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The Illusion of Control: the Executive's Blind Spot

October 11, 2023 SHIFT



Picture this: 1968— You're at the final table of the World Series of Poker, clutching a pair of aces. You go all-in, only to lose to a straight flush on the river. Bad luck? Absolutely. Bad decision? Not even close. You played the odds, and they just didn't play nice this time.

Now, let's switch the felt table for the football field. 🏈

In Annie Duke's "Thinking in Bets," she recounts Pete Carroll's infamous call during Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. One yard from victory, the world expected a handoff to Marshawn Lynch. It was the "obvious" move, akin to holding a pair of aces. But Carroll zigged when everyone expected him to zag. He called for a pass. Interception. Game over. Patriots win. Cue the media frenzy, labeling it the "worst call in Super Bowl history."But hold on a sec. The decision wasn't bad; it was a calculated risk. Zero passes from the one-yard line had been intercepted that entire NFL season. The odds of a game-ending interception? A measly 2%. Carroll was playing the percentages, just like you with your aces … and just like we do with our business decisions.

The Fallout: The Danger of "Resulting"

We're all guilty of "resulting"—judging decisions solely by their outcomes. It's like being a Monday Morning Quarterback, but for life. We dissect decisions with 20/20 hindsight, conveniently ignoring the context.

I've been there. I once lost $3MM over a single word in a contract. Or how about when we integrated AI into our platform, Latch, just before the Chat GPT wave hit? Good decision or just lucky timing? That's up for debate.

➡️ Quick Tip: Instead of asking your team about progress being made, ask them about their best or worst decisions lately. Watch the "resulting" unfold.

The Disconnect: Flying Blind in the C-Suite

Have you ever heard of “flow?” The term “flow” was first coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of positive psychology, which is the scientific study of what makes life worth living. 

⚠️Here's a sobering stat: 95% of employees don't even know their company's strategy. If you're an exec thinking you've got it all under control, you're flying solo.

From the Challenger disaster to the crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, the illusion of control, lack of scenario planning and bad feedback loops have had devastating consequences.

A question I think about a lot: What don’t I know, that I need to know, to make a better decision?

"In the absence of information, we jump to the worst conclusions."

- Brene Brown

The Hybrid Work Conundrum: Democracy in the Digital Age

In the era of hybrid work, the illusion of control is even more pronounced. Executives can't micromanage from a Zoom call. And let's face it, the traditional hierarchy is as outdated as a Blockbuster rental card. If you want people to move from having to do something to wanting to do something, they need to have a vote cast and their voice heard.

People want to have a voice and vote as to what's next. Ironically, we want our teams to operate from a “get to” or “want to” mentally while simultaneously  "making" them do things without context or overall understanding of how it fits into the larger mission - sit with that. 

👀An Uncomfortable Observation: In the past 2 weeks, we have been offering our Hybrid Health Index to companies for free. What we’ve found incredibly interesting is that Executive leaders desperately want the answer - the magic bullet - to fix their hybrid woes, BUT they don’t want to ask their team any questions. Flag on the play.

Questions like:

  1. Are you more or less productive in a hybrid environment?
  2. How much of a say did you have in the decision for your working arrangements? 
  3. How do you rate the flow of communication across the organization?  
  4. How out of sync do you feel with your colleagues?
  5. At the end of the day, how often do you feel unhealthy exhaustion or stress?
  6. How likely are you to leave your company in the next 12 months?  
  7. Do you know what good looks like in your role?
  8. How safe do you feel expressing your ideas, thoughts, and opinions without repercussions?
  9. What’s the level of trust your manager has in you to manage your work as you see fit?  
  10. Please rate how well our hybrid arrangement is working for: you, your team, the company's ability to perform, and our customers? 

Like Jack Nicholson said in "A Few Good Men," they can't handle the truth. Moreover, they don't want to feel like Congress right now with too many voices and too little collective common ground to operate from.

And, by the way, the questions are now yours to go into an exploratory mindset with - have at it! Of course we’re happy to facilitate the process, build the survey, analyze your results, and package them in a step-by-step blueprint for what you can do to make hybrid better, all for free →just drop your details here.


Side Rant:
Not long ago, I delivered a talk for a group C-suite Execs titled "Uncharted and Unstoppable: Navigating the Whirlwind of Radical Disruption and Exponential Change."

The crux? We're all flying by the seat of our pants here, folks. We're in unexplored territory, making history with every tick of the clock. Don't believe me? Just check out the slide below. We are living through more collective change

than the past 3,000+ lifetimes.


Screenshot 2023-10-05 at 7.56.26 PM

Now, let me pull a gem from my Dad Vault. Picture this: Back when my daughter was 5, she was grilling me with questions, and I'm serving up a buffet of "I don't knows." Frustration levels? Sky high. But then, I lean back and drop some truth: "Listen, kiddo, I'm winging it. We all are. Every single moment, moment by moment.

It’s all made up and no one really knows anything."

That raw honesty? It was like a lightning bolt of clarity, zapping both of us back to reality. It's a touchstone moment we revisit often, reminding us that even when we don't have all the answers.

Become a Calibrator: The New Leadership Paradigm

Calibrators use experience and information to more objectively update their beliefs to more accurately represent the world. The more accurate our beliefs, the better the foundation of the bets we make. The better the foundation of the bets we make, the more likely it is we achieve favorable outcomes in the long run.

Three Questions to Be a Better Calibrator:

➡️ What data am I missing?

➡️ What assumptions am I making?

➡️ What would change my mind?

Honest question: When is the last time you truly changed your mind on something you used to hold as a tightly held belief? If your iPhone updates its software 10-15 times a year, what's your excuse?

Scenario Planning: Your Time Machine for Decision Making

Why don't people invest in scenario planning?

Simple: Time. Or rather, the illusion there's no time. It's like saying you're too busy driving to stop for gas. And we've seen where that road leads: from the Challenger explosion to the Boeing 737 MAX 8 debacle, the absence of scenario planning is a one-way ticket to Disaster Town.

Futurecasting: Your Crystal Ball for Success

Imagine you've already crushed your goals. You're the hero of your own story. Now, hit the rewind button and trace back the steps you took to get there. This is Futurecasting. It's like playing your favorite movie backward to understand the plot twists. It gives you a roadmap from the future, and who wouldn't want that?

We created a 2050 Vision for SHIFT to help our team with this. Want help with yours?

Premortems: The Autopsy Before the Death

Picture this: Your grand plan just belly-flopped. Hard. Now, conduct an autopsy on that failure. What went wrong? What could you have done differently? This is a premortem. It's like having a time machine that lets you fix mistakes before they happen. It's the ultimate "undo" button for bad decisions.

I’m a big fan of this exercise, so I wrote a letter to myself at 90. 


The RED Team: Your In-House Devil's Advocate

Let's add a dash of 🔺RED Team🔺 magic here. Think of them as your corporate conscience, poking holes in your best-laid plans. While backcasting gives you the roadmap and premortems offer the "undo" button, the RED Team is your reality check. They're the ones saying, "Hey, you might want to rethink this."

Both backcasting and premortems have their merits, but toss in a RED Team, and you've got yourself a trifecta of decision-making power. It's like having a GPS, a spare tire, and roadside assistance all rolled into one.

We call this workshop, the Great Debate and we facilitate it with teams all the time. Hit me up if you want to integrate this into your next all-hands meeting. 

Want to supercharge this whole process? Check out our RESET methodology

The SHIFT Saga: Where Magic Meets Method

I get it; SHIFT is a bit of an enigma. My dad and I have been cracking jokes about it for longer than  two decades. So, let's demystify it, shall we?

One of our client's core business was on life support. It was time for a Hail Mary: a pivot from the core. Through a cocktail of workshops, future casts, premortems, and raw, unfiltered conversations, we didn't just move the needle; we broke the darn scale.

In just one year, we conjured up $20MM in found revenue (yes, read that again), slashed expenses by a fifth, and sparked the creative genius of more than 175 employees, resulting in 500 groundbreaking ideas.

📣Here's what the people said:

"Joe's strategies aren't just theories; they're battle-tested in the corporate trenches." - Chris K.

"SHIFT doesn't just talk the talk; they've walked companies through transformations that hit the bottom line—in a good way." - Patty M

"If you don't have time for a game-changing conversation, you'll make time for a game-changing crisis." - Joe K

"Intuition is just the brain's way of taking shortcuts. Calibration is about taking the scenic route to make sure you didn't miss anything." - Sue E.

"Time spent on scenario planning is time saved on crisis management." - Rob F.

The Final Round: Your Moment of Truth

So, you've made it to the end of this rollercoaster, and you're probably thinking, "SHIFT’s got the playbook I didn't know I needed." Nailed it. If you're an exec who's done playing Russian roulette with your decisions, it's time we had a chat.

I'm not offering you a silver bullet. What I am offering is a seat at the RED Team table for your next monumental move. Because let's be real: the stakes aren't just high; they're stratospheric. And you can't afford to go all-in with a handful of jokers.

So, what's it gonna be? Ready to stop gambling and start strategizing?

Click this link and book a time.

TOPICS: Workplace Innovation, leadership, stories that shift