio then came up short compared to emotion. The control mechanism failed, many a decision was probably wrong (viewed objectively in retrospect).

 

Is that bad? Well.

Per se no, because biases are simply part of being human. 

If these biases turn our most important decisions into negative outcomes, then yes.

The opportunity is to use our reflective side (our System 2) in a targeted way to gradually change our individual patterns. Otherwise, we may have had more experiences with partially costly wrong decisions, but do nothing about it. Then we make the same mistakes again.

 

  • The opportunity for reflection - did we use it?

So, we have gained a lot of experience in a new context - and seen how we do in the process. This is not only true individually, but also for companies or organisations and their teams. Many have noticed that finding their way in the crisis was a consequence of what they had already invested before. I am not referring so much to technical infrastructure or the like, but to organisational preparations such as crisis plans or individual investments in self-management or the development of personal resilience.

These experiences and the feedback from almost 12 months outside the comfort zone are excellent for drawing conclusions and learning.

This allows us to shape the future differently, right now. 

How can this look like? Get to the heart of strengths & weaknesses > understand what our response patterns and triggers look like > develop additional options for action (response-ability) > implement, assess their usefulness and improve as needed. Sounds easy, but it is not - it takes focus & perseverance, sustainable change takes time.

No doubt not every person or organisation will be able or willing to do this. As a result, the next crisis will probably have a similar effect to this one. Then 2020 was indeed a lost year.

In any case, we have a choice!

 

  • Leadership and trust in the crisis - how did it work?

Leadership was challenged in many ways this year. Firstly, because it was necessary and demanded in order to create clarity, transparency and perspectives. We also had many experiences in this regard - in politics, in health management, in schools, in companies, but also in the private sphere. Good leadership in the broadest sense could certainly make the difference in how people felt in and after the crisis.

Secondly, leadership was challenged in the sense of being demanding and exhausting for the leaders. In times of uncertainty, the gaze inevitably goes to the formal and informal leaders who are permanently in the spotlight. In bad weather, the quality of the worn equipment becomes apparent. In a crisis, the quality of the personal equipment becomes apparent, especially in terms of resilience, reaction patterns in constantly changing conditions and the ability to persevere.

 

The crisis management course at the University of Michigan (for details see the September newsletter) showed me how important communication is in a crisis situation. In order to do this effectively, preparation is needed - here primarily with a focus on the different stakeholders and their interests.

This year we have had numerous experiences of how well and effectively this has been done. Leadership is challenged here because it has to give people confidence. In a challenging period like this year, empty words and orchestration are only enough up to a certain point. 

Making decisions, communicating and creating trust – these are central qualities in leadership that are a prerequisite for successful implementation of measures.

How good were we ourselves at this? 

What could we observe? 

Where are there gaps that need to be closed?

 

  • Conclusion:

2020 was challenging, exhausting, unfamiliar - was it a year to forget?

Yes, if we do not learn anything from it.

Based on the topics described, during this year we probably had more impulses than ever before to observe, to question our behaviour and preferences, to shape working relationships and leadership differently and much more.

Many have already experienced that their earlier investments in resilience, flexible working relationships or broader perspectives have had a positive impact. These people will build on this and move on.

So many others have used 2020 to start making changes. 

Still others want to go back to old routines until the next crisis.

Which group do you belong to?
03.11.2020 11:38

Digitalisation - friend or foe in organisations?

Digitalisation has become ubiquitous in recent years and most organisations are affected by this development. Due to the pandemic many people were and are busy implementing digital changes or are confronted with their effects. But what are we actually talking about?

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]


What is it?

I have participated in several webinars and discussion groups on this topic in the recent past, one element is omnipresent: there is no common understanding of what digitalisation actually is and what it means. It starts at the point where paper is replaced by electronic versions and goes to the other extreme of fully automated fantasies, where AI largely replaces humans.

In the context of an organisation it is good to start by defining how digitisation is perceived internally (there are benchmarks and scales that help to define this and to understand where you actually stand).

 

Why bother?

The second and probably more relevant question is why it really makes sense to tackle it. For decades, cohorts of consultants have been selling new tools, giving nice presentations or use cases and offering to design the perfect digital solution. 

But that is not what digitisation is about - it is not an end in itself, but a means. Professional storytelling is easily distracting and has led many organisations to buy another nice toy (sorry - tool, of course), which then slowly sank into insignificance.

Reality likes to kick in at some stage showing that a supposed solution turns out to be unsuitable for the business model and the really relevant goals. Perhaps a new tool is also closely tied to a sponsor and is forgotten when the sponsor changes job.

Very central: Digital solutions must follow both the purpose and the process, not the other way around.

This means that clarity is needed - what are the tasks, what are the goals and what is the context? These questions should be answered clearly. Only then does the question arise as to the exact areas and extent to which digitisation makes sense.

This is a key pre-condition for digitisation to be a strong ally to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations.

 

Critical success factors

Ideally, digitisation contributes to transforming operational functions and processes to another level (= the one needed in the future). It can act as a catalyst for this significant change. However, I do not see it as a single solution or an isolated undertaking. Successful change is not limited to IT systems and tools, but requires a holistic approach.

I see the following elements as crucial for success:

  • Clarity about purpose and value drivers that speak for change
  • Viable processes in a holistic context - consistent and well networked
  • Adequate analogue skills in the organisation (i.e. employees) to take advantage from the digital solutions
  • New way of working together, supported by digital success stories

I do not want to generalise the degree of meaningful digitisation - while for one organisation a rudimentary approach may be sufficient, for another it may be best to digitise its activities completely.

Digitisation has many components and has a multi-layered effect - also on the people in an organisation, on their interaction and the way decisions are made: more about this another time.


10.09.2020 16:45

Remote work biases

Lock-down, remote work, home office - we have gained some months of experience now, of course also with Zoom, Webex, MS Teams, ... Are there any special biases that influence our decisions?

Of course!

It is mainly the "Spotlight Effect" and the "Distance Bias" that can have a significant effect.

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]


Spotlight Effect - we feel more in the center of attention than is the case 

The bias describes the tendency to overestimate the extent to which others perceive us. This means that others attach significantly less importance to our appearance or the general public image (e.g. a "bad hair day" or a stain on a shirt) than we ourselves believe.

Videoconferencing can increase this effect - studies have shown that participants spend more than 50% of their time looking at themselves and checking their appearance.

The lack of non-verbal communication or technical difficulties in video meetings make them tiring in themselves. The spotlight effect, the additional focus on one's own effect, reinforces this - we therefore find a two-hour Zoom meeting much more tiring than a face-to-face conversation.


What is the problem?

Not only do we lose focus on the actual content, the additional stress factor can lead to less information from the video meeting being remembered or being less effective in participating.

What can we do – de-biasing in action:

  • If you catch yourself looking at your own picture again in a video meeting, it is best to remember that others do not see your appearance as negative (in comparison, being too close to the camera, eating or chewing gum is judged much more disturbing) – relax a bit!
  • Maybe there is no need for a video meeting in the first place - the phone can probably cover many topics and thus mitigate negative effects. Video is especially advantageous for virtual engagement - here, it helps to consider benefits and possible disadvantages from each medium before the meeting is organized.
  • Visuals help to understand messages - but the focus does not have to be on people. Screen sharing combined with only occasional use of video can be effective here.

Not only can remote work be more tiring, there is also an effect on prioritization and evaluation.

 

Distance Bias - out of sight, out of mind

This bias refers to the tendency to favor what is close to us (applies not only spatially but also temporally - the near deadline is seen as more important than the later one, for example).

The bias has several effects:

  •  On our prioritization - working in the home office can bring about a perceived greater distance to the tasks. These tasks may be less prioritized or performed with less focus compared to immediately available alternatives at home.
  • On the evaluation or assessment of resources or people - proximity influences the preference between several options. This may not necessarily be the best criterion for a decision. Visibility and proximity mean greater focus - for example, if one person is sitting in the office with the team leader and two others are working at home or at another location, an unconscious preference for the close person is likely.

 

This bias can distort the importance or valences - here, too, de-biasing measures are useful:

  • Information that is closer in time is more easily remembered (see also availability bias). This can have an effect, for example, in employee performance reviews, where the focus is shifted away from the entire assessment period to recent events and anecdotes > it is advisable to create effective documentation of key points over a longer period of time
  • Interactions (e.g. in a team) should be deliberately balanced. In the case of a mix between team members in the office and working remotely, the latter should also seek proactive communication to ensure this balance.
  • Tasks can be jointly prioritized according to clearly defined criteria. Distance means distortions - joint discussion and task sharing helps to better achieve the respective goals.

 

Please send me further challenges, biases and solutions for remote work or other relevant topics!

In the workshop "Decide better consciously" we focus on perception and its effects on our behavior – I am happy to dive deeper into the topic of remote work there as well!  

03.09.2020 09:36

Sustainable behavioral change

Have you ever experienced the "honeymoon effect" during trainings?

I know it very well, especially from younger years.

It describes the phenomenon that a short-term improvement occurs after seminars or workshops. But this quickly subsides again, which brings us back to the starting point.

Time and money have been invested relatively senselessly - what are ways to improve?

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]


In the webinar "Crisis Mode" the question arose several times what are good ways to internalize new impulses in the long term and thereby change one's own behavior. Especially for people who are working on their resilience or on changing existing patterns (something by de-biasing) this is crucial.

It is therefore important to keep the "honeymoon effect" as low as possible.


What does not work?

Our conscious thinking ("System 2") can be quickly convinced by quick fixes, short self-help short videos or good anecdotes - on a cognitive level we quickly understand which solutions can solve our issues. Unfortunately, simple step-by-step instructions work well to assemble an Ikea shelf (at least most of the time...), but not to change deep-rooted behavior patterns.


What works better then?

Brain research and behavioral research show us that we need patience.

Our patterns are deeply anchored in our brain and are much less flexible than our conscious, analytical thinking. This helps to quickly filter information (which impacts our perception), emotions and lightning-fast reactions are connected - all elements that are shaped early in our lives (forming our individual "script") and that are active unconsciously.

This means that "re-scripting" needs more time and focus (unfortunately).

In conscious thinking it is very easy to imagine a red flower and then a yellow one. In the unconscious part I cannot immediately stop my reactions to external stimuli, which I have learned long before. In short: a  pattern that was created in a process, needs another process to change it.


How does that work?

The better one's own self-perception (e.g. of emotions, their respective context and the usual reaction patterns) and the higher the willingness to get involved with oneself, the easier it is to start. I regularly notice this in de-biasing workshops when participants get access to their unconscious mechanisms and hence get more clarity on them (e.g. the susceptibility to the confirmation bias).

The next step is to make a conscious decision about what one actually wants to do differently (e.g. reduce the confirmation bias because it contributes to narrow thinking).

In addition to focus and motivation, it is highly recommended to take many smaller steps instead of aiming for too big goals. Example: due to increased self-perception, I understand the situations better where I fall into the confirmation bias- if the context applies again (e.g. I like to look for confirming information for my favorite idea and not for contradicting ones), I consciously include a short pause for reflection and consider alternatives in this concrete situation before I continue.

Central here are repetitions and regular feedback (my own or even better from others) in order to anchor new patterns step by step and to develop new routines.


The advantage? 

The learning happens more slowly, but the results tend to stick permanently - successful re-scripting remains as a new "standard". It is similar to physical training, which works regularly, not too intensively and with pinpoint accuracy, thus achieving the desired results. The path therefore leads from more conscious perception to more self-control.

I actively apply this approach - myself, but also in workshops and webinars (e.g. in the various de-biasing formats). This helps to implement real improvements and to avoid the "honeymoon effect".

The journey sometimes takes longer than we want - but there is also more to discover on the way!

28.06.2020 15:42

Inequality, discrimination & ways out

Inequality, exclusion, and fully fledged racism - all items were in the spotlight recently. Whilst most of all countries fall under democratic forms of government, in every society and most of organisations there are differences between different groups which might reach open discrimination of different forms. How can we explain this phenomenon and what can be done against it?

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

"Do you want equality and same chances without discrimination?" If asked directly, most persons would agree with this statement. But why do we see regular cases of discrimination, gender inequality, racism, struggles between generations or exclusivity in elites and company boards?

Is it only a few that set the tone and sentiment of many? What is below the surface?

In my view, there are two basic factors impacting heavily

1.       The social context

It matters in which kind of society and family we grow up, which friends we make and what we experience over the years. There are specialists on the subject, so I won't dig too deep here - but in general: the more you learn that variety, tolerance and diversity are positive values the more you will sympathize with them. If you as a person feel accepted as an individual, the tendency to discriminate others will be weaker.

The contextual side is important, but there is something working more in depth.

2.       The unconscious side

The human species is primed to work in groups, this had been the survival mechanism over thousands of years when humans were not on top of the food chain. The limit of ~150 persons, that you can handle as your physical network still nowadays, roots in this ancient way of survival. The group meant everything in this hostile environment.

The second key element for survival for the human species was to develop shortcuts for life saving decisions (e.g. the rule fight / flight / play dead). As a consequence, strong patterns formed which were ideally working for survival - without any need to enter consciousness. If any threat was close, the need for reflection or cognition did not have any value in this situation - the right intuitive decision (e.g. to run away) defined survival or death.

We still carry these patterns within us - because of progress, their value for us decreased over time. In today's modern life context some are harmful when we still apply them in situations where a rational response would be more adequate - we speak of unconscious biases.

Categorisation benefits & shortcomings

Categorisation is one of the basic patterns which we learned to apply long ago. What does it mean? Elements of external information are grouped together and associated with a basic judgement. Typically, this is binary - positive or negative, good or bad, black or white - further differentiation is a conscious process that might follow as second step only.

This means a quick complexity reduction and condensing of information, thus simplifying what our senses report back from the environment. In the stone age this was helpful, for instance to immediately see if the object on the ground is a piece of wood or a poisonous snake. The shortcut proved both valid and useful.

Nowadays, the danger to die from snakebite is extremely limited in large parts of the world. The context developed significantly, not so our unconscious patterns. Whilst the desire to categorize and simplify is still working within us, the external information judged with the shortcuts, is of different nature - the result might be neither valid nor beneficial, the intuitive conclusion wrong.

So what? Categorisation and quick judgement still have their place in modern life, however not in every situation. The first recommendation is to simply be aware that these patterns work within every human, so also within you.

In-group bias

The shortcut used to unconsciously judge humans is called In-group bias. It means the tendency to prefer people who we perceive as belonging to the same group as ourselves. Perceived similarity creates sympathy, perceived outsiders are judged negatively. This basic mechanism is still in place as in the early days of mankind (e.g. own tribe = good, enemy tribe = bad).

The effect on discrimination is obvious - the in-out group bias works whenever there is an attachment to a defined group (sex, age, race,…also less "severe" ones like your football team, the membership in online groups etc). The danger is to draw the lines too sharply and too binary, based on simple features as the colour of the skin. An additional dose of poison is added via the confirmation bias (see this article for more) which tends to strengthen the perception and judgement of certain features of the out-group by the in-group (e.g. opinion that “women cannot drive cars” > strengthened when the next report of an accident involving a woman is seen and shared within the in-group).

Issues at the workplace

Interestingly, the phenomenon is strongly present in daily working life as well - you likely have experienced organisational "silos". Another field of application are personality type assessments (according to a study 80% of Fortune 500 companies use Myers-Briggs categories for personnel decisions). The criteria of validity and usefulness should be in place here as well, unfortunately some widespread systems like Myers-Briggs do not fulfil them. If you happen to be judged as non-fit to a defined target category (e.g. in the recruiting process or for promotion as you are not predicted to be the right person), the affect is less diversity in companies as well.

Ways out

Second recommendation: whatever is the context, take a critical look which categorisation mechanisms are in place. There might be the need for systematic de-biasing measures, for instance to replace invalid tools or to add additional steps in the decision-making process.

How could it work? In my last corporate job, I had to re-form my team. I deliberately chose diversity - 50% female, different professional backgrounds & nationalities as well as perceived characters (based on my subjective judgement, caveat here). My experience was that is felt strange sometimes, exactly since I did not choose clones of myself. Especially in the beginning there were difficulties to get rolling, however in my view it is exactly the team leader's task to take this challenge. We invested time in team building and in learning to value our complementary skills, abilities and points of view. The pay-out of this investment came surprisingly quickly, in terms of performance, team spirit and attitude. I can definitely recommend investing in diversity!

Particularly important point: diversity trainings are discussed controversially and rightfully so. You can create awareness by a training and get impulses to reflect but you cannot change deeply embedded patterns by this. The limbic system in the human brain is the ancient home of many biases, behavioural changes do not happen by giving information to the cognitive system only (as done in a training set-up). Systematic de-biasing goes beyond that and involves learning new Patterns. A basic Training fits well in the beginning but is only the first of four steps in my opinion. Contact me to get more information and to discuss how to tackle this best in your context!

Diversity & inclusion must have their place in our society. It is a hard job to progress in reality as our unconscious patterns amplify the risk of discrimination.

Start with yourself, develop response-ability and radiate wherever you can, making an impact!

26.05.2020 18:50

Conclusions from the crisis - how to proceed?

This year has been strange - many people have been rudely pushed off the beaten track and have had many, partly new, experiences in the last weeks. After having written last month about what the crisis is doing to us and which competence is useful right now, I now ask another question: What conclusions can we draw about how to proceed?

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

Like many others, I have attended many webinars in the last few weeks and have listened very consciously to how different communities see the near future. What is the quintessence?

The crisis triggered by Covid19 gave direct and sometimes brutal feedback, holding a mirror in front of your nose, so to speak:

  • For companies - how quickly and flexibly could we change over? How susceptible are we to rapid changes in the environment? What options do we have for the future?
  • For teams - how stable and reliable are we? How well were we able to collaborate remotely? How good is our network?
  • For individuals - how resilient am I myself? How do I deal with stress and change? How does my behaviour change?

In the discussion, many confirmed that, firstly, even in an organisation (company, team, but also family) there are different forms and speeds of adaptation. Secondly, all those who had already invested in options and bandwidths well before Corona and were therefore able to act more flexibly had a much better chance of getting through - this also applies to the individual area. The critical question was not so much how quickly I could handle Zoom or Webex, but how well, quickly and stably my self-control worked. And this also required time investment in itself even before the crisis.

I generally consider this pro-active element to be an essential key to success (for more details, see the article on Response-ability) - in modification of a historical Austrian advertising slogan: you have to make sure you have it when you need it.

 

While there was a relatively broad consensus in the webinars on the question of the current situation, the conclusions drawn from it were different. What is the next step?

First of all - I don't think anyone can really seriously predict what the near future will look like (not to mention the more distant future, see also book tip below) - even if many people are doing so at the moment.

Which hypotheses are there at the moment?

  • It will be the same as before
  • Nothing will be the same as before
  • Digitisation has now proved its worth, it will now become much more digital
  • We have to save Costs now (implicitly added: especially where it is quick and easy, e.g. staff or things like trainings, travelling, ...)
  • We have to invest now because we don't want to repeat the experience (besides, we want to overtake those who save now)
  • We must work together differently and create structures that last

Probably there was something here that comes close to your her view of things. I also consider it absolutely unproblematic that we draw different conclusions individually.

More important is that we ask ourselves the right questions. In my opinion, these are less of the kind "what will the future be like", but rather something like:

  • What is really important - for me as a person or as an organization
  • What do I actually want to do
  • With whom and how would I like to work
  • What is the best place to invest - in tools, machines, recreation, relationships,...or skills

There is no doubt that 2020 will be remembered as a challenging year, and perhaps one that has actually brought about a change in thinking.

The chance is to really learn from the last few weeks, to make good use of the mirror we have received. Personally, I believe that it is time to invest (especially time) and create structures, competences, relationships and networks that are crisis-proof. There will be less actual Actions and changes than currently announced - so there is an additional potential in it!

Without doubt there are financial troubles and the next weeks will remain challenging for organisations and individuals, but: the other narrow good is the time that we have available. And it is our task to use it well and pro-actively!

25.04.2020 10:45

Response-ability - more than taking charge

The last weeks have made an impression - life has changed for all my friends and acquaintances. Suddenly home office, financial worries, the loss of the freedom of movement and usual possibilities, more pressure at work, loss of the main content of work - all this and much more.
Which competence helps us to deal with this better?

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

I remember the first days after the massive restrictions and their effects - at first fluctuating between the need to quickly find replacements for the activities that had been lost and the knowledge that clarity is needed right now. Sometimes optimistic (my favourite bias), then back to the start - no clear winner for two weeks! What is important here?

To develop new perspectives is one of the most enriching things, it opens your eyes. The prerequisite for this is clarity and the awareness to be able to create options yourself. The word "responsibility" helps me here.

Dismantled into its individual parts, we get "response-ability". So it's all about the ability to find responses - responses to newly emerging questions, changes or challenges. It is then our decision which of these we finally choose.

This approach enables us to realize that there is something in between an event, a new situation or a rapidly changing environment and our response to it - this is what we need to recognize in the very situation. We don't have to follow the usual paths, we don't have to react as we always do. We have the choice.

But what helps us to develop more options in this gap between stimulus and response?

Here are the three most important factors:

  • Self-perception - we have had many good opportunities to observe ourselves in recent weeks. What do we do? How do we react? What are typical patterns?
    Here it is important to act as non-judgmental as possible - instead of "I am angry / discouraged / ..." it helps to perceive one's own emotions neutrally ("I feel anger / lack of courage / ..."). You quickly learn to define yourself less through certain emotions, but to see which emotions occur in which context.
  • Imagination - this central (and not digitizable) ability distinguishes us to create new possibilities in our head. Maybe alone, maybe with a partner - in any case, we can imagine how our environment can develop and what we could do differently on our part.
  • Judgement - which option fits? On the one hand, this is a question for our very personal values and norms - thinking clearly means knowing and formulating them as well as possible. On the other hand, it helps to know which unconscious factors shape our judgment. These thought patterns and biases are also individual - it opens our eyes to see how they actually guide us.

In my experience, these three factors help immensely to create new possibilities and to make the most appropriate choice afterwards. We can sharpen them by focusing on them and developing them in time. Pro-activity therefore also means more than initiative - it is about taking responsibility for ourselves in order to create "response-ability".

Over the years (as well as now) this approach has often helped me to develop new perspectives - I tell you a few of them in the free webinar "Decide better in the crisis".

It's up to us to learn from each crisis and to prepare for the next one in time - because it's coming for sure!

26.01.2020 18:35

Biases during company start-up and expansion

Starting up or expanding a business means making many decisions. Our unconscious side is of course highly active and easily leads us on the wrong track - here are the most important biases that have also accompanied me intensively in the recent months.

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

 

Overconfidence

Self-confidence is good and necessary in Business life. This thinking error, however, lies in seeing one's own abilities and judgements much better than they are. This also includes being able to assess the personal influence on a result.

It has been proven in many studies that the confidence in one's own assessments and prognoses is significantly higher than the corresponding accuracy. In addition, the role of chance is often seen as too small.

What can become problematic?

Reality does not necessarily stick to how we believe we can influence it. Especially in the phase of business plan preparation, in forecasting the demand for our own products in general and in customer acquisition in particular, Major errors can occur due to this bias.

The combination with excessive optimism (see December newsletter) can lead to risks being overlooked (and therefore not taken into account) and generally positive aspects being weighted too heavily and disruptive factors being hidden.

 

Confirmation Bias

This bias allows statements and information that support our existing opinion to be given greater weight than those that speak against it. In addition, it easily leads to selective perception and leaves important information hidden.

The effect is strongly influenced by how our environment is structured (conform vs. diverse), which sources of information we consume or how the opinion-forming process works.

What can happen?

During business foundation or expansion we invest a lot in our idea - emotions, time and money - and have relatively few facts that give us certainty. The challenge is to objectively assess the constantly new information coming in over time, therefore to interpret both positive and negative signals correctly.

Not every plan or part of the company will be successful, the confirmation error can easily lead to following an idea for too long and not changing track in time (there is a close connection to sunk cost fallacy).

 

Self serving bias

This is the tendency to blame external factors for failures (customers, competitors, partners,...) and to attribute success to one's own competencies, skills and decisions. This easily leads to an intensification of the overconfidence bias discussed above.

Why? The overconfidence bias is based on the distorted assessment of one's own influence on the outside world. If we now refer to positive events as an effect of our own competence, we believe in them more and more firmly and distance ourselves further from reality.

Which effects might follow?

Assessing business success as realistically as possible is a major challenge, since the next decisions as well as corporate management are based on it. Small units in particular can easily draw the wrong conclusions here, provided they do not involve people who relativize the perspective by looking at it from the outside.

Important decisions need a good foundation and are ideally illuminated from different perspectives. Feedback, questions and sparring need not take long (the "stupid" questions can be the best) - to refrain from this certainly poses a risk.

 

How can I take the topic further?

In addition to these 3 biases, there are more that are relevant in the start-up phase as well as in the reorientation of the existing business - please contact me HERE for further information.

We develop concrete measures against these and other biases individually or in workshops - HERE you can find further Information.

18.01.2020 10:12

Personal development - what is the right approach?

The new year usually is full of intentions to improve, change and implement topics of personal development. What is your opinion on the right approach? 

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

Whilst we all know that very few of these plans get really done, it raises the question which path to choose in the first place.

There are essentially two sets of offerings around:

  1. Outside-in: apply a certain technique, copy-paste a working solution from somewhere else, implement a new tool, etc The basic principle is to provide a quick fix by telling you what works. By implementing it, the promise is to get you a workable solution.
  2. Inside-out: focus on the long term development, invest now to earn improvements later. The principle is to engage with your underlying and deeply rooted paradigms, beliefs and values and to avoid one-size-fits-all approaches.

In my work, I focus a lot on unconscious mental patterns and biases and their effects on thinking, deciding and implementing in the business world. Both mentioned elements are included to a certain degree. What do you think? Short-term fix or long-term investment? Or both?

Let's start a dialogue - I appreciate to receive your thoughts!

HERE are the ways to contact me 

26.11.2019 11:54

Mindful De-Biasing @University of Vienna

Taking part in the first alma mentoring convention at the University of Vienna recently, Barbara Riedenbauer and myself had the pleasure to host an intro workshop on "Mindful De-Biasing".

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

The target in this format is to learn about personal thinking patterns and biases and to experience mindfulness impulses as well as concrete tools. The benefit is to improve both self management and decision competence. We were excited about the interest in our (sold-out) workshop, the engaged discussions and the excellent feedback - also for us there were valuable impulses and take-aways!
21.11.2019 14:38

B2B Online Europe 2019

I had the pleasure of chairing this year's B2B Online Europe Conference in Barcelona on the second day.
Well-known companies such as Microsoft, Siemens or ABB presented their paths in various digital topics such as eCommerce, Customer Experience or digital strategies.

[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

I took the following three points with me as the most important:
- Focus on individual customer needs as a success factor
- Using data effectively and responsibly at the same time
- Human" topics such as change management (also internally!), overcoming organizational silos and the right competencies in the organization are at least as important as pure technology.

My keynote was mainly about the third point and had the titel "Customer centricity and analogue implications". It was an outlook what digitalisation means to the "analogue" devices of human beings. There are massive changes ahead of us, consequently the question is which competences are needed to deal with them.

Essentially I expect three field of necessary change:

  1. Digital competencies - rather straightforward to name, less clear what exactly needs to be done
  2. Leadership competences - digitalisation means that the ecosystem in companies is changing. Conference participants saw organisational silos as main problem.
  3. Cognitive & social competences - less straightforward but key as shown in recent studies. Challenge here is that these competences are not as clearly visible as technical skills for needed in order to make individuals fit for the future.

The detailed considerations are summarised in a separate document - if you are interested, just click to download the extended version of my speech.