After we interpret the information we take in from the world around us, we assess its significance. For example, when I hear that the purpose of the all hands meeting is to announce layoffs, I might think, "Maybe so, but my boss would never do that to my group." To believe that is to regard the layoff rumors as having little potential significance for me personally.
Assessing significance is the third stage of Jerry Weinberg's simplified version of Virginia Satir's Interaction Model of communication . These assessments are vulnerable to bias — systematic deviations from purely objective assessments. Cognitive biases can be helpful, because they can lead us to important insights faster than objective, rational deduction can. And they can also mislead us, with serious and regrettable consequences, as they often do when wishful thinking is involved.
Here is Part I of a little catalog of examples of cognitive biases that affect attribution of significance in ways that contribute to wishful thinking.
- Backfire effect
- The backfire effect is a form of attitude polarization that arises when adherents of one particular viewpoint encounter evidence to the contrary. A response to disconfirming evidence that results in strengthened adherence to the original viewpoint, based on belief and without any substantial effort to refute the disconfirming evidence, constitutes the backfire effect. The effect excludes responses that entail energetic engagement with disconfirming evidence leading to logical, evidence-based refutation of that disconfirming evidence.
- Under the influence of this bias, people might express sentiments such as:
- "She's bluffing."
- "Yeah, well we can find just as many experts who will say otherwise."
- "I don't believe them because they're always saying what they think will advance their own interests." 
- "He can't be trusted, so don't worry about what he says."  .
- Illusory superiority
- This bias can Usually, when pondering a particular
cognitive bias, we think about its
effects when it acts alone. But
synergistic effects of multiple
biases can be far more important.lead us to believe that our own talents, character, abilities, and other attributes are superior to those of others. Although most research relating to this cognitive bias applies to individuals, my own experience suggests that groups are susceptible too. Groups subject to this bias tend to overestimate their ability to deal with risks, or to take on assignments that are beyond their abilities or exceed their capacity.
- Under the influence of this bias, people might express sentiments such as:
- "Even if that happens, we can deal with it."
- "Those results don't apply to us."
- "Yes, it happened to them, but it can't happen here."
- "Just because they failed, doesn't mean we'll fail. In fact, that's what creates the opportunity for us."
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
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- Our plans, products, and processes are often awkward, bulky, and complex. They lack a certain spiritual
quality that some might call elegance. Yet we all recognize elegance when we see it. Why do we make
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- Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
- When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking.
Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
- Wishful Thinking and Perception: I
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- When Fixing It Doesn't Fix It: II
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Here are guidelines for a systematic approach to repairing complex systems.
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- Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
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- In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.
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- Many people experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes
frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all
speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises
is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage,
and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located
teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and
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- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
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As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business
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more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- CTCPA, 716 Brook Street,
Rocky Hill, CT 06067: September 20,
Full-day Workshop, Southern New England Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- CTCPA, 716 Brook Street, Rocky Hill, CT 06067: September 20, Full-day Workshop, Southern New England Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.