Business Management, Career, Problem-solving

Blindness to a problem leads to a life without vision

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We know magic tricks and illusions are not for real. But we’re deeply fascinated by it, every time Kevin James, David Copperfield, David Blaine and many others perform on stage. After all, we want to be entertained from time to time. At times, we don’t bother to know their secret, unless one would want to become another illusionist.

The secret behind this is what Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics Daniel Kahneman says in his 2011 book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” He claims: “We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.”

Kahneman’s thesis was preceded by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, who became famous in 1999 for “The Invisible Gorilla Experiment.” It proves how people who concentrate on one thing can easily overlook, if not ignore, another equally important situation or opportunity.

YouTube has several versions of the experiment that demonstrates the same effect. A typical demonstration includes several students passing a basketball among themselves. The viewers are asked to count the number of times the players in white shirts pass the ball. If you will concentrate on counting you will tend to miss a person in a gorilla suit walking and beating his chest inside where the action is.

Paul Bloom, writing for The New York Times, says in “What We Miss” (2010) that this experiment “is a striking demonstration of the zero-sum nature of attention. When you direct your mental spotlight to the basketball passes, it leaves the rest of the world in darkness. Even when you are looking straight at the gorilla (and other experiments find that people who miss it often have their eyes fully on it) you frequently don’t see it, because it’s not what you’re looking for.

The Invisible Gorilla Experiment explains the frailty of human nature. We concentrate more on what we have on our desk (or plate) and hope to get it over with flying colors with our respective bosses, at least as a form of wishful thinking. So we tend to unwittingly ignore other opportunities if only for us to keep our eyes on our next daily bread.

When everyone acts and thinks like this, we are blinded by the proximity to our problems, mindless of the fact that we are losing money in the process, particularly when we are working for a corporation that is earning hundreds of millions of cash daily.

“We’re earning a lot of money, and so why sweat the small stuff?” says people who don’t care if their corporations are losing coins in the process. Now, what if we calculate them all? You’ll be surprised at the amount of wastes you’re sending down the drain. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said: “Beware of little expenses. A small leak can sink a great ship.”

At times, the cliché “why sweat the small stuff” has its own value. If it’s not worth it, we’ve to let it go. But that’s assuming we know the value. What if we don’t know what we’re missing? The trouble is that many of wastes around us are invisible and hidden from plain view.

In summary, take time to understand the whole situation. Ask the right question – is there a better way? What other opportunities are we missing? If you’re in management, appoint someone to act as a devil’s advocate and rotate the task to keep people on their toes. At first, the devil’s advocate may be unpopular, but as soon as everyone has taken the task, the team would surely appreciate the role.

That’s why you should always look at the fine print of everything. Because the devil is in the details.

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 This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies http://www.kairos.com.ph

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Career, Job search, Problem-solving

Asking dumb questions is better that giving dumb answers

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WHY DO SOME people have to ask the obvious when you’re wet, irritated with a flat tire on a rainy night beside a busy road: “Have you got a flat tire?” That you may feel like replying: “Of course, not! I always rotate my tires at night on a busy road and when it’s raining.”

That’s an extreme. Really, asking questions is an excellent communication tool, especially the open-ended type that allows the respondent to put up a lengthy answer that could lead an investigative reporter or police investigator to more interesting bits and pieces of information.

Questions that start with who, what, where, when, why and how are too basic to be ignored if your objective is elicit meaningful responses. Sometimes, close-ended questions or those that are designed to give only “yes” or “no” answers are also welcome, but not necessarily desirable.

Here are some examples: A good question is something like this: “What’s your view on federalism as a new form of our government?” On the other hand, a bad one is like asking, “Do you like federalism?” The following question is as terrible as the one asking it: “What would you do to prevent those pests from pushing with federalism – A, B, C, or D?” The last question is a dumb question because it gives a hint to the respondent, even if the choices are miles away from what he’s thinking.

Let’s talk of another situation. After each meeting, I would ask my students the much-dreaded questions, such as: “Any questions? If there’s none, let me start with some of my difficult questions in our graded recitation. Ready?”

In many job interviews, there are many dumb questions that are parroted by hiring managers who have no idea what they’re talking about. One is – “what’s your greatest weakness?” After all, who would want to admit his or her weakness before a prospective employer? Besides, the internet has become an ocean of information on how to ace this dumb interview question that recruitment managers are now changing their style by asking smart questions.

Liz Ryan, who was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for “10 million years” and now contributes to Forbes, says job applicants can outsmart hiring managers who are prone to asking dumb interview questions. “When HR folks, hiring managers and recruiters stop and think, their brains turn on. They have to get off the standard interview script. That’s good for them – and for you (job seekers)! You will make an impression. Sadly, that is one thing most job-seekers forget to do. They sit on the chair like a good little sheepish job-seeker and they make no impression at all. A day later the interviewer may well have forgotten the interview entirely!”

If you have the self-confidence typical of my readers, you’ll probably ask: “If there are dumb interview questions, then what would be the smart ones?” The smart questions should pertain to the current and future issues of an organization. Paraphrase them so that the applicants may not suspect about your current dilemma and at the same time allow the applicants to come up with the best possible, unrehearsed answers.

For instance, the question – “How would you handle a toxic, dictatorial boss?” may suggest that the organization is being slowed down by a prospective toxic, dictatorial boss, whom you may not like. Therefore, re-frame the situation: “How would you handle the rejection of your proposal? What would make you stay in an organization even if you’re not being paid good money?”

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Really, there are many smart questions that you can find from the internet. My advice to you is not copy them. Instead, paraphrase them in such a way that you’ll tweak the discussion into real-life situations. Caveat aside, I still believe that asking dumb questions is much better than giving dumb answers. If you know you’re predisposed to asking dumb quizzers, think hard before opening your mouth. Nobody wants to be branded as dumb. Therefore, ensure your questions are much better.

Start with the following: If you can be born again, what nationality would you like to be and why? What was the most important non-cash reward that you got from your boss and why did you appreciate it much? If I would do a background check, what would they say about your greatest weakness? How would you appeal and convince your boss who has already rejected your proposal? What are the top three important things that keep you awake at night?

In conclusion, let me tell you that being smart means acting differently from other managers, but for the better. The rule of the corporate game is meritocracy, not seniority, connections with those in power, or whatever. It’s all about earning profit with honor in whatever kind of business you’re in.

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Career, Job-Hunting

The Body Language of Job Applicants Tells a Lot if the Interviewer Can Read It

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UNDERSTANDING the body language of job candidates is a strategic approach we can use to predict how they will behave and perform on the actual job. Even if the applicants can ace all of the hiring manager’s killer interview questions and they appear to be qualified, still…we can’t ignore those small things that candidates would show in their unguarded moments before, during, and after the interview process

No, I’m not talking of the applicant’s tardiness. That’s too obvious. What I’m referring to are minor gaffes that some managers don’t take seriously or tend to ignore, because they’re too insignificant to consider, given the fact that we decide based on the total package of a person, and not on small things alone.

Career expert Richard Bolles in the 2014 edition of What Color is Your Parachute? talks about the principle of “microcosm reveals macrocosm.” It means that what job applicants “do in some small ‘universe’ like in a job interview reveals how (they) would and will act in a larger ‘universe.’”

Bolles is right. Small things can make or unmake a job candidate. Excellence in the hiring process can be done by paying attention to details. And so, how would you read and interpret the body language of applicants, particularly those who are interested in some managerial position in your organization? There’s no other way but for us to pay serious attention to the following body language of applicants:

1. Showing poor personal habits. You know what it means about good personal hygiene. It includes having clean fingernails, freshly laundered clothes, pants with a sharp crease, and well-polished shoes. Further, the applicant must not give any hint of tobacco smoke or wear an overpowering cologne that fills the enclosed space of the office. This is important even if one is applying for the post in the preventive maintenance department of a factory.

2. Having nervous mannerisms. This is often manifested when an applicant responds with a limp handshake or continually avoids eye contact with the interviewer. According to experts, avoiding eye contact possibly relates to stress or anxiety, complemented by nonverbal cues like an endless fidgeting of hand, cracking knuckles, or playing with hair during the interview.

3. Lack of self-confidence or being defensive. This is evident when an applicant speaks softly, reluctantly gives an answer, stammers a lot, or responds with very short answers. On the other hand, an eager beaver is someone who constantly interrupts the interviewer, or is overly critical of his current or past boss or employer. If not, the applicant may appear with folded arms and crossed legs, in a defensive position.

4. Lack of consideration to other people. This is best shown in the applicant’s lack of courtesy to the parking attendant, security guard, the receptionist, or the secretary in the office or to the waiter or waitress, if the job interview is being done in a restaurant. If an applicant snubs the greeting of any of these people, then we have a problem that pertains to one’s lack of social skills.

5. Forgetting about social courtesy. This is related to number four above. Conducting the job interview in a restaurant or hotel gives the hiring manager the best view of a candidate. You can learn a lot about the candidate if he orders the most expensive meal on the menu, or some messy meal like crab or spaghetti, finishes his meal ahead of you, or orders an alcoholic beverage during the interview process.

6. Showing signs of emotional instability. This can happen when a job applicant talks a lot about his political or religious belief, criticizes some government officials, the minority groups (including the LGBT community), badmouths his past or current employers, if not mocks the religion of other people. These topics are inappropriate in a job interview, even if the hiring manager opens up with those topics as a way to break the ice, if not to establish rapport.

7, Disregarding personal health and safety.  Many employers, including those who smoke, prefer a non-smoker over a smoker. I guess this is true even among tobacco manufacturers who admit that smoking is bad for one’s health. This could mean a lot if we are to choose between two candidates on the shortlist. Bolles says 94% of the time, the non-smoker will win, citing a study done at Seattle University.

Even the smartest hiring manager can be easily fooled by dumb job candidates if the former ignores those little things. It is not enough that an applicant must ace the killer questions in an interview process. There are many things that one must consider, including the personality of the applicant. After all, the hiring manager or anyone who makes the ultimate decision to hire will be working with the candidate on a daily basis.

Now, imagine this. Who would want to work with someone with smelly feet?

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Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is the pioneering newspaper advice columnist on total quality and people management issues in the Philippines. His “In the Workplace” column started in BusinessWorld in 1993 and “Beyond Buzzwords”  column in The Manila Times in 2002. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com. 

Image on waiting job applicants is credited to Vcool.com

This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies (est. 1997), organizer of the following cutting-edge management programs. Contact Ricky Mendoza at inquiry@kairos.com.ph or call (632) 846-8951 or mobile 0915-406-3039.

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Career

If you think seniority is right, then you’re perfectly wrong.

Toyota, a major Japanese company (like other Japan-based companies) known for its lifetime employment and seniority system is finally changing its management system. Check this link by Nikkei Asian Review http://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Companies/Toyota-to-revise-pay-for-factory-workers

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Career

To use your talent, you must first realize that you have a talent.

Retired professional boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (b. 1956) was quoted in a speaking engagement at Harvard: “I consider myself blessed. I consider you blessed. We’ve all been blessed with God-given talents. Mine just happens to be beatin’ people up.” Taking it off from Leonard, what could be your talent? Or to put it more clearly — what’s your number one God-given talent?

As a business journalist and kaizen advocate, I often find myself criticizing many acts or omissions of people and organizations. I can’t help but to say my piece no matter who gets hurt. This often contradicts what we learned from our parents — “If you have nothing good to say about others, say nothing at all.” If we heed our parents, then that would be catastrophic to many of us sitting in silence while suffering and revolting inside. If you’re like me who hates mediocrity and dishonesty (among others) being done in the workplace, then what would you do?

Rolf Dobelli, in “The Art of Thinking” (2013) has the best answer: “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” In psychology, this technique is called “framing.” Dobelli illustrates “framing” in the case of a group of researchers presenting a group of consumers with two kinds of meat. One meat is branded as “99 percent fat free,” and the other kind of meat as “1 per cent fat.”

Which type of meat was chosen by the respondents? The first kind — “99 percent fat free” was chosen over “1 percent fat” despite the fact that they mean the same thing. It’s funny, isn’t it?

But that’s what we’re also doing in management consulting. We often refer to problems as “opportunities” or “challenges” rather than something that is too negative for many of us to avoid it like a plague.

2015 is an exciting year for many us to start using “framing.” I’m sure it will be fun and relaxing to think of all the good things in work and family life. If you’re looking for ways to rekindle your relationship with your colleagues and family members, let’s share our talents to others. Then, let them figure out by reading between the lines.

Incidentally, that needs special talent too.

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