Leading by example

Winning hearts and minds

We are about to turn a European country into a guerrilla buffer zone. That seems to be the (lack of) plan. Pretty despicable by all sides, and the worst-case outcome for Putin who I assume still favours that outcome to an overt NATO alliance war.

SWIFT may be a symbollic gesture. It is still a more meaningful gesture than the symbollic words and bluster offered so far. All nationalities weighing up economic priorities are sharing the shameful hesitation that Putin was counting on. And denying the early moral support “swift” action would have offered to the people of Ukraine.

This is the overt and globally supported economic action. Whatever is covert as forces and weapons on the ground is not what is putting hope into hearts and minds. SWIFT is the tangible actions that fearful Ukrainian people can see. Ironically slow is this response.

Enough of the powderpuff words that us armchair patriots desire. Time to test the hypobole of contingent planning, not just the rhetoric of resolve.

Original LinkedIn comment here

Making sense

Behaviour through a third lens

This blog takes on a third example of how to examine and thereby prepare to make better decisions toward behaviours. Bringing qualitative technique back alongside the quantitative techniques we are told are our future norm.

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Sensemaking – What Makes Human Intelligence Essential in the Age of the Algorithm

by Christian Madsbjerg 2017

when we commit to losing a part of ourselves, we gain something profoundly new in exchange. We gain insight. I call the practice of cultivating these types of insights sensemaking.

Christian Madsjberg 2017, Sensemaking pp5

In my opinion some of the sentiment of Madsbjerg has a sense of flow about it. He references “phronesis” to mean an Aristocratic synthesis of knowledge and experience (ibid pp6), and the type of leaders that become as one with the systems, societies, and organisations, they are stewarding “as an extension of their body” (ibid pp7).

CULTURE

From a social psychology we have theories that help explain the contextual nuance behind our social interactions. Social Representations by processes of objectification and anchoring which group or categorise based upon shared (communicated) experiences; or anchoring from pre-existing systems of thought. Madjsberg introduces similar influence pertaining to why people in that culture act the way they do (pp6).

He then (pp8) also identifies with the philosophical addresses objective reality becoming subjective understanding. Referencing Heidegger to reflect upon these unspoken assumptions “that on the basis of which beings are understood”.

we stop seeing a room as a space filled with individual items and we start seeing the structures form a cultural reality…nothing exists in an individual vacuum

Christian Madsjberg 2017, Sensemaking pp11-12

He addresses these meanings as philosophical terms reflecting our spoken exchanges. Highlighting contemporary philosophers and their terms: “Habitus” Pierre Bourdieu; “The discourse” Ernesto Laclau, Michel Foucault “The conversation”

In cognitive psychology there is reason to challenge all ideas of comparison between mind and computer, and the linear processing of information this represents. Madjsberg presents this same challenge with more philosophical underpinning. He rejects Cartesian understanding, arguing this “is meaningless without without studying the world” (pp39). Arguing a little later that sensemaking is the missing connective tissue (pp43), and that we must understand the holistic vs the atomised (pp49), and recommend us to read “no exit” by Sartre (pp51) and highlighting Google’s Ray Kurzweil 2012 book “how to create a mind” and the associated Pattern Recognition Theory of the Mind (PRTM) to which he observes “but it’s not how the brain works…” (pp52).

Heidegger helps conclude this philosophical analysis Hubert Dreyfus “Mind over Machine” as the pre-eminent interpreter of Heidegger (pp55-56). Madjsberg argues that these philosophical interpreters both argue against the mind as a rational calculator. Madjsberg instead presenting a framework of how experts achieve mastery through an engagement with culture and social context (cf. pp57-60 for his 5 stages from novice to expert).

Here are additional categorised concepts. Most pithy phrases, and all explanations are Madsbjerg’s.

THICK DATA

thin data is facts. Thick data is how we relate to the many different worlds we inhabit e.g., sensing the stress in a room (pp15)

pp70-75 four types of knowing: Objective; subjective; shared; sensory. These wide types enabling greater understanding e.g. pp76 pattern recognition or synthesis; pp79-81 literary economics. Reason, emotions, judgement, and analysis.

lack of thick data ability in boardrooms, “imagination and intuitions of top leaders are starving” pp16

PHENOMENON

time and space – reframe to a problem of a phenomenon pp99-100

SAVANNAH

pp15 Savannah not the zoo. Phenomenology of human behaviour in social context; pp18 see its ghosts

the thing in itself

pp93-96 . Avoid getting caught up in what is “real”. Example, pp96 the same champagne in a plastic cup or a fine glass from a white gloved waiter leave you with very different experience

always return to the thing itself

Edmund Husserl

Heidegger (Husserl’s best student) reversed the philosophy to focus upon social structures of worlds as opposed to Husserl’s reflecting on the thinking of the individual. cf. Sartre and existentialism

CARE

pp192 “without care, everything is correct and nothing is true

pp154-155 William James “the principles of psychology” references to attention as focalisation, concentration, of consciousness vs other thoughts. “My experience is what I agree to attend to”

Madsbjerg presents this in a number of forms. pp183 become a connoisseur; pp187 alchemy of sensemaking by being in it. He also reflects upon what is not technical understood (pp191), concluding that “care cannot be replaced with Moneyball type atomised analytics” (pp194).

CREATIVITY

as opposed to manufacturing. pp123 problem solving human behaviour with no hypothesis or clarity of what is known needs sensemaking creativity that comes through us not from us

Related to THICK DATA is need for wider perspective because, he argues pp22, our complexity is artificial and our data is inappropriately contextualised. pp21 Abductive logic affords creative insight, but that requires us to accept dead ends and serendipity. It is messy and needs a confidence to remain doubt for indeterminate amounts of time.

pp130 “grace” as creative insight travelling through us via our social sphere not from us. [the later examples on pp146 akin to flow].

pp131 psychologist Wolfgang Kohler “three Bs” bus, bath, bed as three places where environment engenders creativity. Heidegger referred to “the middle voice” or old Greek word “phainesthai” which erases the distinction between subject and object – rather how they are revealed through us not by us.

pp158 “with a click, the left and the right are equally satisfied” pp159 “the metaphor” pp160 “the derring-do is actually in the service of site constraints” rather than the signature of the artist.

EMPATHY

pp107-108 “mood mentality” neither comes from outside or inside but from our very existence in the world.

pp116 theory of reciprocity (cf Marshall Sahlins three models of giving) give to get more vs get the same vs no expectation of return;

pp 114-116 Heidegger three levels of empathy:

  • below awareness threshold which we adjust to. It may be cultural clothing norms, or particular nuance of language. Sociologists and anthropologists have debated for 100 years whether this has a socio-animalistic or formal structural undertone.
  • awareness when it’s wrong. Often triggered from first level empathy moving to this second
  • Analytical empathy which is systematic, framework and theory supported. “This is sensemaking. Theory unlimatelg reveals the insight” pp116

pp168 “assessing and responding to the core emotional interests in the room” Sheila Heen Difficult Conversation (Harvard business school) pp169 in a room full of executives who is respected? Who is carries weight of insight? Who is seen as difficult? Who is trusted? Who is beloved?

pp170 reading the leader’s relationships, including the relationship with themselves. Self-conscious, cynical, invested, self-deprecating or at least self transforming?

pp171 reading the culture of the company: competitive; egalitarian; creative; hard-nosed; underdog or alpha. Changing points and tensions.

pp173 “reading between the rules”

pp175 be with the people to read them. If you cannot be with them, then read their fiction. The descriptions of the human experience.

pp176 “the gulf of veneer” vs walking in their shoes

pp177 understanding the antagonistic world. pp178 know who you talking to, and who they are really talking to pp179 which means you must know the culture.

pp182 the key is navigating the other persons emotions. The most dangerous negotiation is the one you do not know you are in.

DISCOURSE ANALYSIS

pp101 discourse analysis – words and concepts meaning and significance.

pp116 symbols and nuance of meaning; discourse theory showing words in context (cf Ernest Laclau and Chantal Mouffe); binary codes of social systems (cf Niklas Luhmann); stage-managed impressions (cf Erving Goffman’s “the presentation of Self in Everyday life” 1956); Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories of language – “don’t think, but look” as most language of cooperation is not verbalised.

ABDUCTIVE LOGIC

Abductive – nonlinear – educated guesswork of most likely.

cf Peirce 1877 “the fixation of belief”; 1899 “first rule of logic”; 1903 “pragmatism and abduction”. Observing that Pierce was critical of deductive or inductive logic the former asserts correctness, and the second asserts unknowns are knowable with more technical ability.

NORTH STAR

not GPS. pp23 sensemaking shows the breadth of textural context needed. Following the North Star not head stuck upon the gps.

pp173 teaching is a negotiation. You’re negotiating for engagement and credibility. Once content is known you can speak from inside the content and thereby respond in the moment to the context.

pp195 Heidegger “meaningful difference”. The opposite in nihilism which corporate hierarchy is filled with. cf Heidegger 1954 “the question concerning technology” which he argues has not only replaced our gods but also replaced us. Optimisation of the material rather than flexing with it to find its best repurpose. pp197 we do this with people as interchangeable widgets vs “the source of meaning in our lives is not in us…it is in being in the world…we can all bring out what is best in ourselves” Hubert Dreyfus.

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v | behaviour | t

As a foil to the biological and behaviourist sentiments of Robert Sapolsky, Christian Madsbjerg’s equally contemporary writing presents the more nuanced reflection of what the mind offers in problem solving, rather than the explanations of behaviour as bio-chemistry and the brain.

The significance of sensemaking as presented in this wonderfully engaging book is its engagement with philosophical discussion in a practical way. Principally reflecting upon the necessary skill sets we all need when managing the very human reality in decision-making. This is the third blog from me this week addressing perspectives on behaviour. All of which I treat as equally valid in potential for understanding behavioural challenge, and therein the means by which controls and directions to decision-making can be outlined.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Living without free will

Biology, behaviourism, control

v | b | t

This is a completely different argument of how behaviour can be addressed. It sits in conflict to the ordering of cause and effect I have reflected upon elsewhere. Visibility of this difference an important part of future assessment needs. As an address of behaviour however, it has the same central premise of control at its core.

Whether we trust in free will, society, the individual or the collective, we will have more trust in each other if we share visibility and control regimes of our behaviour that are intended to protect us all.

I have visited two purveyors of alternative perspective on this over the last few days. One I will now be visiting regularly. The other, not so much. Here are my working notes on both. I conclude with some additional observations, which set up additional research intentions and connect these ideas to wider sentiments I have introduced in other blogs.

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Professor Robert M Sapolsky

Professor of Biology, Neurology & Neurosurgery at Stanford University. In reporting upon Robert Sapolsky’s award for Distinguished Scientific contribution, American Psychologist wrote:

For connecting behavior with the neurobiology of stress through pioneering studies on baboons in Kenya and rats in the laboratory, which has opened the way for understanding how the cumulative burden of stress over the life course can accelerate brain aging and predispose an organism to systemic disease. Robert M. Sapolsky’s work has also revealed the synergy among glucocorticoid hormones, excitatory amino acids in the brain, and glucose availability in causing neuronal damage after stroke and seizures. A remarkably lucid and entertaining writer and speaker, in his essays and lectures Sapolsky reminds us of human foibles and illuminates how the social environment and individual personality influence physiology and brain function

America Psychologist November 2013, pp613

This same piece concludes with an outline of his commitment to communicating about neuroscience and its social implications to the lay public (ibid pp615). A quick check on YouTube will confirm his following is significant and his viewership consistently over 500,000 views.

A compelling argument towards the complexity of behaviour is presented in “The biology of humans at our best and worst“. The example scenario used in several lectures, TEDtalks, and podcast interviews is that of a male firing a weapon at a perpetrator who was possibly wielding a firearm but which turns out to be a ‘phone. He asks why did that behaviour occur? And presents the following multi-modal reasoning of contributing factors. The point being all of these modal perspective offer biologically relatable cause in time frames that become evolutionarily long.

1. one second before : what went on in his brain. Amydala activity indicates negative response or action potential is emergent.

2. minutes before : what environmental stimuli influenced his brain. Factors such as smell are considered influencing upon action.

3. hours before : what hormone sensitised him to those stimuli? Testosterone levels can increase the challenge defence response.

4. weeks before : what experiences (e.g. sustained stress) had reshaped his brain to determine how the more immediate forces would be received? Trauma will encourage the physical expansion of the amygdala months prior.

5. from adolescence : how did life experiences (pre-25 year old) impact the immature frontal cortex and shape the adult he became? Numerous external factors contribute to relative maturity and development of the frontal cortex (which is what determines our socialisation abilities)

6. from fetal life and childhood : how did early life experiences cause lifelong change in brain function and influence dormant gene expression? Prenatal stress hormone level have a determining factor from mother to fetal development.

7. from moment of conception : what genes were coded to determine hormone and neurotransmitter response? What variant MAO-alpha gene was inherited.

8. decades to millennia before : how did cultural and social environment come to define life norms, and by what ecological factors did this become the case? Is the cultural norm one of honour and revenge?

9. Millenia : Through gene selections and wider specie development, how did these behaviours evolve? Highly sexually dimorphic behaviours.

Robert Sapolsky “the biology of humans at our best and worst

At best therefore, Sapolsky argues the causation of behaviour is complex. Across these multi-facetted and time relative perspectives it is this collective of contributions that become the causal factors.

No free will

In a 2020 interview he again refers to these layers of influence toward a behavioural response. They all become one factor. We can be changed by circumstance. We cannot change ourselves. There is no free will. There is no first neurone firing that begins an action, there is always preceding event.

But that does not deny the potential for change

In a very recent interview on the Huberman Lab podcast, 30th August 2021, Sapolsky talks at length about stress, dispels some myths about hormone interactions, and then addresses free will. We can know to know, he says deep into the interview (01:21:08). Change is possible of our mechanical systems, and finding means to build on this framework change, so responses are different. We remain our biology but striving to be better by knowing more means to mechanical change and it’s possibility. Learning that learning changes the brain, that in itself is the knowledge of knowledge becomes the tool of change. Just as protocols or pills are.

No free will, but still reason to seek exposures to externalities that effective change. What I conclude from this is that even if it is only the manner of natural environment that regulates such response – this is still reason enough to be focused upon the betterment of controls.

Before I evaluate this further, I digested one other book this week in search of how behaviour can be measured or controlled. The idea of contingency as cause, sits in this same agentless view of our interactions with the world.

Professor Stephen L Ledoux

“What causes human behavior – stars, self, or contingency” 2018

This recent book is an uncompromising argument as to why behaviourism, or more correctly behaviorology, should be preferred to psychology. The premise being that star sign and psychological addressing of behaviour by any form of agency of self are both little more than mysticism.

By example:-

mysticism – as in untestable or unmeasurable – behaviour – directing agents

Stephen L Ledoux “what causes human behaviour – stars, selves, or contingency?” 2018 pp xvii

In seeking the most contemporary examples of behaviouristic method, this book offers some assistance in this regard and helps contextualise behaviourism more broadly.

Historical context of behaviourism :-

John Watson 1913 denying any private experience is real. BF Skinner from 1930s to 1980s and bringing along “radical” behaviourism and his 1963 paper – celebrating 50 years of behaviourism. To which Professor Ledoux sought fit to compliment with a 100 year version in 2013. It is Skinner inspired Operant Behaviorism (i.e. stimulus evoked response) which is the basis of method presented at some leisure in this book.

There is also some comment on preceding “inadequate” behaviourism dealt with from pp15. Noting early behaviourist denying private (meaning inner) experience completely. To which it is argued Skinner solved in 1963 by arguing we need not preside over the skin as an interface to the evaluative process. Page 16 has physiology claimed as an ally of behaviourism. Emotions nothing more than chemical changes in the body to which in turn result in a feeling in response. Psychology by comparison is not afforded any such ally, I was a little disappointed therefore that the significant interface it now shares with neuroscience was not offered, even passing observation. My own MSc course is closely aligned with both.

The key notes I have taken from this book, I summarise below. There is reason to return to it, and these notes will prompt any such return.

  • pp30 and pp50 Parsimony – the simplest explanation is generally the most likely true
  • Pp37 in essence the argument is simply A to B to C. Antecedent to behaviour to consequence.
  • Pp38 antecedents as IV and most often one of multiple stimuli of which one or several may have contingent cause as the antecedent(s)
  • Pp39 behaviour is termed response in specific circumstances
  • Pp40 consequence being the varied operant effect becoming chapter addresses of the later book.
  • Pp41 C can also be reinforcing stimuli (SR)
  • Pp43 1987 TAEB The experimental analysis of behaviour
  • Pp63 what is NOT behaviour. Growth or decay; traits;
  • Pp76 bodily functions as stimuli; Pp77 emotional arousal as physiological stimuli
  • Pp85 controls as part of the environment. Behaviour control environment
  • Pp85 law of cumulative complexity
  • Pp86 responses are put in to classes (response class) where the regulatory of a response class may be measured her time e.g. dishwashing x times in 7 days.
  • Pp87. Behaviour classes are : motor behaviour (movements)
  • Pp88 emotional behaviour as glands stimuli for example
  • Pp89 functional classification – respondent behaviour (Pavlov); operant behaviour (Skinner)
  • Pp92 natural law controls ALL behaviour
  • Pp120 diagram of multiple contingent for reflexive; Pp121 non-reflexive; Pp123 generalisation – in conditioning; pp124 stimulus generalising; Pp126 evocation – evocation training – SR feeds energy back to nervous system and evokes us to respond differently
  • Pp129 function altering stimuli; Pp133 covert neural behaviour cf Fraley 2008; Pp141 positive or negative same as reinforcing or punishing postcedents; Pp151 types of reinforcer; Pp153 extinction of respondent when no longer able to elicits response; Pp169 shaping; Pp179 chaining; Pp191 fading procedure; Pp199 schedules of reinforcement; Pp217 assertive controls and 8 coercion traps; Pp273 overt and covert; Pp279 passivity

I now want to briefly reflect upon a confrontational tone of argument in this book. One hard to reconcile as coming from the academic class.

These next notes are prepared to support discussion within my MSc tutorials. We are mid-debate regarding the place of disciplinary dialogue and range of arguments that must be understood if the various arms of psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology, biology, neuroscience, and wider behavioural sciences are to be understood. The sustained attack by this author is thereby captured below for representation with my fellow students. Here are some quotes reflecting the uncompromising dismissive attitude directed at psychology.

we consider Skinner’s radical behaviorism, the philosophy that extends naturalism to inform the natural science of behavior that today we call behaviorology, after its separation from the non-natural, fundamentally mystical discipline that defines itself as studying “behavior and the mind”, (pp7)

the relation between behaviorology and psychology approximates the relation between biology and creationism (pp9)

but if natural scientists instead compromise by allowing claims that behavior in general … results from the spontaneous, willful act of some putative inner agent, then they lose the whole subject matter of human behavior – a subject matter whose application is likely vital for human survival – to purveyors of non-science (pp10)

with these processes, or sub parts, like id, ego, motive, choice, or trait, we cannot trace the behaviorological, physiological, chemical, or physical links of a natural functional history chain; we can only trace the causal chain back to the supposed spontaneous wilful act of the self agent. This breaks the chain of events in the natural functional history and so further excludes psychological analysis from natural science (pp11)

no capricious inner agent makes responses occur (pp17)

with much scientific activity involving methods, anyone using scientific procedures, even mystical people, can objectively collect data on any real phenomenon (pp19)

the general result of this development [1987 split of behaviorolgy as a separate discipline] is a foundation natural science related to all other natural sciences, not at the discredited level of body-directing self-agents, but at the level of a body’s physics based interactions with the external and internal environments (pp19)

some disciplines studying behaviour fall for overly complex accounts (e.g. minds, psyche, selves, souls, or many other types of putative behavior-initiating self-agents), (pp32)

[of agentialism] as a result psychology began as a non-natural discipline, and remains so today, (pp43)

it [psychology] even defined itself as “the study of behavior and the mind”, as it stuck to its secular (i.e., non-theological) version of mysticism. (pp43)

…”the demon-haunted world” Carl Sagan (1995) referred to science as “a candle in the dark”. We must turn that candle into a floodlight exposing the whole variety of unhelpful accounts for behavior while illuminating the helpful accounts for natural behavior science, and thereby support the tole of this science in helping solve local and global problems.. (pp50)

as science expanded, the fictional accounts for most phenomena have retreated. Today, fictional accounts generally still thrive only with respect to human nature and human behavior (pp51)

many scientific and other authors would welcome linguistic changes that allow them to write without automatically implying inner agents (pp52)

Stephen L Ledoux “what causes human behaviour – stars, selves, or contingency?” 2018

The most telling lesson in behaviour I take from this book is to retain a level of respect and dignity in academic writing, and at least have the good grace to keep current with arguments opposed to ones own. My reading of the likes of Robert Sapolsky suggest this more constructive dialogue approach to advancing subject matter still sits alive and well.

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Additional observations to build upon in due course

Two quite separate sets of thought are racing since Robert Sapolsky reframed the more biological-neuroscientist perspective on human decision-making.

Firstly that we have little if anything to do with the immediate decision-making process beyond having ownership of the biology we contain;

Second, that what do have is ability, and perhaps therein a responsibility, to be putting ourselves into the path of passing circumstance that offers better versions of those parts in us that effect wider event.

By Robert Sapolsky’s own admissions it is hard to reconcile with the second part. The second part being how we live without free will. How are we to remain morally governed or even inclined if we have no directive part in the play? How can we remain accountable for our actions and inactions. Why bother to give thought to anything at all? That is, however, to assume there is also pre-destiny. And of that I remain unconvinced. Nor is it, in my opinion, where Sapolsky’s account is directed.

How is this related to projects | within projects?

Modelling of complexity

Robert Sapolsky is presenting the challenges of addressing numerous levels of systems. Biological systems with huge complexity. Therein the realities of influence that relate to distance. The more layers one must pass through, the less influence we can expect to have. In the Limbic System he argues (lecture 14 of his 2010-2011 Human Behavioural Biology series), that this is measured in the number of synapse a message must cross through. In the world of construction projects I equate this to the commercial contracts across a supply chain. The more layers there are, the less influence the employer has over the lowest sitting links. The solution in both cases is creating extra pathways to override, intercept, or simply have visibility of interventions from elsewhere.

Sapolsky also reflects upon prior history as effecting current action potential. This is much the same as the history of our supply routes, cultural ties, beliefs, laws, customs, and propensity to revisit old wars. Much the same as within one organisation it is only in understanding the history of takeovers, mergers, successful relationships with clients and suppliers, shared relationships or long-standing feuds, that one can begin to better understand why the infrastructure of that business works in suboptimal or counter-intuitive ways. Furthermore, just as evolution is quick to punish outdated modes of being, so too does economics and cash-flow quickly reward those frameworks of processes finding work arounds to past solutions that are now in the way.

v | Behaviour | t

Firstly, returning to the challenge to free will. For purposes of my projects research free will or not seems less of a concern than to acknowledge behaviour is still a subject of potential control. It matters only that we know there is potential for change. This is Robert Sapolsky’s key point in arguing there is still reason to seek better ways.

Second, the point at which Robert Sapolsky seems less sure of how we then set ourselves up to live. My work around is taking the position that the resulting actions are not predetermined even if we are not directly acting with agency or otherwise. We can get to know the appropriateness of the controls. Influence the manner of the control. As Sapolsky says repeatedly, “we can know to know”. I would add that we can know why to know. We can seek to know what better control is and why, and let the process of converting action potentials within neurones worry about themselves. Our project controls at all levels need to account for such unpredictability regardless how the actions come to pass.

Modal confusion

There is also modal confusion addressed here. Robert Sapolsky makes a fabulous case for the multi-layered influences of our behaviour. That all of these factors can have impact, and that to look upon one mode alone is to miss the complexity that unfolds.

By example of this modal flexing, Robert Sapolsky talks of the amplification of actions where elevated testosterone plays a part. That it is society that rewards action and therein the challenge defence that testosterone helps reinforce. But this is not aggression. It is society that rewards the selfish, assertive, dominating types. Testosterone is defending challenge to status. But it is society determining what factors status is derived. Sapolsky’s observations are that it is therefore at a societal level we can hope to have some control. If we reward more kindness with more status, challenges to status will have testosterone fuelled kindness as the follow on. These become nudges toward a direction of travel. My question here is simply do we collectively think our direction of travel could be better, and if so what control of our meta-systems better reflects that goal?

My point here is that this is precisely the observation of our interactions themselves. That our own conflicting intentions become nuanced by our interactions with others, and [the illusion of] ourselves. But that in all cases there is potential for change. Not needing to be born of free will, but nor relevant if not. Change, born out of influence of the control environments we create. The modal level of risk we are addressing becomes critical to this assessment.

Accountability and responsibility

Victims one and all?

Next is the issue of whether free will is the only means by which we can give justification to holding an individual accountable, or least responsible for their actions. Robert Sapolsky argues that our justice systems are a leading edge of reform need. Not arguing that we let danger to society loose upon the streets, more that we have a little more empathy to the reason they the criminal actors are so broken at all. Controversial, emotive, and itself a position to polarise the lay persons he is reaching toward. A worthwhile debate but for my part, I sit opposed.

Responsibility without blame

Whether we become radical behaviourists like Skinner, hold out for the idealism of mind over matter, or allow a dualism of mind and body in any order of influence or prioritised proof of anything at all, there is a level of amalgamations of systems of interaction that we identify with as a whole.

Here again I see projects and organisational thinking troubled by the same modal confusion. I have previously written about how accountability can be retained whilst responsibility shifts between layers of engagement. I think this same principle can be applied in downward layers of attention without necessitating a reductionism towards subatomic physics. Not that Robert Sapolsky would disagree with that, at least as a pro or con towards free will. He argues that the necessary “bubbling up” from quantum mechanics to synaptic levels of biology are not feasible; they offer nothing positive toward a less random decision ability if free will is argued for; or offer a uniform influence across the trillions of synaptic messages that would therein have to all conform.

My point is that regardless of whether we think an individual wills an action or not, society functions at this higher level of control. We are all individuals by that metric. Regardless of whether that is an amalgamation of systems. Or whether consciousness or self determined agency are illusory. Both still reflect a contained system and with it one scale of control. Accordingly, we legally and in personal judgements hold these levels of a whole as stand alone. We are each that collection of systems, that illusion of self. And the human version of collaboration which our frontal cortex helps us navigate better than other animal systems, becomes the beginnings of wider human derived societal controls.

We can address accountability and responsibility in these same terms. The key point is to be clear in the modal level of engagement we are working from. It is these social laws that we deem consent to be age related. Or what constitutes acceptable exchange of chattel. Or what organisational complexity and what hierarchical order we attach and seek reward. This is the what. The containment of a social system we should know to know.

Concluding remarks

Free will or otherwise, we are all responsible for the societal, organisational, or moral controls past down to us. We are personally responsible to ensure we agree they are right, or make peace with how we reconcile that they are wrong. We also each retain responsibility for what we have been handed down, and accountability for what we pass on further therein. This is the burden of management of others. And the stewardship and duty in leadership that most attempt to evade.

I am therefore encouraged by the congruent conclusions all theory and science across these disciplines seems to land upon – at least from what I have found so far. To my mind (or the illusion therein), this still becomes a question of behaviour, and the manner of control.

This remains immensely complex, but perhaps able yet to be bettered by the nature of control.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Defensive decision-making

Risk Savvy : how to make good decisions

by Gerd Gigerenzer (2014)

This blog introduces defensive decision-making and takes a look at a book that should be on everyone’s reading list. It presents a critical examination of our shared self-serving habits in decision-making. Our shared propensity to do what comes naturally to us all – be selfish – and ultimately be the cause of wider problems in the name of a common good. The blog ends with a question of how deeply embedded this concept may dwell.

Regardless of whether project, risk, or people management sits within the remit of your roles in life, we are all making daily decisions. As agents of time-bound intended change I would argue our decisions are tightly connected within the bounds of projects, risk, and people. Projects | within projects.

Gerd Gigerenzer is a Professor of Psychology. Formerly at the University of Chicago; formerly Director (and now Emeritus Professor) of Max Planck Institute of Human Development; and founder of Simple Rational : Decision Institute, a name that corresponds to his 2015 book “Simply Rational – Decision-making in the real world”.

Gerd Gigerenzer, if Wikipedia were to be your guide, is labelled as a critical opponent of the Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky world of decision bias. To my mind that is a little too polarising. I have found plenty of room to apply the work of both. I am however also minded to make more of this comparison at a future moment of blogging research interest.

Several key concepts within Risk Savvy are introduced in this blog. I recommend this book for its psychological intrigue, just as enthusiastically as the Professor of Project Management who first recommended it to me. All page references hereunder are from Gigerenzer (2014).

What is it to be “risk savvy”

Gigerenzer presents the term “risk savvy” to mean our ability to actively apply risk literacy coupled with a wider skill to bridge the inevitable gap between knowledge and the unknown. An inevitable unknown, and therefore incalculable (pp3). He contends that as a society we lack this literacy, and use a flawed logic and language to erroneously overcome the unknown.

…as a percentage of what?

Gigerenzer tells us that when we are told there is a percentage chance of an event, we will each artificially add the subject matter to which this event is referring – when it is not explicitly offered. Gigerenzer offers a weather forecast example “tomorrow there is a 30% chance of rain”. He argues that to some this will mean 30% of the region in question will have rain. Some that 30% of the day will be rain effected. How we define what rain is, may vary. Others may consider this percentage a confidence level of the certainty that it will or will not rain e.g. three forecasters have said it will, seven forecasters have said it will not.

To counter the reference class error, he advocates always asking for a clarification of the reference class being framed i.e., “as a percentage of what?” (pp7). He distinguishes “absolute” from “relative” comparisons, in the context of change from one state to another. Healthcare being particularly guilty in this regard. By example the emotive response to being told a the chance of side effects in a new drug is 100% greater than before vs 1 in 10,000 is now 1 in 5,000 people are reported to have side effects.

A helpful rule, ask “as a percentage of what?”. Gigerenzer offers many pithy questions to pose throughout the book. These become tools in the decision-makers tool box of heuristics or the “adaptive toolbox” pp115-117

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Adaptive tool box

A contemporary example from our Covid19 era

I offer another healthcare example (click here). In this example a risk of viral infection is presented a percentage but with not explanation as to reference class, “as a percentage of what?”. Our most contemporary science papers and government advice shown to be presenting percentage without clarity of to what these percentage refer.

The fallacy of the plan

Gigerenzer offers us a joke. On page 18, data driven certainty is presented as an illusion sold by readers of tarot cards disguised as algorithms. It is page 20 that he recites what he sources as an old Yiddish joke “do you know how to make God laugh, tell him your plans”. There are comparison I could make here to the difference between the High Reliability Organisation that is focused upon training and an informed, adaptive, and empowered work force, to the more typically hierarchical and business continuity planning approach to major event planning.

Instead, Gigerenzer spends thirty example rich pages presenting how decision-making by experienced people will out-perform decisions supported by the ill-defined parameters of detailed calculations. Rule of thumb intuitions (page 29) to which his adaptive tool box later becomes the store (page 115). The Turkey illusion of being more certain of safety the longer all is well (page 39) becomes the metaphorical explanation for why Value at Risk (VaR) becomes fallacious in the face of more significant events than the system within which it operates have defined.

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Here are a selection of other helpful rules of thumb tools from pp116-121
  •  “hire well, let them do their job”
  • “decentralised operation and strategy”
  • “promote from within”
  • “Listen, then speak”
  • “nothing else matters without honesty and trustworthiness.”
  • “Encourage risks, empower decisions and ownership”
  • “Innovate to succeed”
  • “Judge the people not just the plan”
  • “mirror pecking orders to sell based on past sales”
  • “it’s never revenge”
  • “the more precise, the less transferable the rule”
  • “Less is more”

Luck and guess work

He brings our attention to Gestalt Psychology which continues to reformulate problems until the solution becomes more easily found. This proceeds to the necessary guess-work and illusory clarity we use from a young age to short-cut or simply make possible the learning of language. Not by word by word memory but by rules we learn via mistakes and slowly bettering our application in everyday use. He presents our innate ability to make guesses in other areas too. This section points out (page 49) that without error we have no learning. Furthermore without the possibility of risk bringing unexpected cross-overs there is no serendipitous discovery.

Defensive Decision Making

These examples are the early introductory remarks to introduce the concept of the defensive decision maker.

if its life or death make sure it includes your own

He presents the comparable cases of doctors and pilots and the interest in the safety checks, lessons learnt culture, and scrutiny towards change driven by cost in two similarly professional, skilled, and high pressure jobs. Various examples demonstrate the priority and insistence, and resistance to compromise, toward controls and procedures in the pre-action and post-action stages. His point being that regardless of what we may think it is to be professional, decisions become more personal and effort more willingly expended when it is your welfare at risk too.

On page 50 we are introduced to blame culture and the premise of no errors flagged, no learning or early correction possible. This exemplified as the typical pilots vs doctors enthusiasm or not for checklists. This becomes a question of motivation born out of self-interest. By page 55 this has been expanded into a wider set of defensive decision-making principles which I think we can all know as true from our own experiences and those we witness. The “we need more data”, or “don’t decide and so don’t get blamed”; or “recognition heuristics” for example choosing the bigger name is easier to defend even if it is the lesser choice. The point is all of these self-serving decisions become the means to evade accountability. In leadership I think this is everywhere, and in the context of blame, we are all at fault every time we ignore the challenges faced and just demand the head of whoever was last to duck.

I have much to introduce on this concept. In Gigerenzer, the psychological reflections upon how this is inherently wound into risk and the self-serving behaviour we all find ourselves guilty, seems to me a powerful reflection of every headline in the news. That includes the motivations for those headline chasing interests themselves, and every blame transferring opportunity we each read them in hope to find.

How deep, or how low, can we go?

My questions are many. But one I am pondering right now is can this be a little closer to a universally applicable source of our failings as whole societies. In the project language I am attempting to introduce, it reflects our interfaces, our lack of being mode, the distant we try to create between ourselves and necessary action, and the separated motivations we then each stand behind. Every time we let our singular interest in visibility | behaviour | trust defend our own needs at the expense of others, we create a project of self-interest, with its own reasons to justify a truth. This project of self-interest sitting primary and priority to others we may subscribe. The more projects | within projects we permit by the self-serving interests of our controls, the more defensive decision-making we can permit to stand.

visibility | behaviour | trust

To my way of thinking, this is precisely why we have no trust in each other. Why visibility becomes centred upon ourselves. It becomes our justification for behaving badly towards others. We divide ourselves, by the singular interests of our individual projects. We selfishly allow controls to exist that support the same. We elect leaders who advocate more of the same or we ignore them completely and just do as we please.

Perhaps the following contemporary examples can be related to this propensity to make defensively minded decisions, or blame those who do when we would do the same? The current queues for petrol; the positions we take on whether wealth or health should be Covid19s first response; the blame we put upon impotent government; the despair at a headline chasing press; the divides in our society and across borders; the self-serving politics and back-biting distractions, the executive bonus’ that go unchecked or the trade union disruptions on spurious grounds of safety; the constant erosions of interest in our schools, our hospitals, and our distant kin; the loss of interest by those who can afford it, and collective despair by those that cannot.

We are all defensive decision-making machines and we are all playing the zero sum game. As I return to university with psychology at my fingertips, I am wondering how deep this may go. Are we each even fooling ourselves, with defensive decision-making within that goes largely unseen.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

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