Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 1, 2021
Adam Grant, a famous Wharton professor, has a new book, “Think Again.” Don’t think twice. It’s all right. Read it.
I am consumed with trying to make good decisions for myself as well as teaching and coaching others how to make good decisions. This decision-making business does not lend itself to either a simple math problem, or a complex Bayes algorithm.
The reason, of course, is that it involves humans, not data sets. It has nuances, not right answers. All of our decisions live in the world of timing. Turning left last week was a really good idea, but this week, that road is under repair so I need to turn right, as opposed to simply going left as usual, then honking my horn, sitting there and demanding that the road workers change their plans, rather than me changing mine. After all, I have been turning left at Grand and Garnet for 30 years.
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics and the New York Times bestselling author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” writes about Grant’s book and says, “Adam believes that keeping an open mind is a teachable skill.” That idea that re-thinking can be learned is both right and radical, in that the default for most of us is, “I know what I know, don’t try to confuse me with new facts.”
Let’s go back to the turns. Just like having to slow down to make the right turn, it takes brain power and effort to apply the brakes to a previous point of view. Grant says, “Too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. Being good at thinking can make us worse at re-thinking.”
There you have it. His words are clear, the sentiments are rational and we know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but could you please pass the pappardelle in the cream sauce. Simply reading the words often has zero effect on changing our behavior.
That is the fishhook in the process. We know the right behavior, but we ignore what we know and default to neurotic or destructive patterns. Grant says, “Argue like you are right, but listen like you are wrong.”
I have a client, Bob, who is young, smart, talented, married, one child with a new one arriving in the next four days. He has been with the company less than a year. The CEO asks him to prepare something important for a board of directors meeting in the next few days. Board v. baby. You can see that there is a timing disconnect. But, also an opportunity.
I suggest to Bob that he should explain to the CEO that while he wants to be a good and effective employee, he also wants to be a good husband and father. Bob is afraid that saying that would slow up his rise to the C-suite and might adversely affect his compensation and where he sits in the CEO’s hierarchy of love and affection.
In my mind, this is a perfect nexus for determining his future at the company. If he tells the CEO that the next few weeks are going to be very limited work and that he is putting his wife and new son first, then two things are possible. The CEO says that sounds great, family first, come back full time when you feel comfortable. Or he says, deeply disappointed, Bob, in your priorities. When you come back, I hope there will still be a place for you.
Now Bob has a perfect opportunity to test his thinking about the true culture and future at this company and whether he wants to work there. You may remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote about entrepreneurs and self-compassion, that it is OK to take a nap, it is OK to not be 24/7, to let go of the imposter syndrome. Bob has this moment to deal with old fears of rejection that are no longer true.
And lurking at the edge of the Bob story is the universal desire for conflict-avoidance. But that is a two-edged sword. If you avoid conflict with your boss, it is almost certain that conflict is coming with your bride. And you will remember her disappointment for much longer than the Board will remember that deck.
Rule No. 657
Hit the brakes, right turn ahead.