How can you help your group make better decisions?
Here are seven key thoughts, gleaned from over 30 years of strategic planning.
1. Enter with two objectives: To learn a lot and produce a road map. There is every chance that you will alter the plan, perhaps significantly, as events unfold. That doesn’t dilute what may be the greatest value of planning: The learning that goes into it and comes out of it.
2. Beware of the loudest voice in the room. Plans typically fail because the group finally surrenders to its loudest and most insistent member. Unless you commit to ignoring that person’s force, your plan already has been made, and you are merely a spectator to its rubber-stamping.
3. Beware of the person who wants to win. (3a: Beware of being that person.) Groups are gatherings of egos, and many of the people assigned to planning suffer from strong ones. This hurts the process, so be alert to it.
Narcissists–and most planning groups endure at least one–pose a special danger. As an Oracle employee said of its CEO Larry Ellison:
“What’s the difference between God and Larry Ellison? God does not believe he is Larry.”
Not only do narcissists feel certain they have better ideas, but their lack of empathy leads them to offend people who disagree with them.
The best advice? Tell everyone to bring a note with just three words–the three words that helped restrain the admitted narcissist CEO, Jay Chiat of Chiat Day, who carried the note wherever he went:
“Maybe they’re right.”
4. Just because someone observed it doesn’t mean it’s true. (A corollary from law: Eyewitnesses constantly get the facts wrong.) We all overestimate what we believe we know, observed, and experienced. We are famous for our overconfidence–psychologists dub it “The Overconfidence Bias”–which also hampers successful planning.
Mistrust your knowledge. And everyone else’s.
5. “I like it” and “I don’t like it.” Neither comment helps, and neither matters. Whether a group member likes or dislikes something does not matter, because your plan is devised to appeal to someone else. It’s a common fallacy–called “a projection bias”–to believe that others share your beliefs, likes, and dislikes.
6. You never tried something before that failed. You tried something similar at a different time. No two events are identical. A similar event at a different time will not necessarily produce the same result.
So “We tried that before” is not a reason not to try something similar now.
7. Mistrust certainty–including your own. (Certainty is usually ego moving in for the kill.) It’s good advice to mistrust others’ confidence, and equally wise to mistrust their certainty. As the writer Voltaire put it nicely, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
Harry Beckwith (Twitter)(Website/blog)w peaks and advises on marketing and buyer behavior all over the world. His books have sold over 1.2 million copies and have been translated into 23 languages.
The literature on narcissism and leadership includes an exceptional examination by Michael Maccoby (“Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, The Inevitable Cons”), in the January-February 2000 The Harvard Business Review). Also of value is the October 2008 study from The Ohio State University which shows the likelihood of narcissists emerging as group leaders (available at Live Science.)
The literature on this subject also includes the typically-clever words of Gore Vidal:
“A narcissist is someone who is better-looking than you.”