The Undoing Project unwrapped Part 2 – An in-depth look at the science of leadership and change

In my blog post, “The Undoing Project unwrapped – Part 1,” I discussed the book “The Undoing Project” and how it relates to decision-making. Now, I will describe how “The Undoing Project” is directly relevant to our work at Cerebyte.

First, one of the messages from the book is that there are far too many ways that we humans undermine our own decision-making. The research indicates that there is an inverse ratio between our perception of the quality of our decision-making and the quality of our actual decisions — the more you think you did a good job of decision-making and made a good decision, the less likely your perceptions are accurate.

The ground-breaking studies by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky described in “The Undoing Project” indicate that the best way to improve our decision-making is to be incredibly humble about our own processes and results. This concept dovetails with our observations of the egos of star performers. Star performers are incredibly humble about their capabilities and they repeatedly second-guess and test their processes and conclusions. Humility is at least part of the reason they are star performers.

Second, people weigh a possible gain much less than the risk of a possible loss, also known as risk aversion. People will do lots of things to avoid feeling like they are making a decision that will result in a perceived loss.

All of Cerebyte’s programs involve change. Sometimes incremental change, but often quite substantial change. Change means there’s a risk that something bad will happen. Kahneman and Tversky have shown that these situations generate particularly strong reactions and poor decisions. Conversely, by reducing perceived risk, people are more willing to engage in meaningful change.

In the Cerebyte process, we have known that defining a compelling purpose is very important from a neural perspective. This is defining the positive side of a risky situation. However, we have focused less on the importance of the learners seeing a clear path to success. This portion of Kahneman and Tversky’s work provides the best explanation we have found for why these elements of mastery are so important. Having a clear path to success – in Cerebyte terms, a specific “Path to Mastery,” a clear, simple “Definition of Mastery” and short exercises to achieve Mastery, all defined by highly successful people — reduces people’s perceived risk and therefore creates a better environment for embracing the opportunity.

One of the reasons our process is so successful is because it reduces undesirable decision-making processes caused by the perceived risks of change.

The third and final way that “The Undoing Project” is related to Cerebyte’s work is Kahneman and Tversky’s concept of “framing.” Framing is very much like the neuroscience concept of “priming.” How you think of a situation initially—is it a probable gain or a probable loss — seriously effects your ensuing decisions.

By starting with the purpose, we are framing people to think of the opportunity created by the change, thereby converting a negative risk situation into a positive gain situation. When coupled with the risk reduction of the mastery process, it makes people significantly more likely to embrace what is otherwise a high-risk situation or a disruptive change. The learner’s perception shifts 180 degrees to seeing the change as a positive opportunity.

When you combine this work with the amazing findings coming out of neuroscience research, leading change (once attributed primarily to personal charisma) can be made a highly repeatable, scientific process.

Is your organization taking advantage of the science of leadership and change?



Leave a comment!