Rationalizing Archive

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Leadership - The Secret

With more power less thinking the risk of poor decisions increases.

With more power less thinking occurs about new information on known topics.

Life gives all forces good and bad aspects. Breathing gives life. It also causes aging. Gravity prevents us from flying. It allows us to walk and use other modes of traveling. The same holds true for power. With more power less thinking comes.

Research on More Power Less Thinking

As power increases, a study shows we think less (PDF of complete study). Another is blunter. Power makes us stupid. If we know a topic well, the more power we have the less likely we are to think about new information on that topic.

Power though also expands what we believe we know. The confidence power gives convinces us and others that we are more competent than we are. Since we think we know more, we also think we have more control than we do. This opens the door to more and more risky decisions and antisocial behaviors.

Implications of More Power Less Thinking

In simple terms, it means that with more power less thinking we:

  • Think we know more than we do
  • Question what we think we know less
  • Believe we have more control than we do

Moreover, leadership comes with more power. Since power can corrupt thinking, leadership can corrupt leaders. With more power less thinking means their decisions become worse. Thinking they know more, they think less. They question less. Unless advice attacks current beliefs, they do not think much about it.

With more power less empathy comes too. It is easy to look at the loss of thinking and empathy as negatives. It is nature’s way of weeding out weak leaders. They will lose their positions, their influence or both.

This does not mean they will not prosper personally. It does not mean many will not suffer. It does mean though a change in leaders will come.

Remedying More Power Less Thinking

With more power less thinking, the simple, practical remedy is preparing leaders for the dark side of leadership. Too many leadership programs paint a Pollyanna picture. They do not prepare people for these personal challenges.

One study though gave another way. It said the problem went away “when the powerful were made to feel incompetent.” Is there better career-ending advice to give employees?

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This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Apocalyptic Decision Making

The four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making are Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity or VUCA for short. Just as customers do when they don’t understand, we tend to procrastinate, postpone or avoid decisions on events we don’t understand. These horsemen thwart our decision making in this way causing lost opportunities and more problems.

Four Horsemen of Apocalyptic Decision Making

The Four Horsemen of Apocalyptic Decision Making

Nathan Bennett and G. James Lemoine in “What VUCA Really Means for You” (Harvard Business Review, January 2014 edition) provide basic definitions, examples and approaches for each in a brief table. Still, not understanding an event might diminish it in our minds but not in reality. Problems, like squirrels, don’t care about our mental boundaries.

Each horsemen strikes fear in our decision making. Since urgency and immediacy often drive us, we’ll waffle trying to keep up with volatility. Since we prefer certainty, we’ll discount or ignore uncertain factors. To simplify things, we’ll look for the silver-bullet rather than coordinate many solutions. To achieve understanding, we’ll create definition and quantification even if it means leaving out ambiguous intangibles. That is why these horsemen are also four of eight alerts that help us anticipate problems.

Rather than deal with the horsemen as Bennett’s and Lemoine’s table suggests, our fears will encourage us to see stability where volatility exists (prices won’t change anymore [see table’s examples]), to see certainty where uncertainty hides (competitor’s product launch won’t muddy the waters), to see simplicity in place of complexity (all customers basically need our product), and definition rather than ambiguity (we’ve done this before and succeeded so just follow the template).

Our emotional triggers for security (stability, certainty, simplicity and definition) are often so strong and the four horsemen so nebulous that rationalizing like this is easy. That is what makes them so apocalyptic and what we commonly call “being blindsided.”


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Busy Bees Can Sting

Busy Bees Can Sting

A friend once pointed out that business is derived from busy, not from productive or profitable. Since business is not guaranteed to be productive or profitable, business is a very good name for business as it hides within it the very demon that can bring down any business: busyness.

As it turns out, this demon is as subversive as any vice because as Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen in “Make Time for the Work That Matters” (Harvard Business Review, September 2013 edition) state:

We instinctively cling to tasks that make us feel busy and thus important . . .

They found knowledge workers averaging 41% of their time going to activities that didn’t need to be done and offered little personal satisfaction. These were activities that they didn’t want to do, but yet, they still did. In addition to feeling busy, workers felt drawn to helping someone by doing these undesirable tasks.

Still, let’s ask this: What makes us feel more important, tasks at which we are proficient or ones we are not? Just because we can do something well doesn’t mean it’s productive or profitable for our businesses. Conversely, what we aren’t proficient at could be very productive or profitable. This is especially true of implementing new things we’ve learned.

Even though Birkinshaw and Cohen recommend being more conscious of such activities and delegating, it’s very easy for us to rationalize them especially if they feed our ego or assuage our anxieties of worth to the team. By feeding these self-interests, they influence our decisions in a unconsciously biased way. They compound when managers do little to help us feel good about our work.

As with any demon, it hides. Busyness is no different. It hides in every business. Look no further than the word for the clue.


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Pricing, The Secret

By Mike Lehr

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Pricing, The Secret

Secret to PricingThe secret to pricing is its arbitrariness, subjectivity. What disrupts this is anchoring, a preconceived benchmark of what should be the price. Classical economics describes consumers as rational purchasers of goods and services weighing benefits and costs. In reality, that weighing is just a rational wrapping for subjective tendencies. Traditional pricing methodologies attack the weighing. If we believe our product is better, we price higher, if more economical, lower. However, contemporary ones aim for disrupting or leveraging the benchmark.

It’s very difficult for us to objectively determine value. For instance, in classical economics value in terms of supply and demand sets prices.  In truth, price influences value. Not only does price influence tasters of wine, but that influence shows up in their brain scans. Price influences the most discerning assessors of value. In violins, experts often deem higher priced ones possessing better sound even though blind tests show differently,  “Fiddling with the Mind” (The Economist, January 7, 2012 edition).

Dan Ariely, George Loewenstein and Drazen Prelec, in their paper “Tom Sawyer and the Myth of Fundamental Value,” show how malleable value can be when we disrupt our pricing benchmarks. For example, if we sell people something for $6 and then return the next time to charge them $8, fewer will buy than if we had sold it to them for $10 first and $8 second.

“Clawback” (New Yorker, August 26, 2013 edition), James Surowiecki, illustrates how transferrable benchmarks can be. Even though lobsters’ market costs are extremely low, restaurants don’t pass these on because lobster benchmarks the value of other entrées. A lower cost lobster entrée suddenly decreases the value of other entrées by making them appear more expensive.

Pricing’s secret is admittedly involved, but it expands our opportunities. But, the real question is, “When’s your wine taste test?”

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Personality Behind Words 08 YellowIncreasingly, we are seeing the connection between all that we do and our personalities. Why is this  “groundbreaking?” For centuries now, we’ve assumed people are products of their decisions. Educate people with good logic and good decisions will follow. Historically, we’ve expressed this as free will. It then invaded economics with the rational actor decision-making model. The problem is that it doesn’t work.

Inside us is software called “personality.” It’s almost as difficult to violate as it is for computers to violate their software. It can predict human decision making almost as well as it can for computers. Just as behavioral economics is overrunning classical economics, it’s doing so in business and politics.

Admittedly, the accuracy with people is significantly less than with computers but it’s enough to assess people from their Twitter streams (“No Hiding Place” [The Economist, May 25, 2013 edition]). It’s also enough for Google to invest in Obama’s data mining operations (Google’s Eric Schmidt Invests in Obama’s Big Data Brains [Bloomberg Businessweek – May 30, 2013] by Joshua Green).

This wouldn’t occur if exquisite, rational, debate-styled arguments worked. These take no more hold on people than seeds in rocky soil . . . unless we present it in an emotional, relational manner similar to advertising, marketing and merchandising.

Today, it’s about finding people inclined to buy and vote a certain way and then “encouraging” them to do so. Plant the right seeds in the right soil and farm them. Just as we can predict what might grow on a particular farm, we can predict what thoughts will grow in personalities. This extends beyond purchasing and voting. Twitter feeds help you find relationally compatible kindred spirits for all purposes.

What kind of personality is in your Twitter stream? Just look in the mirror.

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This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Feelings, Emotions, Intuition - Difference

BreadIn a previous post, I outlined the differences among feelings, emotions and intuition. Using a food analogy, feelings are ingredients, emotions are foods and intuition is the message the meal gives us. This post dives deeper into the difference between feelings and emotions.

As the food analogy implies, many feelings can comprise an emotion. Beyond this, the primary difference between the two is the “call to action” emotions prompt in us. After all, the word emotion breaks into e-motion, meaning, “to bring out motion.”

In this sense, feelings are nouns and emotions are verbs, feelings are a state of being and emotions a state of motion. For instance, the emotion driving us to help someone can contain many feelings such as empathy, happiness, guilt, sadness and pity. In fact, all these feelings might play in some form or another:

  • Empathy can encourage us to change the feeling of others so we can share it.
  • Happiness can encourage us to spread it directly or indirectly.
  • Guilt can encourage us to “return a favor.”
  • Sadness can encourage us to correct the problem.
  • Pity can encourage us to help those who can’t help themselves.

While each of these feelings can stand alone as an emotion, in virtually all cases emotions are an integration of many feelings. We just won’t realize it. Moreover, when others ask, “Why did you do that?” we will tend to find a rationale that fits but won’t necessarily represent our feelings. Some feelings will be very conscious but others won’t be.

Again, the food analogy has been helpful to people. Beyond that if we remember emotions comprise feelings and represent a state of motion, we’ll be able to distinguish them from feelings in a way that will help us understand and appreciate ourselves better.


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Faith MoneyWhen I read articles like “Toss a Coin” (The Economist, January 12, 2013 edition), I’m reminded that our economy relies on faith. After all, as the article indicates, the U.S. Treasury prints money to satisfy its debts.

Of course, it prints purposefully to avoid the extremes of inflation and contraction. If the Treasury did not print money, our economy would slowly stop as our population expanded. It’s analogous to adding more oil to an ever-growing car engine so it won’t lock up.

However, the money is simply paper. Nothing tangible supports it. For instance, we can’t exchange dollars for gold. Only the U.S. Government supports it (“This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private”), and our faith supports the government. Since this seems so certain, it’s tough to see this as faith until we experience its loss.

For me, this occurred in the last two weeks of 1989 when visiting Poland for familial reasons. The Communists were transferring power to a democratic government on New Year’s Day. In those two weeks, the Polish zloty went from 3,000/U.S. dollar to 10,000. Knowing we were Americans, cab drivers began demanding payment in U.S. dollars; faith had vanished.

The importance of this prompts the question: How can we apply rationale to something rooted in faith? Do we rationalize religion? This is why neoclassical economics faces the challenge from behavioral economics. It incorporates emotions of which faith is a form. It means business is uniquely human not objective. It’s faith in each other with the U.S. Government (“We the People”) merely a conduit for that faith. Consequently, this dual anchor of people and faith makes business . . . well . . . personal.

What happens when we lose faith in each other?


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Definitions = Castle

Stories form boxes outside of which we try to think.

Stories galvanize people, helping them to learn, to coalesce around ideas. If we look at this galvanization as solidification, we can also see how stories could thwart change and innovation.

In a book review titled “Dead Certain” [The New Yorker, November 29, 2010 edition], I came across this passage by George Packer quoting Dan McAdams, a psychology professor at Northwestern University:

Psychological research shows that powerful narratives in people’s lives make it nearly impossible, in many cases, to consider ideas, opinions, possibilities, and facts that run counter to the story

Now, let’s expand this thought. Stories have many aspects and many forms: allegories, rationales, themes, descriptions, characterizations, histories, records, chronicles, accounts, testimonies, anecdotes, biographies, depictions, portraits, assumptions and statements. All can create vivid pictures of events, ideas, plans and strategies.

These pictures define facts, accepted truths, and work the same as definitions. Stories become the box outside of which we are trying to think. They come to define the culture, traditions, practices and expectations of our businesses.

For instance, a business whose history, pride and success come from a particular market will find difficulty deemphasizing it as it diminishes. It will also find it hard to seize opportunities that it has traditionally scoffed.

Business plans are other examples of stories’ influence. Plans are not only stories themselves, but they contain smaller stories such as rationales, accounts, descriptions and assumptions. For instance, the main assumption driving plans and strategies is that last year is a great baseline for projecting this year, that this year won’t be vastly different from last year.

Therefore, when we seek to change, to innovate, we will likely need to question the validity of existing stories no matter how factual and truthful they seem. They are likely prisons inhibiting us from considering what is outside their walls.


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OZA No 292 (Emotion & Intuition as Foundation for All Decisions)One of the more contrarian perspectives that has helped me appreciate people’s decisions is that emotions and its interpretive big sister, intuition, form their foundation. Even a logical decision comes about because of a person’s emotional preference for logic.

While this does not mean logic, reason and rationales are not involved; it does mean they take a secondary, dependent role similar to the way the frame of a house is dependent upon the foundation. In our decision-making, it means we select the rationale (frame) to fit our emotional preferences (foundation), which we more commonly experience as rationalizing.

Increasingly though, as technology and research methodologies advance, science supports this. For instance, the article, “Captain Kirk’s Revenge” (The Economist, December 23, 2006 edition), discusses a person who lost his emotional functions in his brain could not make decisions even though the rational portions were in tack. However, those who lost their rational functions could still do so if their emotional ones remained.

This is understandable when we consider people need motivation to make decisions and motivation is emotional. Rationales alone won’t motivate unless they stimulate our emotions. That is why the root word of emotions is “motion.” It’s active, whereas logic, reason and rationale are inert.

We further see the progress in this perspective with the research of Roderick Gilkey, Ricardo Caceda, and Clinton Kilts. In their article, “When Emotional Reasoning Trumps IQ” (Harvard Business Review, September 2010 edition), they found that the best strategic thinkers showed “significantly less neural activity in the prefrontal cortex [rational functional area of brain] than in the areas associated with ‘gut’ responses, empathy, and emotional intelligence.”

Since we are often experiencing these emotions on an unconscious level, we could feel completely rational. Consequently, all our decisions are emotional ones. We just might not believe it.


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This entry is part 15 of 15 in the series Creative Innovation

Creative Bulb“Once he gets an idea in his head, there’s no changing it!” As common as this comment is, it’s true for us all to some degree. It’s formally called anchoring. Such ideas can alter our thinking and feeling processes and undermine our creative efforts. In fact, anchoring is so strong that it can influence our decisions even if we know the information is wrong.

Words alone are often anchors (money vs. time; thinking vs. feeling) and set moods. When they form ideas, they are even more powerful. Now, according to Paul Leonardi’s article, “Early Prototypes Can Hurt a Team’s Creativity” (Harvard Business Review, December 2011 edition), prototypes can serve as anchors too:

. . . when people see a detailed prototype, something odd happens: They concentrate on the prototype’s form and function, forgetting to attend to any remaining ambiguities about the problem the product is meant to solve or the obstacles in the way. Instead of clarifying the path ahead, the prototype puts a halt to useful brainstorming.

Now, often we delude ourselves by exploring other options, but we sabotage them by emphasizing evidence and arguments that support the initial idea and discounting those that don’t. In short, we formulate a rationale making the initial idea best.

We can observe the effects of anchoring in our everyday conversations. The person who first expresses himself often sets the direction of the conversation because conversations often build from the most recent comments. Focus groups have to guard against alphas, people who dominate conversations, or their findings become skewed.

The physicality of prototypes (also diagrams, blueprints, plans, etc.) can do more damage to the creative process than discussed ideas. So, the next time you see or think something, ask, “Is this preventing us from seeing other options or revisiting the problem?”


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Seeking Whales

Allison Bond’s article, “Haunting Scenes” (Scientific American Mind, November/December 2011 edition), discusses the research of Phillip Isola (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) as to what makes a memorable photograph. While Isola generalizes it as “’related to strangeness, funniness or interestingness,’” specifics exist:

  • People – unknown people work too
  • Movement – the implication of it such as people running, waves crashing, birds flying
  • Human-scale objects – chairs, cars, tools, toys

Photographs with these elements tend to be far more memorable rather than those with beautiful landscapes and environs. In short, we are not likely to remember pictures simply because they are beautiful. Moreover, these findings are consistent with evolutionary theory that:

. . . our brain is wired to notice movement, other people and objects we can interact with . . . because these things would have been the most important features of the landscape we evolved in.

Just as important is that these properties are “largely constant from one person to the next.” This means a memorable photograph isn’t as subjective as we once thought. The general parameters of memorableness are coded in us. Said another way, we do not consciously, completely control our preferences. They are to an extent predictable regardless of who we are.

Thus, in our decision making and problem solving we are living to a degree under the illusion of freely deciding. In reality, unconscious forces are influencing our thoughts, and what seem legitimate reasons for decisions are nothing more than rationalizations of wants. In short, rationalizations are masquerading as reasons.

Of course, we aren’t totally at the mercy of these influences as long as we make ourselves aware of them and believe they influence us. However, many times, while we acknowledge these forces, we often believe they influence everyone else but us.


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This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Patience's Merits

Emotions in Decision-makingWhen I first wrote about patience, a commenter asked for examples of its merits. So, when I ran across the article “No Rush” (The Economist, July 7,2012 edition) and the online interview between Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist and Frank Partnoy, I decided to revisit patience since both provided more excellent examples of patient’s merits.

The article focused on the work of Brian Gunia of John Hopkins University; and a popular new book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, by Frank Partnoy of University of San Diego. Gunia’s experiments found “that slowing down makes us more ethical.”

When confronted with a clear choice between right and wrong, people are five times more likely to do the right thing if they have time to think about it than if they are forced to make a snap decision.

In the article and interview, Frank Partnov begins with the prevalence of fast food in helping us to speed up our lives. He found that simply showing people a fast food logo would encourage them to accelerate; however, it comes at the expense of disruption to their cognitive processes and aesthetic pleasures. For instance, they find less enjoyment in music, reading and art.

In terms of ethical behavior, such devaluation of aesthetics means a souring of life in general which in turns encourages the rationalization of unethical behavior such as lying. People are more likely to view others negatively if they feel negatively themselves. However, by slowing down, as the above quote explains, people have time to counter the negativity from these feelings.

Therefore, if we feel ethics is suffering in our businesses – such as more concern for the bottom line than for being good corporate citizens – then perhaps we should not expect people to react to our every whim.


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As computers and robots are able to perform more of the mental and physical tasks of humans, we are finding they can become more unnerving to us. Why is that?

“Mapping the Uncanny Valley” (The Economist, July 21, 2012 edition) examines the work of Kurt Gray (University of North Carolina) and Daniel Wegner (Harvard) to find it’s a matter of expectations. We do not expect robots to be human – more specifically to have emotions – so when we observe or hear that they do, it unnerves us. They also found that humans who “did not feel emotion” unnerved us because we expect humans to have emotions.

Extrapolating, here’s the lesson for us:

When we don’t conform to the expectations of others, we will likely unnerve them.

How much will tend to be a function of the degree to which we crashed their expectations and the degree to which such crashing unnerves them. Some might find such crashing a refreshing departure from the norm, more likely not though.

As we saw with euphemisms, people tend to prefer their illusions to reality; thus, we could rephrase the powerful line, “ can’t handle the truth,” from the movie A Few Good Men to be, “You can’t handle the real me.” In other words, people will tend to prefer you think, feel, talk and behave according to their expectations rather than as you are.

For these people, societal, cultural and business conventions rescue them by providing rationalizations for this unnerving: it’s rational to be upset with violators of such conventions. In reality though, it’s an emotional response, a function of their personality.

Therefore, pragmatically, you will often need to weigh the risks of crashing their expectations. Your real aspect might just be too much for them.


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Someone once said to me that you can’t find your way if you don’t know where you are. I countered that that would mean a compass would be useless to you. That’s not true.

Unfortunately, when people talk about intuition in problem solving, then tend to think it should be as specific as cognition is. If it were, it wouldn’t be intuition. Intuition plays more of an introductory role in our thinking and behavioral processes. In this sense, our intuition acts as a compass. When we’re lost we have any number of directions to explore. A compass helps to narrow our selection. Intuition does the same in problem solving.

Many, many forces influence us without our conscious knowledge. On the knowledge map, we might feel these influences as awareness or knowing without having any proof or quantification to support them. These forces also influence our thought processes and encourage us to find rationales to support them.

Typically, we will experience these as feelings or sensations to:

  • Talk to a certain person or people
  • Analyze certain information
  • Visit a certain department, office or facility
  • Attend an certain event
  • Perform a certain analysis or experiment
  • Collect certain information

Now, I’m not referring to the normal, routine feelings that come about as a result of a planned problem-solving approach or one that conforms to a certain methodology. These feelings will encourage you to deviate from that process or plan. Since processes reduce flexibility, it’s important that we don’t become so focused that we ignore the opportunities posed by our intuition. Spontaneity and flexibility are important problem-solving attributes even if it simply means a “chance” encounter that aides us.

Next time you get that feeling to go off-process or off-plan, do it. Experiment!


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This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Emotional Intelligence vs. Intuition

Part #1 established a very broad framework for discussing the differences between Emotional Intelligence (EI) and Intuition. People often wonder if one is merely a subset of the other, usually intuition being a subset of EI. This post will focus on one important reason why they aren’t: they’re as distinct and separate as the head and heart are.

The basis for calling EI a head concept is simple. Compare Goleman’s definition of empathy with those even appearing in two common dictionaries, Merriam-Webster and The Free Dictionary. We find Goleman focused on “understanding” while stripping out all subjective aspects such as feelings, imagination and sensitivity. This allows EI to function without having to feel the other person’s emotions; all we need to be able to show is that we know them. Goleman even acknowledges a difference between knowing and feeling.

On the other hand, intuition is about emotions helping us acquire knowledge and make decisions. Whereas EI focuses on intelligence, Intuition focuses on emotions. Let’s remember it’s Emotional Intelligence not Intelligent Emotions or Intelligent Emotionalism. Intelligence is heady and rational. Thus, it’s difficult to see how EI and Intuition are a subset of one another unless we consider the head and heart similar subsets.

Throughout this post, I’ve used the head and heart symbolically to represent our rational and emotional aspects. Yes, they are distinct, but they no doubt influence one another. The same holds true for EI and Intuition; however, let’s not confuse influence as meaning one is the subset of the other. Thus, a good EI doesn’t ensure you have good intuition and vice versa; yet, it’s quite likely that each influences the other. Still, EI and Intuition are as distinct as head and heart are.



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