Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 12;   March 23, 2011: Indicators of Lock-In: I

Indicators of Lock-In: I

by

In group decision-making, lock-in occurs when the group persists in adhering to its chosen course even though superior alternatives exist. Lock-in can be disastrous for problem-solving organizations. What are some common indicators of lock-in?
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker, Repub­li­can of Wiscon­sin. In early 2011, Gov. Walker filed a so-called budget repair bill that he said was made necessary by a budgetary crisis of Wisconsin state government. The bill would have reduced compensation and benefits for several categories of state workers and rescinded the collective bargaining rights of unions that, coincidentally, had not supported the Governor's candidacy in the previous election. Even though the unions agreed to all concessions relating to compensation and benefits, the governor would not accept their agreement and refused to amend his filing to remove the collective bargaining provisions. The standoff deepened as representatives of the opposition in the upper chamber of the legislature fled the state to prevent the quorum necessary for a vote, and the standoff became one between the opposition legislators and the Governor.

At this writing the standoff continues. Although one cannot know for certain as an outside observer whether lock-in has set in on one side or the other or both, many of the indicators of lock-in are present. Photo (cc) Gage Skidmore.

Lock-in is a phenomenon in decision-making in which we observe escalating commitment to a decision of inferior quality, or to a course of action demonstrably less effective than one or more alternatives. In organizations, vendor lock-in is a common form of this dysfunction. In IT organizations, vendor lock-in happens, for example, when the organization builds custom software solutions based on a particular proprietary software or hardware technology.

Lock-in has other forms. They can be more insidious than vendor lock-in because they are self-generated and more difficult to detect. One example from problem solving is solution lock-in, in which the problem solvers escalate their commitment to a particular solution even when superior solutions exist or might exist.

Here are some indicators of solution lock-in.

Escalating commitment
Escalating commitment is the psychological state in which we continue to support a decision with increasing levels of resources despite its repeated failure to achieve projected results. It's characterized by an irrational desire not to abandon the decision.
Escalating commitment can be difficult for the committed to recognize, because we cloak the irrationality of the compulsion to continue in a series of rational-sounding explanations: "We almost have it;" "We're 90% of the way there;" "Our recent breakthrough removes the last obstacle in our path;" "We've been under-resourced but we'll get it with just a bit more effort."
Sunk resources
When things aren't going well, and a growing minority begins to wonder whether we ought to scrap what we have and start over, some inevitably say, "We can't quit now — we have too much invested."
This is the "sunk resources" Escalating commitment can be difficult
for the committed to recognize, because
we cloak the irrationality of the
compulsion to continue in a series of
rational-sounding explanations
argument, and it often dominates. The appropriate reply — "let's not throw good money after bad" — often doesn't prevail until there is no more good money left to throw.
The prototype becomes the answer
Problem solvers sometimes create prototypes of possible solutions, originally intended simply to explore the solution space. Under pressure from Marketing, Sales or even senior management, these prototypes are often offered to customers, and eventually become the solution.
When this happens, little consideration is given to the question of whether they are good enough to become the solution. The organization just locks in, failing to provide resources to study other possible solutions.
Undervaluing open options
Groups that have too little regard for keeping their options open are more likely to lock in. This can be a result of the personal preferences of group members. Some prefer early closure, while others like to maintain alternatives.
A group dominated by the former is more at risk of lock-in. Lock-in behavior can also result from perceived pressure from outside or above. When the group resolves these perceptions by locking in, it is at risk of bypassing superior solutions.

Next time we'll explore indicators of lock-in that relate to the history of the decision-making group.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Indicators of Lock-In: II  Next Issue

See "Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part II," Point Lookout for November 30, 2011, for a discussion of the connections between lock-in and confirmation bias.

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenDLUkUGKZAubXVMmfner@ChacAYcLUaQXJwhbhsBkoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A mismatchMessage Mismatches
Sometimes we misinterpret the messages we receive — what we see or hear. It's frustrating, and tempers can flare on both sides. But if we keep in mind two ideas, we can reduce the effects of message mismatches.
PencilsVirtual Communications: I
Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here are some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthologyWhy Don't They Believe Me?
When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor. How does this happen?
The Niagara River and cantilever bridgeBottlenecks: I
Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?
An A-10 Thunderbolt II over Afghanistan in 2011Down in the Weeds: I
When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can we do about it?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmxDMEVSvMoNZUcGMner@ChacjjAzfjwUrPLfjccaoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.