“The decision-making that we rely on in society is fallible. It’s highly fallible, and we should know that.” – Daniel Kahneman
You know the feeling. A partner, a friend, a family member shares their amazing nugget of knowledge. You look on in amazement, half smirking, because you think they are joking. They have just repeated back to you, almost verbatim, the suggestion you made a few months ago, a suggestion they totally ignored.
You know the feeling. You sit in a meeting, as the CEO shares the company strategy. The company has just spent a fortune on this strategy document with a well-established consulting firm. You listen in disbelief, fuming with anger, because the PowerPoint not only contains the information you gave to the consultants. They even used your slides! They have just repeated back to you, almost verbatim, the suggestions you made a few months ago, suggestions your very own organisation totally ignored.
Nobody is a prophet in their own land.
There are several reasons colleagues do not listen to you from corporate culture to timing, to how you present the idea. When none of these are the problem, you are most likely the victim of one of the many cognitive biases that cloud our judgements and cause us to make poor decisions. Here, you may have fallen prey to “Value Attribution Bias” and that is the focus of this Thursday Thought (sign up to the newsletter for more like this.)
For Whom The Bell Tolls: Pearls Before Breakfast
It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.
Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?
On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.
Our guest on this week’s Innovation Show is author of Everyday Bias, Howard Ross. Howard shares this story on episode 218. Howard told us the musician was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s great violin virtuosos, and this circumstance was a perfect example of value attribution. Value attribution is the inclination to imbue a person or thing with certain qualities based on perceived value. Bell was dressed in a baseball cap and a long-sleeved T-shirt. He opened his violin case and took out his $3.5 million violin, threw a few dollars in the case to encourage others, as thousands of other street musicians have done before. He then played for forty-five minutes. Almost nobody stopped to listen. Was it because they didn’t like the music? Not likely. People all over the world pay more than $100 a seat to listen to Bell perform. They just did not assign a lot of value to this “street musician.”
Your colleagues are not ignoring your contributions because of your dress sense. Well, I hope not. They are not attributing the same value to your ideas as they do to an outsider, often because that outsider has a higher perceived value. When you add attribution value bias to the halo effect, covered on a recent Thursday Thought it can be very difficult to overcome. The halo effect is when we attribute value to someone’s opinion, perhaps because they come from a well-known company or even because they are good looking. I work as a consultant and I know how frustrating it is for those people I work with, especially when they say those dreaded words, “I have been telling them that for years.” They ask me what would I do if the company they work for values the opinion of others more than they value the opinion of their own people. I answer honestly. I say, “Look at my CV, I leave.” There are many reasons I suggest you leave. On a personal level, if they do not respect your opinion, that is not good for your mental health, but that is not the focus of this article. I want to focus on the organisation.
Don’t Cast Pearls Before Swine
To “cast pearls before swine” means you are wasting your time by offering valuable information to someone who does not appreciate or understand it. I highlight the phrase “cast pearls before swine” in my workshops on communicating innovation. If the company you work for does not listen to its people, they are en route to an early grave. Organisations who do not engage their people will continue to haemorrhage outstanding people and become zombie organisations. Disengaged workers will do the bare minimum, showing up for a pay cheque and not for a common purpose.
To survive in this turbulent business environment, we need every employee to be a sensor. Each employee is a node in the network, detecting friction points, opportunities and threats. The pace of change is too fast to ignore the solutions of our people. The archaic command-and-control paradigm was suitable for an industrial age where people worked on an assembly line.
In today’s knowledge economy, we need to engage our people and create structures to harness their creativity. Equally, we need consultants, but the role of the consultant has also evolved. Often, organisations hire consultants as insurance, just in case the strategy does not work out. Then it is the consultant’s fault and not that of the organisation. The effective consultant is a partner who challenges our thinking, exposes our blind spots and respectfully points out our weaknesses. The role of the consultant is a knowledge partner, an accountability partner, a truth speaker. The role of the consultant is to bring information and insights that we have not seen or do not want to see.
Organisations know their business better than anyone else, they have the scar tissue of experience. However, each one of us needs an independent partner, above reproach, who is not afraid to challenge us when needed. To do our best critical thinking, we need the help of others. We need to attribute value to our people before they find somewhere else that will happily accept their pearls of wisdom.
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