Soliciting the Pre-Mortem and Riding the Change Curve

Coach-Based Consulting Tools, Strategies and Concepts for Effective Planning

The Nobel-prize winning behavioral economist, Daniel Kahneman, has a very interesting relationship with Gary Klein—with whom he both conflicts and collaborates. As Kahneman notes, in alignment with both Frans Johansson (2004) and Scott Page (2011), great diversity of opinion and perspective is likely to yield creative solutions and breakthrough thinking and analysis—as is the case regarding his relationships with Klein. In his extraordinary book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman (2011) writes about his extensive and successful use of an analytic tool devised by Gary Klein. It is called “The Pre- Mortem.”

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Optimism

Like many of his behavioral economics colleagues, Kahneman points out that optimistic thinking (and the avoidance of analyses concerned with failure, loss and risk) is both a strength and weakness. On the one hand, we get a dose of dopamine when imagining positive and rewarding outcomes. Dopamine, in turn, is a great motivator (but not a primary source of pleasure as some neuroscientists in the past assumed). It moves us to a state of activity – rather than the passive state in which we find ourselves when pessimistic and (at a more extreme state) depressed. Chronic depression is actually often linked to the absence of dopamine in our neural system.

Perpetual optimism, on the other hand, can also get us into a heap of trouble. Kahneman other behavioral economists identify several major biases associated with optimism:

(1) Neglect of the strengths and strategies used by competitors (neglect of the Threat sector in a SWOT analysis)

(2) Over-estimation of our own individual and collective strengths (neglect of the Weakness sector in a SWOT analysis)

(3) Failure to acknowledge unanticipated impacts on our plans (Nassim Taleb’s “Black Swans”) (neglect of the unanticipated Threats in SWOT)

(4) Failure to acknowledge that there are unknowns we don’t know we don’t know (to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld moment of candor and insight) (neglect of both the Weakness and Threat sectors of SWOT)

(5) Failure to take into full consideration the change curve that inevitably is engaged when a new plan is engaged (see my discussion of “change curve” below).

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