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Weekly 3: Seeing what's hidden

Summary: Praise the boring but effective manager. Search for the real cause. Don't settle for the mos

Idea Journal Weekly 3

April 19 · Issue #135 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Praise the boring but effective manager. Search for the real cause. Don’t settle for the most obvious options. (~4 min read)

#1. The incompetent manager is more obvious than the effective one
Author and researcher Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA that “absence blindness is a cognitive bias that prevents us from identifying what we can’t observe.” 
Our perceptual abilities evolved to detect objects in our environment. It’s much more difficult for us to notice what’s missing.
Effective management is an example of absence blindness. 
As Kaufman puts it: “The hallmark of an effective manager is anticipating likely issues and resolving them in advance, before they become an issue.”
Some of the best managers look like they’re not doing much, but everything gets done on time and under budget. 
You don’t see all of the bad things that a great manager prevents
Absence blindness makes that prevention grossly under-appreciated. One result is that great management is often unrewarded.
On the other hand, less skilled managers are more likely to receive attention and rewards. Everyone can see them “making things happen” and “moving heaven and earth” to resolve issues. 
Yet those issues may have been avoided with better management.
Kaufman recommends reminding yourself to acknowledge and reward the low-drama manager who quietly and effectively gets things done.
“It may not seem like their job is particularly difficult, but you’ll miss them when they’re gone.”
#2. Keep digging until you find the root cause
Authors Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write in their book Super Thinking that there are two causes to any event: the proximate cause and the root cause.
The proximate cause is what immediately caused something to happen. By contrast, the root cause is the real reason something happened, and it’s often obscured.
McCann and Weinberg suggest that you can use this distinction to better understand people’s behavior: “anyone can give you a reason for their behavior, but that may not be the real reason they did something.”
For example, consistent underperformers at work usually have a plausible excuse for each incident. But the real reason is something more fundamental, such as lack of effort, motivation, or skills.
Another example that illustrates the distinction between the proximate cause and the root cause is the space shuttle Challenger disaster.
In 1986, the Challenger disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, just seventy-three seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members. 
A presidential commission was appointed to investigate what happened, and recorded its findings in the Rogers Commission Report.
The proximate cause was the external hydrogen tank igniting.
But the Report found that the root cause of the Challenger disaster was organizational: 
“Failures in communication … resulted in a decision to launch 51-L based on incomplete and sometimes misleading information, a conflict between engineering data and management judgements, and a NASA management structure that permitted internal flight-safety problems to bypass key Shuttle managers.”
#3. “Forget about the rock and the hard place”
Author and researcher Rolf Dobelli writes in his book The Art of Clear Thinking that we “systematically forget to compare an existing offer with the next-best alternative.”
This tendency is called “alternative blindness.”
For example, suppose you have money in your savings account and you ask your investment broker for advice.
She recommends a bond that will earn 5% interest: “That’s much better than 1% interest you get with your savings account.”
Does it make sense to buy the bond? 
We don’t know.
We do know that it’s wrong to consider only these two options. 
To accurately assess your options, you would need to compare the bond with all other investment options, and then select the best one. 
Dobelli cites Warren Buffet’s approach to investing: “Each deal we measure against the second-best deal that is available at any given time – even if it means doing more of what we are already doing.”
For another example, imagine that your doctor discovers a tumor that will kill you in five years. 
He proposes a complicated operation that removes the tumor completely if it’s successful. But the procedure is risky, and has a survival rate of only 50%. 
How do you decide? 
You weigh your choices: certain death in five years, or 50% chance of dying next week. 
But maybe those aren’t the only two choices. 
Perhaps there’s a variant of the invasive surgery that another hospital offers. This alternative surgery may not remove the tumor completely, just slow its growth, but is much safer and gives you an extra ten years. In that time, maybe a more sophisticated and successful process for removing tumors will become available.
For Dobelli, the lesson is: when you’re making a decision, don’t limit yourself to the choices that are most obvious.
Other Weekly 3 issues about seeing beyond the obvious
Quote of the week
“The secrets of life are hidden behind the word ‘cliche.’ So anytime you hear something that you think is a cliche, my tip to you is to perk your ears up and listen more carefully.”
- Entrepreneur and investor Shay Carl in an interview, reflecting on his successful effort to lose over 100 pounds and the overlooked value of common phrases like “eat your vegetables”
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