By Rebecca Turner
Human society has been x-rayed and we see how it looks. How did we get into this mess? How do we get out? It’s much, much more of a mess for some people than it is for others. The pandemic was not a leveler but something that exposed what was already exposed, only much more so. It blew into great relief how much easier it is for some to do business (almost as well in the midst of a pandemic), much easier for some to wait it out patiently, and much easier for some to plan for the future than for others. How funny, despite all the conversations about VUCA, we just weren’t prepared for the volatility, the uncertainty, the complexity and the ambiguity…
As we plan for the future, we will have planning fallacy (as coined by Kahneman and Tversky), because that’s what we do. We are mostly optimistic about the future; it won’t happen to us. Good entrepreneurs are of course optimists. NOW, we read books like Influenza, Plague of Corruption, and Flu. How long will we be humbled by the felt uncertainty before we go back to taking our success for granted?
My own experiences with business and other organizational leaders, as well as in my own life, suggest that planning for the future will benefit from certain psychological and behavioral practices. To perform at our best, we need to try to be more open-minded. These are lessons we know well but we have to be reminded of time after time. The best idea is probably to build certain challenges into the process of planning, challenge tests that will find our weaknesses and hit us right between the eyes. Wake up!
It is well known that teams that excel at forecasting are those that challenge one another respectfully, are able to admit ignorance and ask for help (note Tetlock and Gardner). We need our leadership teams to be able to challenge one another without undermining trust. Every team needs one or two appointed devil’s advocates who have the explicit job of finding the weaknesses or challenging the group’s thinking by finding arguments (their own or someone else’s) that question the wisdom in the room. The same practices that help us avoid “groupthink” (i.e., felt truths that are not fully tested) are the same that allow teams to be super performers.
As decisions are being made, go back and try to find biases in your data, biases in your assumptions, and encourage debate. Organizations can use well-known, excellent methods for planning and decision-making, avoiding the flaws that can be inherent in the process. And finally, follow up on planning work. Document it thoroughly (after all we spend a great deal of time doing these things) and revisit it regularly. Appoint someone or two people to be the planning czars who will be relentless in ensuring that we do what we say we are going to do, and that we revisit our assumptions to make sure they are still valid.