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Archive for 2014

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Here are links to all previous issues of Point Lookout, a weekly email newsletter. Bookmark this page. Or browse this archive by topic. Subscribe now.

Head of the philosopher Carneades (215-129 BCE)Coming December 24: The Perils of Novel Argument
When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen? Available here and by RSS on December 24
.
An egg sandwichAnd on December 31: The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners. Available here and by RSS on December 31
.

This page has links to articles from 2014. For other years:

December 17, 2014

A schematic representation of the blowout preventer that failed in the Deepwater Horizon incidentOn the Risk of Undetected Issues: Part II
When things go wrong and remain undetected, trouble looms. We continue our efforts, increasing investment on a path that possibly leads nowhere. Worse, time — that irreplaceable asset — passes. How can we improve our ability to detect undetected issues?

December 10, 2014

The damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, as seen from the command moduleOn the Risk of Undetected Issues: Part I
In complex projects, things might have gone wrong long before we notice them. Noticing them as early as possible — and addressing them — is almost always advantageous. How can we reduce the incidence of undetected issues?

December 3, 2014

Phoenix caissons being towed to form a Mulberry harbor off Normandy, June 1944Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: Part III
Project risk management strategies are numerous, but these ten strategies are among the most common. Here are the last three of the ten strategies in this little catalog.

November 26, 2014

Gen. Douglas MacArthur (left) and Willie Keeler (right)Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: Part II
Managing risk entails coping with unwanted events that might or might not happen, and which can be costly if they do happen. Here's Part II of our exploration of coping strategies for unwanted events.

November 19, 2014

Rick Piltz, former senior associate in the U.S. Climate Change Science ProgramTen Approaches to Managing Project Risks: Part I
Risk management usually entails coping with losses if they do occur. Here's Part I of a concise summary of the options for managing risk.

November 12, 2014

The U.S. and Russian delegations meet to negotiate the New Start TreatyFace-Off Negotiations
In difficult face-to-face negotiations — or any face-to-face negotiations — seating arrangements do matter. Here's an exploration of one common seating pattern.

November 5, 2014

XP-80 prototype Lulu-Belle on the groundRationalizing Creativity: Part II
Creative thinking at work can be nurtured or encouraged, but not forced or compelled. Leaders who try to compel creativity because of very real financial and schedule pressures rarely get the results they seek. Here are examples of tactics people use in mostly-futile attempts to compel creativity.

October 29, 2014

A collaboration session in a modern workplaceRationalizing Creativity at Work: Part I
Much of the work of modern organizations requires creative thinking. But financial and schedule pressures can cause us to adopt processes that unexpectedly and paradoxically suppress creativity, thereby increasing costs and stretching schedules. What are the properties of effective approaches?

October 22, 2014

The signing of the Paris Peace AccordsMeta-Debate at Work
Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.

October 15, 2014

Tennis players shake hands after their matchPreventing Toxic Conflict: Part II
Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each other, we can all help prevent trouble.

October 8, 2014

Six atoms in a Schrödinger "cat" statePreventing Toxic Conflict: Part I
Conflict resolution skills are certainly useful. Even more advantageous are toxic conflict prevention skills, and skills that keep constructive conflict from turning toxic.

October 1, 2014

A wrecked automobileToxic Conflict at Work
Preventing toxic conflict is a whole lot better than trying to untangle it once it starts. But to prevent toxic conflict, we must understand some basics of conflict, and why untangling toxic conflict can be so difficult.

September 24, 2014

Two F-22A raptors line up for refuelingSymbolic Self-Completion and Projects
The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.

September 17, 2014

Illustrating the concept of local maximumFalse Summits: Part II
When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end. The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is in project work.

September 10, 2014

A view from the false summit of the Manitou incline in ColoradoFalse Summits: Part I
Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.

September 3, 2014

Three simple carabinersTeam Risks
Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are some risks worth mitigating.

August 27, 2014

Ross Marshall and Don Pugh at the kickoff meeting for the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) at Tinker Air Force BaseDeep Trouble and Getting Deeper
Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're pretty sure there's no way out.

August 20, 2014

A rescue puppyYou Can't Control What Other People Think
Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think? Maybe it would be. And maybe not...

August 13, 2014

Dry Falls, in Grand County, Washington StateImpasses in Group Decision-Making: Part IV
Some impasses that develop in group decision-making relate to the substance of the discussion. Some are not substantive, but still present serious obstacles. What can we do about nonsubstantive impasses?

August 6, 2014

U.S. Congressman Jim Moran talks with constituents at a meeting on the federal budgetImpasses in Group Decision-Making: Part III
In group decision-making, impasses can develop. Some are related to the substance of the issue at hand. With some effort, we can usually resolve substantive impasses. But treating nonsubstantive impasses in the same way doesn't work. Here's why.

July 30, 2014

A stretch of the Amazon rain forest showing storm damageUnnecessary Boring Work: Part II
Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.

July 23, 2014

Industrial robots assembling automobilesUnnecessary Boring Work: Part I
Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.

July 16, 2014

Two components of the U.S. Consumer Price Index for 1994-2010Constancy Assumptions
We necessarily make assumptions about our lives, including our work, because assumptions simplify things. And usually, our assumptions are valid. But not always.

July 9, 2014

Marching chickens, a metaphor for groupthinkWhat Groupthink Isn't
The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's astonishing how often it's misused and misunderstood. Here are some examples.

July 2, 2014

Bowling pins for ten-pin bowlingSeventeen Guidelines About Workplace Bullying
Bullying is a complex social pattern. Thinking clearly about bullying is difficult in the moment because our emotions can distract us. Here are some short insights about bullying that are easy to remember in the moment.

June 25, 2014

Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting at the South PoleDeciding to Change: Choosing
When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?

June 18, 2014

Lake Chaubunagungamaug signDeciding to Change: Trusting
When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?

June 11, 2014

Nez Perce ceremonial shirtExasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly to get to the point. How can we find a balance?

June 4, 2014

The late Cameron Todd Willingham, wrongfully executed in Texas in 2004 for the murder of his daughtersAnecdotes and Refutations
In debate and argumentation, anecdotes are useful. They illustrate. They make things concrete. But they aren't proof of anything. Using anecdotes as proofs leads to much trouble and wasted time.

May 28, 2014

A foxhunt in VirginiaExasperation Generators: Opaque Metaphors
Most people don't mind going to meetings. They don't even mind coming back from them. It's being in meetings that can be so exasperating. What can we do about this?

May 21, 2014

An early automotive assembly line trialThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part III
Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.

May 14, 2014

The George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New JerseyThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part II
Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.

May 7, 2014

A virtual meeting of a particular fancy typeThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part I
By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of the most-often overlooked costs of meetings.

April 30, 2014

A metaphorical depiction of the creation of artificial intelligenceOffice Automation
Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?

April 23, 2014

Eugene F. Kranz, flight director, at his console on May 30, 1965, in the Control Room in the Mission Control Center at HoustonDesign Errors and Group Biases
Design errors can cause unwanted outcomes, but they can also lead to welcome surprises. The causes of many design errors are fundamental attributes of the way groups function. Here is Part II of our exploration.

April 16, 2014

Ice on Challenger's launch pad hours before the launchDesign Errors and Groupthink
Design errors cause losses, lost opportunities, accidents, and injuries. Not all design errors are one-offs, because their causes can be fundamental. Here's a first installment of an exploration of some fundamental causes of design errors.

April 9, 2014

Rachel Hoffman, for whom Florida's Rachel's Law is namedOn Snitching at Work: Part II
Reporting violations of laws, policies, regulations, or ethics to authorities at work can expose you to the risk of retribution. That's why the reporting decision must consider the need for safety.

April 2, 2014

Elia Kazan, award winning film directorOn Snitching at Work: Part I
Some people have difficulty determining the propriety of reporting violations to authorities at work. Proper or not, reporting violations can be simultaneously both risky and necessary.

March 26, 2014

An artist's conception of a planetary accretion diskWhy Scope Expands: Part II
The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often? One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.

March 19, 2014

The Bloomingdale's store in Stamford, Connecticut in January 1955Why Scope Expands: Part I
Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction, has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?

March 12, 2014

The Great Wall of China near MutianyuScope Creep and Confirmation Bias
As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions, is one of these.

March 5, 2014

A Carrick MatChanging Blaming Cultures
Culture change in organizations is always challenging, but changing a blaming culture presents special difficulties. Here are three reasons why.

February 26, 2014

Gachi Fernandez and Sergio Cortazzo, professional tango coupleScope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion of control" — might provide explanations.

February 19, 2014

A visual illusionScope Creep and the Planning Fallacy
Much is known about scope creep, but it nevertheless occurs with such alarming frequency that in some organizations, it's a certainty. Perhaps what keeps us from controlling it better is that its causes can't be addressed with management methodology. Its causes might be, in part, psychological.

February 12, 2014

Nemesis by Albrecht DurerSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: Part III
Skip-level interviews — dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor — can be hazardous. Here's Part III of a little catalog of the hazards, emphasizing subordinate-initiated skip-level interviews.

February 5, 2014

Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: Part II
Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor. They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.

January 29, 2014

J. R. R. Tolkien (aged 24) in army uniform. Photograph taken in 1916.Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: Part I
Although skip-level interviews have their place, they can be dangerous, explosive, and harmful to the organization. What are the dangers?

January 22, 2014

RaspberriesHuman Limitations and Meeting Agendas
Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.

January 15, 2014

A Canada Goose nestingBig Egos and Other Misconceptions
We often describe someone who arrogantly breezes through life with swagger and evident disregard for others as having a "big ego." Maybe so. And maybe not. Let's have a closer look.

January 8, 2014

A ray of light passing through and reflected from a prismWhen Somebody Throws a Nutty
To "throw a nutty" — at work, that is — can include anything from extreme verbal over-reaction to violent physical abuse of others. When someone exhibits behavior at the milder end of this spectrum, what responses are appropriate?

January 1, 2014

A view of the South Canyon Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, at noon on July 4, 1994The Nominal Fallacy at Work
Using logical fallacies at work — intentionally or otherwise — costs real money. The nominal fallacy is probably responsible for much delay in addressing our real problems.

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