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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Problem-solving

Reflection is the first active step to know there’s a problem.

One morning on a street corner, there’s a small boy holding a mirror in his hand, reflecting the light of the sun toward a house and centering the bright spot on one of the windows. “What are you doing?” asked a passerby.

“My brother is sick in that house,” said the little boy, and “since the sun never enters his room, I was trying to reflect a little of it in there with this mirror.”

Do you have a regular reflection time? And how are you doing with your reflection time?

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Problem-solving

If you think there’s no problem, then you’re part of the problem.

This Elbonomics is a derivative of Taiichi Ohno’s “no problem is a problem.” If you and your people are wont to say there’s no problem, then you don’t know the letter and spirit behind kaizen (continuous improvement). If you don’t know it yet, kaizen is a solution looking for problems to solve.

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