Trouble managing team? Try Resonant Leadership

Here is a small, quick and interesting exercise.

Funny portrait of an angry boss attacking a worker

Think of a name who you classify as BAD boss. Think of a couple of points why you think he/she is a bad boss. Take a deep breath and now think of a GREAT boss you have had in your life and think of a couple of reasons for it.

The best way to do this activity is by closing your eyes.  Happy businessman and many hands with thumbs up. Likes and positive feedback concept

Let’s call the bad boss scenario as situation 1 and great boss scenario as situation 2.

What did you feel? I am sure the images in front of you and the emotions within you must have been very different in situation 1 and situation 2.

The important question is what makes for this difference?

I recently completed an e-learning course by the name ‘Inspiring leadership through emotional intelligence’ by Dr. Richard Boaytzis. The course was offered by Case Western Reserve University Coursera ( The course has many interesting and insightful concepts. One such concept is ‘Resonant Leadership’. Let’s see if Resonant Leadership is one important aspect that creates the difference in situation 1 and 2.

What is resonant leadership?Leading people

Resonant leaders use (i) emotional and social intelligence skills to renew themselves; (ii) they create positive relationships and (iii) they foster a healthy, vibrant environment to engage others towards a common goal.

What words did you mark? Renewal, Positive relationship, Vibrant environment? Now think of the activity you did in the beginning. Was the great leader constantly challenging herself and you? Did she forge a strong positive relationship with you? Did she create engagement towards common goal by building trust, empowerment and a vibrant environment?
What do we do as resonant leaders?

Here is a quick understanding of resonant and dissonant leadership style : Emotional intelligence

Resonant leader (RL) creates feeling of harmony; Dissonant leader (DL) operates more on authority.

RL focusses on team and their development; DL maintains greater social and emotional distance.

RLs are visionaries, coaches, affiliators and exhibit democratic style of leadership; DLs are more commanding and pace-setting.

You can find more details on resonant leadership in a book “The Primal Leader’ written by Daniel Goleman.

Is it possible to develop or enhance resonant leadership?

Experts say we can.  You and I can learn this by observing people who we admire in this area and to whom we have access to. Access will allow us to observe their choice of responses and reactions in various situations. Idea is not to keep evaluating them through any particular frame but to see if we can embrace some of it that suits our personality.

Where and when can we start using it?

The principles or characteristics that we discussed do not require us to be in any particular situation or at a particular leadership position. We can start using it wherever we are by demonstrating it with people who we are presently dealing with.

What I understood from the course is that resonant leadership is not a ‘technique’ but a way of life.

It will be fun to consciously try and embrace the new change.

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Why do we choose chocolate over fruits when under stress?

Do you choose chocolates over fruits when project deadline approaches?

Let’s see some situations.

Situation 1: Its 28 of the month. You are at 70% achievement of your targets. You are pressing all buttons to ensure you do not miss the 100% achievement mark.

Situation 2: You are in-charge of an important project. You are one week away from the final delivery date and your team just stress in ufficioidentifies a major problem that needs a fix. You cannot miss the deadline and you know a week’s time is not enough to fix the issue.

Situation 3: You are responsible for an important presentation to be given to senior management scheduled 3 days later. You realise that you just received data from 2 teams out of 5 for the presentation. You are unlikely to get the data from 2 teams in the next 2 days. Your supervisor wants to see the presentation the next day.

In all of the above or any other situation like this, have you noticed your eating preferences? Do they differ than the usual choices you make when you are more relaxed?

If there is a difference, you will find it interesting to read the below experiment to know the reason.

Baba Shiv a professor at Stanford University and Sasha Fedorikhin a professor at Indiana University examined an idea that people fall into temptation more frequently when the part of their brain that is in charge of deliberative thinking is otherwise occupied.

Their experiment went something like this.

They divided participants into two groups. Members of group 1 were asked to remember a two digit number (like 62). Members of group 2 were asked to remember a seven digit number (say 3278651).

What the participants were required to do is this. Remember the number (2 digits for group 1 and 7 digits for group 2) that was Brain and a question markflashed on the screen; walk down to the other end of the corridor and share the memorised number to the other experimenter who was waiting for them. There were no rewards if they didn’t remember the number.

Here is the twist in the experiment that they did.

As the participants walked towards the other end of the corridor, they unexpectedly passed by the cart that displayed two items. (1) Rich, dark chocolate cake and (2) Bowls of colourful, healthy looking fruit.

As the participants passed by the cart, another experimenter told them that once they go to the other room and recite their number, they could have one of the two snacks – but they had to make their decision right then, at the cart.

The participants made their choice, received the slip of their choice, went to the other room and shared the number with the experimenter in the room.

The findings of this experiment are interesting.

In Group 1 who had less strain remembering the two digit number, more participants made fruit bowl as their choice. More participants in Group 2 who had higher strain of remembering 7 digits made dark chocolate cake as their choice.

Prof. Baba and Prof. Sasha’s experiment showed that when our deliberative reasoning ability is occupied our impulsive system gains more control over our behaviour.

So what do we do?

Some of us would still be happy eating chocolate cake over fruit plate.Iif it is an outcome of a deliberative reasoning, all the more better.

Here are a couple of steps expert recommend while exercising the choice(s).

  1. 1. When confronted with a distraction (unexpected Cart in the experiment), take a step back.
  2. 2. Take two to three deep breathes.
  3. 3. Then make your choice.

Well after writing this blog I am feeling a little stressed hence signing off to have my plate of rich, dark chocolate cake…. 🙂

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Afraid of something? Guided Mastery can help.

Imagine this. You are with a group of friends having good time. Suddenly you see a snake around. What would you do? The obvious response is that most of us would get panicked.  Fear will grip us during that moment. By the way even if it is not a Afraidsudden moment with reference to snakes, most of us would still fear dealing with the situation.

Like the snake situation, there are some areas in our personal and professional life where we have similar fears.

So is there a method that can help us overcome or reduce these anxieties or fears?

Guided Mastery :

Famous psychologist Albert Bandura used a method way back in 1969 that helped people overcome snake phobia in just 45 Albert Banduraminutes. He would later call this method the ‘Guiding Mastery’. What the participants did was this:

  1. They would watch through a 1 way mirror while the experimenter interacted with the snake.
  2. When the snake went back to the glass cage, the participants would sit in a room and watch the experimenter deal with the snake for some more time. Participants were allowed to use their own pace to get comfortable with the situation.Guidance
  3. Gradually the experimenter would model more interactions with snake and encourage the participants do the same.

This process helped the participants overcome their apprehensions and fear. Of all the methods Bandura tested, this method produced lasting results for the participants. Their success in gradually overcoming the fear of snakes has helped them build greater confidence in overcoming the other problems they faced in life.

Guided Mastery @ Work :

What if you and I choose not to go to snake park and have an immersion experience with snakes to build confidence in work related areas?. Areas like sharing our point of view in meetings or giving presentations to seniors or dealing with difficult stake holders or anything for that matter.

Here is what Albert Bandura quotes:

Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling from others.”

Through keen observation; effective modeling methods; using step by step approach and committing ourselves to regular practice it is possible to overcome anxiety and build confidence gradually.

So here is a recap of steps:

  • Observe and model the behavior of the person who is successfully dealing with the situation where you wish to build your strength.
  • Break the learning into chunks. This means break it into tasks and sub-tasks. To give a cricketing analogy, perfecting Cricket shotone shot at a time.
  • If possible ask the person who you are observing and modeling to jointly do the task with you for your better comfort.
  • Perform the feared activity for smaller duration initially and gradually increase the time span.
  • Build regularity in your practice.

Try these steps with something that you always wanted to overcome and share your experience if it works for you.

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Is adult learning different than child learning?

I witnessed an interesting situation recently. When I went to my friend Gopal’s house a couple of weekends back, I saw Gopal who is in late 30s and his 8 year old daughter Saumya studying together. If you are thinking Gopal must be teaching Saumya then you are mistaken as I was initially. They were studying for their respective examinations. Saumya was studying for her standard III exams and Gopal for some professional examination.Adult learning

“Children are far more disciplined in in classroom studies compared to adults” said Gopal citing his classroom experience that he recently attended for exam preparation. “If Saumya is told to learn something, she will do it without wanting to know why and how”.  I found Gopal’s observations interesting since in a way we were talking about the different styles or ways in which adults learn compared to children.

Since the learning doesn’t stop for you and me, these 5 principles may help us understand and appreciate differences betw

  • Concept of Self :

As we mature, we move from being a dependent individual to an independent personality. This independence inculcates within us a feeling of being a self-directed individual. So unlike children, we have our preferences of ourSelf concept learning.

So what changes with this transformation? We will not learn something just because someone tells us to do so. We will only pay attention if we are involved in the process. We want to be in control of our learning.

  • Readiness to learn :

You and I would be willing to learn if it fits the preferences we have. By preferences I mean if the learning is aligned to the developmental or social roles, the concept can draw our attention fast.Readiness to learn

With multiple roles and responsibilities that we play, one thing that we want to use judiciously is Time. Hence we will be ready to learn if it fits into our scheme of things.

  • Experience :

As we traverse the journey of life, we accumulate experiences. These experiences become the rich source of our Experiencelearning. Hence for any new concept or method that we wish to learn, if that is associated with some experience of ours, we are able to remember, retain and apply it faster.

Application :

A change in the perspective from – ‘I will check the application later to I want to apply it now’.

When we learn as children, we do not feel the need or urgency to apply the learned concepts immediately. However as adults, we have this as one important requirement. We want to test and check if the newly learned concept can be applied in our life/context or not. We are problem centered or problem solvers. We want to know why we are learning a particular thing.

Motivation to learning :

Motivation for us to learn is very different than that of our children.

We will learn if we are interested in that topic. We Motivation to learnwill learn to meet external expectations like requirement to upgrade skills and knowledge for Job, business etc. We will learn for professional advancement. We will learn to build and strengthen relationship.

So Gopal will have to understand that the ‘what’ and ‘why’ for him is going to be very different than that of Saumya.

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What is design thinking and is it for you and me?

Thinking like a designer can transform the way you design products, services, processes – and even strategy – Tim Brown

Newspapers are abuzz with the term ‘design thinking’ these days. In fact they may have written about it earlier, however it caught my attention recently when a big corporation decided that most of its staff be trained on ‘design thinking’. It kind of intrigued me and filled me with some questions. Why would an Organisation insist on design thinking?  Is design thinking for all? Can you and I inculcate it? Can it help us improve something (like efficiency) or reduce something (like cost or time)?  Can we follow it in our daily routine? Does design thinking require me to have some special skills like drawing?

The final question of drawing scared me. My school teacher would have got equally scared because neither I nor he could ever recognise what I drew in my class.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result.Slide1

In this regard it is a form of solution-based or solution-focused thinking – starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. By considering both present and future conditions and parameters of the problem, alternative solutions may be explored simultaneously.

I followed a couple of key words: Solution focused thinking; better future.

I could instantly see some applications. If it helps build solution centric mind-set and takes into account current and future scenarios, it can be used by all of us irrespective of the work that we do.

Does it follow any process?

There has been dichotomy on the thinking process scientists follow and the one designer follows. Some say scientists follow analysis (to loosen up) and designers follow synthesis (to put together) methods of thinking. Authorities in design thinking David Kelly and Tim Brown argue that design thinking uses both analysis and synthesis.

The seven steps of design thinking:

Design thinking process

One version of the design thinking process suggests seven stages: (i) define; (ii) research; (iii) ideate; (iv) prototype; (v) choose; (vi) implement and (vii) learn.

These steps encourage an individual and teams to frame the problem, ask the right questions, have more ideas and arrive at best answers.

Common traits shared in design thinking:

Here are some traits that are often seen common in design thinkers.

Creativity : They use imagination and ideas to create something.

Ambidextrous thinking : They are able to use left brain (Logic) and right brain (Creative).Empathy

User centeredness (Empathy) : They develop the ability to understand and share the feeling of others.Curiosity

Curiosity : They display a strong desire to know or learn something.

Optimism : They consistently have the hope and confidence about the future.

Do we have these skills? While you may want to do some self-assessment and soul searching,  I think each one of us have these skills. The degree may vary. A conscious awareness and finding opportunity in our daily routine can help us improve upon these skills further.

If the team is able to demonstrate these skills than managing projects, achieving breakthroughs and advancing at a speed better than the competition are some of the fascinating outcomes for the Organisation and perhaps much more.

No wonder why this big software Organisation finds deeper value and insists on having most of its staff trained on design thinking.

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Can we make changes and sustain them – Part 2

Can the New Year resolution this time last longer than it ever did? Can the weight management program sustain till the time the desired weight is achieved? Can the financial savings and investments discipline be better than ever before?

Can we make these changes? Can we sustain the decisions or resolutions?

We are figuring out whether changes are possible. Whether we can break old habits and form new ones that will elevate us to the level we desire and deserve.

In the previous blog (Can we make changes and sustain them too? – Part 1) I spoke about three powerful steps for forming new habits.

There is a famous dialogue in the Hindi movie ‘Wanted’. The dialogue goes something like this. “Ek bar jo maine commitment kar di, uske baad main apne aap ki bhi nahi sunta’ (Once I make any commitment then I don’t listen even to myself).

I think our brain has many characteristics of this dialogue. That is where breaking old habits and forming new habits becomes challenging.

Every habit starts with the psychological pattern called as ‘Habit Loop’. This is a three part process.

1.  The cue or a trigger:

This part of the habit loop tells our brain to go into automatic mode and let a behaviour unfold.

  1. The routine: 

This is the behaviour itself. When we talk about habits, we are generally talking about this part of the habit loop.

  1. Reward:

Something that our brain likes about the behaviour that helps it remember the ‘habit loop’ in future.

Now the question is if this is how habits are formed is it possible to break unwanted habits and acquire or inculcate the desired habits?


I am sure we all have seen sometime or the other our friend transform completely. Be it weight loss, more energy, more passion for the purpose, new and efficient habits et al. We wonder about the speed of transformation of an individual.

My friend Tony who is a pilot with a private airline company is one such person I have seen. He says he has been using Rocket‘rocket philosophy’ to form new habits. A rocket requires tremendous energy while taking off and reach lower orbit of earth.

Habits are like that. We need maximum energy to form new habits initially.

I still had two questions.

  1. How many days of deliberate efforts are required before the habit gets into routine?
  1. What is the guarantee that we will not come back to the earlier habit?

Many experts have suggested repeating the new behaviour for 21 days. It’s painful to get up early morning. It requires lot of effort to go to gym and take that first step. We all have tried these things. And we all have reverted to the earlier habit.

Tony says it’s not a straight line thing. It’s not a cookie cutter kind of a solution. You will have a tendency to come back to the earlier pattern. That’s easy for the brain. Effortless.

He says he uses another method called as ‘flight height’. What is it I asked? At lower altitudes you need Flightmore power to run an aircraft and vice versa. Whenever you see the new habits losing steam, you apply more mental thrust and sustain the habit.

Tony’s advice sounds like a great combination. A conscious understanding that we need tremendous and commitment to alter habits. Second, whenever we see a drop or inconsistent behavior for the new habits, applying more thrust to sustain and build consistency.

Let me know if ‘rocket philosophy’ and ‘flight height’ has helped you acquire a long desired new habit.

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Can we make changes fast? And sustain them too?? – Part 1

Can we make changes fast? And sustain them too??


Can we make changes fast and sustain them too? The question is do we want to? Isn’t the current living better? Well, if you have answered this question earlier and have told yourself that changes are required than the next question is that is there a mechanism or science that will allow us to change fast and sustain these changes?

It is a generally held belief that whatever comes fast goes fast. Whatever changes that happen fast do not sustain for long. Classic example is our weight. Usually it is said that if you lose weight fast, we will have a tendency of regaining it equally fastSpeed of changeer. In short, if any changes that we try to make are faster than the ‘required’ time, the assumption is that it will not sustain.

My experience and discussions with experts in the field of Performance coaching; medicine; health etc. suggest that speed of change and sustainability can be directly proportional. In other words we can make changes faster and even sustain them.

So does this mean that we can lose weight fast? Does this mean that we can speak in front of a group without problems, faster than we thought? Does this mean that we can effortlessly connect with people? Does this mean we can transition to be good managers from being an individual worker/contributor? Does this mean we can be great leaders from being good managers?

The answer according to experts is a big YES.

Has someone done it earlier?

Few years back, I used to do a small television program for a local cable channel. The purpose of this program was to interview people from all walks of life and get  the answers broadly to these two questions.

  1. What is the secret(s) of their success?Defining a problem
  2. How did they go about acquiring the mind-set that led to this success?

In this blog I deal with some of the responses that I got to question 2. How did they go about acquiring the mind-set that led to this success?

One of the respondents Nikhil attributed this change to something he calls the ‘Switch’. He shared with us that he was thinking of a change for some time so intensely that one day something ‘switched’ in his mind and he acquired the trait much faster.

Yogita said she has applied the power of two forces to make the changes fast. The two forces she says are ‘Pain’ and ‘Pleasure’ she read these concepts in a book ‘Awaken the giant within’ by Anthony Robbins. She said she associated intense pain to not changing what she wanted to and associating immense pleasure with the changes she was going to make. Every day Yogita reminded this to herself and that according to her fuelled the changes faster than she expected.

Here are the 3 golden rules that experts suggest for changing or acquiring new habits.

  1. Cue: Trigger for an automatic behaviour to start
  2. Routine : The behaviour
  3. Reward : The way in which the brain remembers the new pattern in future

We will talk about more on Cue, Routine and Reward later.

We have spoken about 3 things here. “Switch’; ‘Pain-Pleasure’ principle and ‘3 golden rules of habit change’.

Now the bigger question. Can we use these principles to fast forward the changes we aspire for?

Well, it depends.

  1. Depends on whether we have identified and articulated sharply what we intend to change.
  1. Depends on how deeply we want to believe in ‘Switch’; ‘Pain – Pleasure’ and 3 golden rules of habit change’ principles.
  1. Depends on how interested we are to take action around these principles.
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Are these 1940 selling principles still relevant?

“The best salespeople do not ‘sell’ – they find out what the other person wants and then help them find the best way to get it” said Frank Bettger. The question is who is Frank Bettger and why should you and I bother listening to his advice on selling?Frank Bettger

I recently came across a piece of information on Frank Bettger. An injury in the arm of this baseball player ended his sporting career. So he started cycling and collecting installments for a furniture company in his hometown Philadelphia.

A restless sports person that he was, he soon got fed up of this and decided to try his hands on selling life insurance. He miserably failed and almost decided that he was ‘never cut out to be a salesman’.

So what happened due to which he became and remained one of the best sales people consistently for 20 years during 1940s? Are there any principles that he followed and became so successful? Importantly, do these principles distilled through his experiences still hold true?

The Inspiration:Inspiration

During his baseball stint Bettger was once dropped for being too laid back. His coach told him that he lacked ‘enthusiasm’. This feedback was enough for Bettger to double up his enthusiasm in his new team. He became one of the best players in the team. The news reporters nicknamed him ‘Pep’ Bettger. Latter in his career as a sales person, speaker, and writer he used this seemingly simple formula of being enthusiastic with his assignments. He also met a successful salesman and took his advice to read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. He realized that Franklin’s method of asking ‘key’ questions might work with selling policies. He tried it, it worked, and Bettger began to perfect this technique with great enthusiasm.

Being enthusiastic and the ability to ask key questions have helped him become the star performer consistently.

Now the important question is that is it possible for us to inculcate enthusiasm?

Gaining enthusiasm:

Conventional wisdom suggests that we get enthusiastic when we achieve success at something – that is result first, feeling of that result (success) later. Harvard philosopher William James had a different observation. He says your act can create the feeling. That is, we can get excited about something simply by thinking and acting excited about it.Enthusiasm

My colleagues tried this concept. Some came back with the view that this is an externally induced phenomenon and does not last long. Some of them had a different point of view. They said if you remain consistent at it, it can become a habit and you no longer need it induced externally. It becomes your second nature.

So if your demeanor is not something that exhibits enthusiasm naturally, you may want to try the above method and check it out for yourself.

Timeless principles:Timeless

Frank Bettger has written about the principles that led to him becoming one of the successful sales professionals of his time. Here are a few for your reference.

  1. Forget witty conversations, be a good listener instead.
  2. Invest in increasing your knowledge of your own industry. You can’t afford not to.
  3. Use witness (satisfied clients) to sell products/services to the new clients.
  4. Prepare properly before meeting the client.
  5. Self-discipline, determination and courage will serve you well in sales and any other field.

These may appear simple and bit preachy however if your role is to persuade others to buy a product or a service or an idea, these principles will hold true even in today’s context.

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Is Heuristics misleading your Judgment?

I recollect a poem during my school days where the little girl finds it difficult to remember 6 multiplied by 9 while learning the table of 6. So she creates a mental shortcut and says 6 multiplied by 9 is ‘doll’. And assigns 54 to a doll. During exams she remembers ‘doll’ and forgets 54.

Misleading judgments

Does this happen to you and me? We try to use mental shortcuts basis our experience and some-times they go wrong.

Here is a small and interesting situation for you to solve. And you just have 10 seconds to solve it.

A bat & a ball costs Rs. 110


Bat costs Rs. 100 more than the ball


How much does the ball cost?

What answer did you give? Mostly it must have been Rs. 10/-.

So what happened when we were arriving at this answer?. There is some mental calculation we did, used some shortcuts basis our previous learning and experience and arrived at a solution, right?

An easy puzzle that evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing and wrong.

Check again. The right answer is Rs. 5/-.

Note: I converted the original example into Indian rupees. The original example is $ 1.10 used by noble laureate (Economics) Dr. Daniel Kahneman & Shane Fredrick while working on theory of judgment.

Here are some more situations:

  • Wife gets a dress for her and asks her husband to guess the price. If the husband quotes the price that is higher than the purchase price, he had it. He needs to be smart enough to tell the price lower than the purchase price and get dumbed at a smart bargain the wife made while buying the dress. This by the way can be a good secret for a happy married life!!!
  • Do you feel purchasing more onions and tomatoes when their supply shortens and the prices go up?Pricing gimmick
  • If you invest in stock market, does it happen to you that when the prices of shares start moving up, you tend to buy more?
  • Have you splurged money in the mall due the irresistible offer(s) (never before; never after types) and got reprimanded even from your little daughter for the childish behaviour?

If all of it or some of it is true, welcome to Heuristics.

Heuristics are simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgments and to make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others.

Put in other words Heuristics (Greek word meaning ‘to discover’) is an approach to problem solving that takes one’s personal Heuristics and biasesexperience into account.

Heuristic conclusions are faster and speedier since they are based on your experiences but they may not be accurate. These rules work well in most of the cases but can lead to systematic errors as we have seen with the bat & ball example earlier.

Heuristics has found applications in many fields. One of them is behavioural finance or behavioural economics.

Did you notice that Rs.799/- shirt or a she appeared costing much lesser than Rs. 800/-?  Many companies have since long used this method to draw attention and improve sales.

In 2008, researcBargain sale - 9.99hers at the University of Southern Brittany monitored a local pizza restaurant that was serving 5 types of pizzas at €8 each. When one of the pizzas was reduced to the price of € 7.99, its share of sales rose from one third of total sale to half of the total sale. Dropping the price by one cent, an insignificant amount in monetary terms, was enough to influence customers’ decisions dramatically.

The dilemma of slow versus fast:

It is exciting to use intuition while making decisions. It is exciting because it allows us to access the experience of the past and basis that jump to conclusions. It’s fast. It allows us eliminate steps. Thinking fast and slowThe other side of it is that it can also be misleading.

Hence classifying the activities is imperative. For some activities we can take faster decisions basis our experience but with a preparedness of margin of error. Dr. Daniel Kahneman calls this the system 1 thinking. For the other activities or decisions a slow, deliberate, thinking mode can be used. Even if it means more efforts and relatively longer time. Dr. Daniel Kahneman calls this as System 2 thinking.

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Are we victim of Dunning-Kruger effect?

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision”

– Bertrand Russell, The Triumph of Stupidity

Visualise this. You are in a meeting. You are well conversant with the subject of the meeting. The Bla bla bla 1meeting starts and you realize that someone who partially knows the subject or does not know the subject is speaking a lot on the subject. You wonder what’s happening and where the meeting is headed.

Sounds familiar?  Whether its Office meetings, society meetings or community meetings, we come across such situations.

Person with the knowledge of the subject is many a time in dilemma regarding the completeness and correctness of her information and hence prefers to remain silent. Someone who has lesser understanding or no knowledge goes on to speak, and quite confidently.

“Empty vessels make the greatest/loudest noise/sound”, is what we recall and solace ourselves during such moments.

Why does this happen?

This phenomenon is called the Dunning–Kruger effect. The phenomenon was first tested in a series of experiments by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University. Hence the name.

This phenomenon occurs when people fail to adequately assess or recognise their level of competence or specifically their Incompetence. The inability to assess Dunning-Kruger effector recognise this incompetence deprives them from critically examining or analyzing their performance. This leads to people making significant overestimation about them.

Does the inverse of it true? According to Dunning and Kruger it is. Competent people tend to underestimate their ability compared to others. The duo calls this the imposter syndrome. The more knowledge or skill the person has the higher is the feeling she gets of how ignorant she is. While this may keep the person grounded and committed to the subject, sometimes this feeling does not allow making adequate and forceful representation at forums.

For the incompetently confident person, Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:Illustion of knowledge

  • fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  • fail to recognize genuine skill in others
  • fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
  • recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill

What can we do as individuals?

Besides taking the professional certifications that may be the threshold requirement to do a particular job or a project, I have seen many of my friends and colleagues use an appropriate self-assessment method. They periodically use it to check if they are getting into the trap of less than adequate skills but an overestimated self-perception and vice versa.

Here are some of the methods they use that may help you and me.

  • They benchmark with someone who is very good at the skill they want to acquire and constantly check the progress against the benchmark.
  • They have trusted confidants who can show them the mirror.
  • They show openness to feedback (Formal and informal) from family, friends and colleagues and show agility to work upon the feedback.
  • They endeavor to build awareness about their strength and use it when required.

Do let me know if this information and awareness has helped you in your journey of personal effectiveness.

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