What’s your judgement like?

February 23, 2013

People AnswersOne of the critical things about making a decision is to have enough information to make a proper judgement. To do this a person needs to be able to identify the gaps in their knowledge, to fill them, and then to come to a sensible conclusion.

Someone who does not see that there are gaps, or who jumps to a conclusion with too little (or inaccurate) information can blindly make decisions without realising what is missing or unclear. What this amounts to is that for judgement and decision making there are four basic types of people:

Over-confident: This is someone who has high confidence in their judgements even when their thinking is faulty. They believe that it’s better to make a decision, even if it’s the wrong one!

Development point: The positive side is that over-confident people take the initiative and get on with life. However they do need to ‘take five’ and learn to recognise when more information is needed. It’s all about thinking before acting!

Animal: The over-confident person is like a Cobra – quick and decisive, but not always hitting the right target.

Under-confident: This is the sort of person who generally has no confidence in their judgement and decision making, even when they’re right. They often find it difficult to get ‘off-the-fence’ because they believe they’re going to jump the wrong way.

Development point: The positive side is not ending up in tricky situations just because they haven’t thought things through properly. However this may end up in no action at all; so to move on someone needs to force themselves to make decisions in low-risk situations, just to recognise that the sky doesn’t necessarily always fall in!

Animal: The under-confident person is like a Gazelle – bouncing around trying to decide what to do, and never quite making their mind up.

Accurate: This is the sort of character who reads situations with confidence, and knows when they’re getting things right or wrong. They have the savvy to check the signs and know if they are taking a risk.

Development point: This person is on the button and has got decision making pretty well organised.

Animal: The accurate person is like a Fox – weighing up the situation, balancing the risks, and picking their battles.

Inaccurate: This is someone who charges at things and gets most decisions the wrong way round. They are not confident when they’re getting things right, and over-confident when they’re getting stuff wrong.

Development point: The good news is that this person wants to do things, it’s just that they have a habit of getting everything upside down. A bit like the Cobra this person really needs to think before acting, in fact they need to think, and think again before acting!

Animal: The inaccurate person is like a Bull – enthusiastically charging backwards and forwards, but tending to put their foot in it.


What sort of an animal are you?


1. How do you feel when you have to make a snap decision?

A Energised – It’s better to make a decision than no decision at all

B Decidedly queasy – I don’t like having to make a decision

C Confident – I’m pretty good at weighing things up quickly

D Resigned – I’m famous for making the wrong decision.


2. When deciding between a number of options, do you…

A Pick one and stick with it, even if it turns out not to be the best

B Want more and more information (you can never have too much)

C Dispassionately check out the options and move on

D Home in on the wrong one like a guided missile?


3. If you haven’t got enough information, how do you decide what to do?

A Gut instinct

B I can’t decide (you just said there isn’t enough information!)

C Go with what I calculate is the best bet

D Pick anything – it’ll all go pear shaped anyway.


4. You’re going to make an expensive purchase in a shop, do you…

A Just go in and buy it

B Come over all uncertain

C Check that it’s what you want, and then buy it

D Feel like you’re about to make another costly mistake?


5. It all goes horribly wrong, what do you do next time?

A Exactly the same!

B Nothing (there isn’t going to be a next time)

C Better research

D Take a lucky rabbit’s foot.


6. What’s happening in your head when making a really BIG decision?

A Surprisingly little

B A Headache

C A meticulous balancing of the pros and cons

D A feeling of déjà vu (and not a pleasant one!)


7. You have a number of things to do, how do you decide where to begin?

A First on the list

B Definitely look at the list, but it won’t be nearly long enough

C The most important thing on the list

D Gave up using lists years ago.


8. How would your best friend describe your judgement?

A Shoots wildly from the hip

B Never gets his gun out

C Hits the target, every time

D Judgement, what judgement?


Mostly A = Over-confident (Cobra)

Mostly B = Under-confident (Gazelle)

Mostly C = Accurate (Fox)

Mostly D = Inaccurate (Bull)


Note: This is a fun questionnaire! However it is based on sound research and I wrote it for a magazine a couple of years ago.

Thought patterns of success

May 1, 2012

“When you go from feeling energized, excited and in control of your work to feeling an overwhelming compulsion to achieve and produce, you’ve tipped from helpful harmonious passion into harmful obsessive passion.” Read this interesting HBR article on how to remedy the situation from Elizabeth Grace Saunders:


Brain myths #1: You only use 10% of your brain

January 25, 2011

The brain is an amazing thing and can do amazing stuff. However, and I hate to disappoint you, we do know what all the bits do. There isn’t some hidden part, which if only you could activate it, would give you super powers: super memory, super intelligence, or indeed super anything. This is of course in direct contradiction to the common belief that we only use a fraction of our brains, maybe only 10%. So where did the myth come from? One of the main suspects is the great American psychologist William James who believed that we all had ‘reserve energy’ – a bit of extra brain oomph that we could tap into if only we knew how. The other, and perhaps more credible explanation, is that early on researchers discovered that just 10% of neurons were firing at any given time. Thus it seemed that only 10% were in use, which of course isn’t the case. Even when you’re asleep or day dreaming the brain is busily and actively doing its thing. Whatever the explanation, and of course it is possible to increase the efficiency of the brain, New Age hopes of tapping a great reserve of potential, and coming over all super human, appear to be unfounded.

Silo thinking: always a bad thing?

January 12, 2011

Silo thinking, silo working, silo vision, silo mentality… I expect if you’re a consultant you’ve said rude things about silos, or the apparent lack of communication, cooperation and understanding between the various bits of organisations – those units, departments and fiefdoms that seem to do what they like, when they like. And I bet that you’ve banged on, given the opportunity, about the joined up benefits of ‘systems’ thinking, and nodded sagely when people have talked of the Fifth Discipline. Because let’s face it, the ‘silo’ word only seems to have negative connotations. But is this right? I’m changing my mind because I think silos often represent the USP of an organisation. That’s not to say that they’re always healthy, or indeed constructive, but you take them apart at your peril. And one guy I think has something useful to say on the subject is Venkatesh Rao (Venkat). Try this piece on his Ribbonfarm blog:


Photo credit: Dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Neuro-linguistic Programming

December 4, 2010

I was waiting at a railway station recently and wandered into the bookshop. What struck me when I got to the ‘management’ section was the number of books on Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP is an interesting (and highly successful) phenomenon that brings together elements of linguistics, behaviour modification, hypnosis and many other things besides. Popularised by Richard Bandler and John Grinder it seems to offer a quick and powerful way of understanding the link between the unconscious mind, language and behaviour; and to provide a channel for breaking out of learned patterns and of modelling successful behaviour, so increasing personal effectiveness. And make no mistake it is now big business, and is widely used not only for personal development, but extensively in management training, coaching and sales.

Despite its undoubted popularity it remains a controversial set of techniques, in particular when it’s used in a sales context. To take an example: consider what happens when you ask a person to do something and they respond by saying: ‘I can’t make that decision now.’ Obviously they are being resistant, but why?

NLP suggests that you try to spot which bit of the response is given the most emphasis, so if it’s on ‘now’, the problem is with the timing; on ‘that’, the issue is with what the person is being asked to do; on ‘make’, that they may not have the capability to make the decision; on ‘can’t’, that they don’t believe they can do it; and finally, on ‘I’, that it’s something ‘I’ cannot do. This is all fine and dandy and if it was proven to work it would be a really fantastic sales technique, as it would allow you to zero in on the real block to action. However the issue that bedevils NLP is that there is no empirical evidence that supports its effectiveness. Yes, there’s lots of anecdotal stuff but the hard science is missing. This also goes for the other bit of NLP that most people remember: the link between the movement of the eyes and the part of the brain that is being accessed. For example, eyes down and to the right, a person is being asked something about their feelings.

So what? Well, I cannot say for certain that all of the techniques that comprise NLP do not work. There may well be useful bits. However it has been enormously over sold, in particular on the back of its apparently science-based credentials – which it does not have. More to the point it doesn’t feature in mainstream psychology texts and is not taught on psychology degree courses. So perhaps in the words of Douglas Adams: ‘If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.’ The bottom line is that it doesn’t hold up as a coherent approach, and almost certainly is just too good to be true.

Note: There’s much on the Internet both for and against NLP. However if you’re interested in a more scientific view of the area, try Martin Heap’s website.

Ask the elf for a sword!

October 27, 2010

Do you remember those computer games that were around in the 1980s? They were text-based, fantasy-like things. I spent many a happy hour slowing down the mainframe ‘looking’ for stuff in a room I couldn’t see, talking to creatures that weren’t there. But, as I have recently been reminded (see link below), this sort of scenario might actually make a good ‘aptitude’ test, especially since  it’s now easier to log what people do and to categorise it. I can envisage a business vignette (no elves this time) in which the system monitors the type and quantity of information you seek, the sort of logic you use, any over-riding strategies that appear to govern your behaviour etc – in essence a fusion between traditional psychometrics and what are sometimes called ‘management flight simulators’.


First impressions count (literally)

October 5, 2010

It looks like first impressions are all about ‘what’s in it for me’. Those pesky neuroscientists have been at it again and have identified two areas of the brain that fire up when we’re dealing with impression-relevant information. They are the amygdala, which seems to have a hand in all sorts of stuff, but this time it’s to do with trust; and the posterior cingulate cortex, which is your very own internal accountant, concerned with economic decision-making and the evaluation of rewards. The upshot is that before someone has even had a chance to sneeze you’ve checked out whether they are of value to you. A bit depressing isn’t it? However it might help to explain social climbing…

Want it straight from the horse’s mouth?  Here’s the reference:

Schiller, D., Freeman, J.B., Mitchell, J.P, Uleman, J.S. & Phelps, A. (2009). A Neural Mechanism of First Impressions. Nature Neuroscience, 12, pp. 508-514.

Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Monty Hall problem

July 28, 2010

I seem to have started something with all this talk of probability, risk and such (see my previous Aardvark post), and a number of people have asked me for another counter-intuitive probability puzzle. Well perhaps the most baffling is the Monty Hall problem. This is based on a game show where a contestant is faced with three doors. Behind two of the doors are goats; behind the third is a car – the star prize. The contestant is asked to pick a door, but before it’s opened, the host, who knows what is behind each of the doors, opens one of the other doors to reveal a goat. The contestant is then asked if they want to change their mind about the door they want to open. What’s the best thing to do? Most people reason that since it’s now down to two doors, which looks like a 50% chance of winning the car (after-all, it must be behind one of the doors), there’s no point in changing. Wrong! Changing actually increases your chance of winning to 66.6%. Why? Have a good think about it and when you want to know the answer just search for the Monty Hall problem on Google… the whole thing has become strangely controversial!

Sometimes maths isn’t the answer

July 9, 2010

What’s interesting about this number: 8,549,176,320?

PS. And it’s not that it contains all the numbers between 0 and 9.

Help! My mind’s in default mode

June 22, 2010

It seems that your brain’s ‘factory setting’ is that of believing  what you see, hear, touch, feel etc. This means that believing is not a two-stage process, that of taking in some information and then deciding whether to believe it or not (armchair philosopher’s will recognise this as the position of Descartes), but more or less a single act (like that proposed by the other big name philosopher of the 17th Century, Spinoza). Understanding and believing are the same thing.  So what? Well what this means is that a fraction of a second after, for example, reading something, you believe it until something or someone tries to change your mind. And perhaps this helps to explain a whole raft of behaviours such as people assuming that others are telling the truth, even when they are lying; or that when someone is distracted it increases the persuasiveness of an argument. It seems that it really is: ‘believe first, ask questions later’. This has all sorts of implications for how we get people to do things and maybe even free speech.

Need some more convincing! Read: Gilbert, D.T., Tafarodi, R.W. and Malone, P.S. (1993). You Can’t Not Believe Everything You Read. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), pp. 221-33.


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