Inattentional Bias and Environment Scanning

Even highly skilled and intelligent leaders aren’t good at detecting changes in their environment that might affect strategy. When you are focusing on all of the moving parts of your business, you can be blinded to these important changes.  In psychology, this is known as inattentional bias, which typically happens because we are all overloaded with stimuli, and it is impossible to pay attention to everything in one’s environment.

To be adaptive to change, you need to be attuned to these signals.  Not only that, you need to be able to determine which of those are transient and which are permanent; which of them are opportunities and which of them are threats. Continue reading


Principles, Laws, and Effects at Work



In an earlier post, I wrote about The Peter Principle – the concept that individuals are promoted to their own level of incompetence in an organisation.

Here are some of my other favourite principles, laws, and effects:

Parkinsons Law “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (tweet this)

Hofstadter’s Law – “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”. (tweet this)

The Dunning–Kruger effect is the concept that if you’re not very good at something, you’re also not very good at recognising that.  It explains why people who are unskilled in a particular area sometimes rate their own ability higher than more competent people.  (over-confident and under-competent)

Putt’s Law – “Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand”.

The Dilbert Principle (from Dilbert creator Scott Adams) is an adaptation of the Peter Principle – paraphrased, it states that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.

Goodhart’s Law – “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.  (tweet thisThis is something of particular relevance to Workforce Analytics, and something which I spoke about in The False Proxy Trap.

Most people know Murphy’s Law – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, but may not know there’s a related law,  Muphry’s Law – “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written” (tweet this)

The Pareto Principle is another well-known one, usually referred to at the 80/20 rule – for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes (80% of the revenue from 20% of the clients; 80% of the problems from 20% of the clients – not necessarily the same ones).

Are there any other principles, laws, and effects that should be added to the list?

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office', victim of the Peter Principle

Michael Scott and The Peter Principle

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office', victim of the Peter Principle

Michael Scott, manager in “The Office” and victim of the Peter Principle

The “Peter Principle” is the idea that when promotions are made on the basis of prior performance, everyone will eventually be promoted to their own level of incompetence.  It still has resonance some 40 years after is was first proposed, and it has an enormous impact on productivity, engagement, and retention in organisations today.

Perhaps one of the most recent high-profile embodiments of the Peter Principle is Michael Scott from the TV Comedy “The Office”.  A great salesman before he was promoted to Regional Manager, Scott can’t seem to cut it in a management position.  He is allergic to conflict, provides cliches in place of leadership, and haplessly implements one half-baked strategy after another – all to hilarious effect.  We laugh along because most of us, at some point in our careers, have known a manager like Michael.

The skills to excel in a technical area are not the same as the skills to manage or lead a workforce.  Many organisations fail to recognise this, or are unable to support employees transitioning into a management role.

Project Oxygen was Google’s quest to use Data Analytics to find a better manager, based on the premise that people leave companies for three main reasons:

1. They don’t feel a connection to the mission of the company, or have a sense that their work matters;

2. They don’t really like or respect their co-workers; and/or

3. They have a terrible boss.

Given the last of these points is arguably the easiest to control, Google sought to find out what actually makes a good manager, and found that  it comes down to these attributes and behaviors, in order of importance:

1. Being a good coach;

2. Empowering their team and not micromanaging;

3. Expressing interest in team members’ success and personal well-being;

4. Being productive and results-oriented;

5. Being a good communicator and listening to their team;

6. Helping their employees with career development;

7. Having a clear vision and strategy for the team; and

8. Having key technical skills so they can help advise the team.

What’s telling about this list that the least important trait of the manager is usually the main reason why people are promoted to technical management roles in the first place.  Without coaching or transition support into management roles, it’s no wonder the Peter Principle is still alive and well today.

Leadership positions (and done well, a management position is one of those) can have a disproportionate impact on the ability of the organization to execute strategy, but what makes a great technician is not what makes a great leader.  How do you support people transitioning to leadership positions in your organisation?