Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Archive for January 2011

Responses to Psychic Wins Millions in Lottery Posting

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The response to my last post has been enormous, to the point where I don’t think I will be able to respond to each and every comment or note I have received. But a number of people have sent me links that further explore the premise of the piece and here are a few of the best. Jeff

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/09/11/the-texas-sharpshooter-fallacy/

http://litemind.com/thinking-traps/

http://litemind.com/thinking-traps-2/

 

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 23, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Human Behavior

Psychic Wins Multi-Millions in Lottery

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Everyone and their brother is out there trying to make predictions regarding what will happen in 2011. Will the economy improve, will jobs finally begin to appear, will various wars and conflicts resolve themselves, will I get a promotion, will gasoline prices go up or down, what about the stock market, will Elvis put in an appearance, will I win the lottery, etc.?

“Psychic wins multi-millions in lottery.” I am quite certain I have never seen a headline like that. Have you? So if you were truly psychic would you waste your time doing card tricks in a lab, or spend time predicting another’s future on some side street in a second floor walkup shop or would you go for the gold, so to speak? Why waste time providing services to others if you could truly predict what was going to happen?

Why are hawkers of get rich quick schemes not getting rich on their own schemes, but are getting rich by getting others to buy into their schemes? Was P.T. Barnum right? If I could truly buy foreclosed houses and sell them for tremendous profit, why aren’t you doing that yourself rather than trying to convince me to give you my money for your secret to success?

If genius stock brokers are so good at making money, why do they need my money? Why is it not a full time job just managing all the gobs of money they are making for themselves?

I was doing work for a large Fortune 50 company. They had assembled a cross section of consulting firms to tackle an issue they wanted researched and resolved and I was invited to participate. One of the other consulting firms kept vigorously pressing their solution as the one that would resolve all of the client’s business issues, all they had to do was adopt it and pay them a lot of money. Success was guaranteed. The very large and extremely well known firm that was so strongly promoting their concepts was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. I had to ask, in as gentle way as I could, why weren’t they employing their own magical solution in order to save their own company. I mean if it was good enough for their clients why aren’t they taking their own medicine?

As a teaching assistant in grad school, I had a question posed to me about Nostradamus that has bothered me enough that 30 years later I still remember it. A freshman student asked me if I believed in the teachings of Nostradamus. I immediately responded in the negative without giving it much thought. I knew who Nostradamus was, but my tendency was to dismiss such nonsense out of hand – it was not something I wasted time upon. The student then followed up with “Have you ever read Nostradamus”? I had to answer that “No, I hadn’t.” (I also have not read Scooby Doo or Josie and the Pussycats). Then came the obvious next line – then how can you dismiss it?  I needed to have a more thoughtful reply rather than simply dismissing what to this student was a real belief. I am still kicking myself for not having a better reply handy with perhaps some facts and figures. The issue is that you can’t possibly have facts and figures at hand to reject every charlatan’s claim as there are simply too many charlatans with false claims out there. In order to deal with the flood of claims you need to develop your own heuristics that allow you to evaluate the claims one at a time in a logical fashion.

The bottom line though is that if these kinds of approaches did not work with at least some regularity with people and organizations they would no longer be used. The fact that they are not that hard to find in our day-to-day world means that they do in fact work often enough that the perpetrators of these solutions/hoaxes continue to use them.

There are a few factors that make us susceptible to these come-ons including a human’s tendency towards biases, such as confirmatory bias (accepting only information that confirms your existing beliefs and rejecting information that does not), the bandwagon effect (a desire to go along with the crowd, to fit in by believing what others believe). There is even a bias that you have, which makes you assume that you are less biased than others (well of course you don’t have that bias, only others), along with a host of others. There is also a human tendency to assume intelligent cause of an action. So that noise in the woods is more likely to be assumed to be a bear rather than just the wind, which has obvious survival benefits. And the human tendency to want to believe in higher powers, that someone at the top of the organization (no matter the size) knows what they are doing, can give the fortitude to persevere in the face of adversity. Of course each and every bias which developed because of its survival benefits also has a downside, and can make us susceptible to manipulation by others.

Any researcher, who regularly peers into datasets to read the evidence of what is contained within, must remain cognizant of the potential biasing and other factors that can cause misinterpretation of the evidence at hand. Any decision maker who understands the factors that can influence their decisions, is on a path towards making better decisions. And any person who can evaluate information coming at them from a evidence-based basis is more likely to steer clear of charlatans. Try this next time you walk into a psychic’s shop. When the proprietor asks you what they can do for you, ask them why they don’t already know.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

Nonexistent Differences

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There is an old story from Eastern Europe about a ruler who gathers his advisors around him. A discussion ensued about a dramatic rise in madness among those in the population who consumed grain from the recent harvest. In the manner of many politicians or those with vested interests, the advisors told the ruler that they must put aside enough grain from pervious harvest so that they could preserve their own sanity while those around them went mad. The ruler objected, and using logic possible only among those with the inbred genes of hereditary rulers, stated that since they could not put aside enough grain for everyone, that they too must eat the fungus infected grain, for if everyone else was mad, acting similarly, those others will think us mad if we are different. We must be as mad as everyone else, acting like everyone else, believing in what they believe in order to be considered normal and blend in, to consolidate and not lose our positions of power.

Normal. It is very relative and time specific. Tattoos were once what happened to drunken sailors, piercings were limited to the earlobes of women, listening to rock and roll was going to send you to hell, voyeurism was a mental illness and not promoted on prime-time TV, books were printed on paper and much earlier reading those newfangled books called novels was viewed as immersing oneself in dangerous fantasy worlds, and each and every younger generation has been an enigma to the previous. The only thing certain about what is normal is that it is a moving target and subject to change over time. Trying to hold back the floodgates of change is and should be an exercise in futility. Ideologues, those who support a specific ideology frozen in some past moment, yearning to go back to the way things were are not only tilting at windmills, but are often at the root of much violent, disruptive and nonproductive behavior. However, what one person views as a positive shift in the value set that describes normal, another will view as negative. What is certain is that humanity is not a monolithic entity in our values and beliefs, and whatever “system” is put into place that governs us must be one that allows for those differences to enhance the mosaic of what constitutes humanity.

Are organizations any different? Do myths of what is normal exist within companies? There is a technique I like to use when analyzing an organization’s data. For want of a better name we call it a 9-box. The 9-box takes two questions from an organizational assessment and lays out the all possible responses to each, one along the x-axis and one along the y forming a 3×3 matrix. The 9 cells that are then created contain those responses from people who responded one of 9 different ways to the 2 questions. They could have been favorable on both questions, in which case they would be in the upper left box, they could have been negative on both questions, in which case they would be in the lower right hand box. All the other possible combinations are filled in (Favorable:Neutral, Neutral:Neutral, Negative:Neutral, etc.). Once the matrix has been completed we examine the outcome measure of interest for each cell. How, for instance, do the Favorable:Favorable people fare on turnover or measures of quality, customer satisfaction etc. We contrast that positive cell against the other cells within the matrix.  And then it gets interesting.

We examine the demographic characteristic of the employees within the Positive:Positive cell and compare it against those in the other cells. In every single case where I have done this analysis organizational beliefs are exploded and shown to be myths. For instance it may be thought that the most positive employees within the organization would be the managers and the least positive would be the production workers. But when you examine the demographic breakdowns you typically find very similar percentages of employee types in each of the cells. It is not simply that employees are of different types that accounts for perceptual differences and performance differences within organizations, rather it is how each employee as an individual views their treatment, and that is independent of position and most of the common demographics tracked within organizations.

You see there is a bit of a conundrum at work. While we are free to have different beliefs and values we are all still human and each of us have most of the same hopes and desires as any of our fellow humans. We may all have different fingerprints, but we all have fingerprints. Those issues that arise within organizations that create the new normal, the current conditions in which everyone must function, affect all within the organization and whether they view their own situation in a positive or negative light is driven by a myriad of factors that impinge on them in their organizational existence. Some of those factors are driven by the competence, tone and actions created at the top of the organization, others are more career and personally oriented, others depend on perceptions of how the organization is positioned competitively. In sum, the perceptions of both the organization’s future and one’s personal future matter in determining the attitude and performance of employees of all types.

One thing is certain. You can’t get maximal performance out of all of the employees of an organization by hanging onto myths and false beliefs that emphasize non-existent differences while at the same time ignoring those issues that actually matter.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

2010 blog in review

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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2010. That’s about 31 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 51 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 166 posts. There were 15 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 53mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 20th with 446 views. The most popular post that day was Lazy, Good-for-Nothing Employees.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were linkedin.com, orgvitality.com, twitter.com, and en.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for what makes a good employee, jeffrey saltzman, organizational entropy, may you find what you are looking for, and nebraska gangs.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Lazy, Good-for-Nothing Employees October 2010
2 comments

2

What Makes a Good Employee Survey Question -101 November 2009

3

Employee Attitudes during this Recession June 2010

4

What Makes an Employee Proud? November 2009

5

Organization Entropy November 2009
1 comment

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 2, 2011 at 8:07 am

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