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

Qualification vs Experience PART 1

To own or apply knowledge

This is a LinkedIn favourite. Click-bait, guaranteed to provoke reaction. It is an ever-valid discussion to return to. In my consulting discussions the debate of demonstrating qualified staff or experience in role is equally divisive. But I have no doubt, experience counts.

PART 2 of this blog will perhaps revisit some past threads of discussion. For now however, I simply want to demonstrate what I think is really being asked. For me this is simply the difference between having and being.

I have blogged about having vs being before. Links will appear at the bottom of this post. Nothing here is new. Dave Snowden regularly speaks of people relying on form when it is process that counts. John Vervaeke runs regular YouTube dialogue presenting these differences as contributors to the meaning crisis.

From a knowledge perspective we can consider this as the difference between acquired and applied learning. In those terms it perhaps becomes self-evident what the difference between qualification and experience reflects. But I will elaborate for clarity.

This can be explained across the categories of visibility | behaviour | trust (v|b|t).

Qualifications v | b | t

visibility | b | t

High visibility. But only visibility of potential. Measurable as standardised evidence to demonstrate that a core knowledge has been achieved. Employers can advertise expectations in standardised language for all potential candidates to self-select against. It also presents benchmarks to aim toward. At the heart of the visibility is the question “is this particular example of human form able to contribute to our process?” In this regard the qualification presents an attribute – a speculative possibility.

v | behaviour | t

Them and us behaviour. This is having mode. Ownership. To have a degree certificate is to own a qualification. To be Associate or Fellow qualified in a professional capacity is to have achieved a demonstration of learning in your craft. This is to have. This is form. It is a material representation of attaining a learning from an institution. It is something that has been acquired. By the application of personal resources of time and money towards gaining something others have offered you as an exchange. The conclusion of which is a necessary demonstration that this acquisition has been successful. A confirmation is awarded based on a manner of pre-determined examination of your account or recall.

v | b | trust

Them and us, as credibility. Trust is inherently placed in the hands of a third-party. These are institutions of learning, academically or otherwise accredited. It thereby increases distance between candidate and employer; prospective service provider and customer. At scale this is organisational accreditation or licence to operate. But such certifications are also an enabler of the defensive decision-maker. Lowering the necessary skill-base of the assessor; reducing decision parameters; optimising short-lists. This trust is assumed. It is therefore fragile, rigid to the framework it reflects, standardised, and potentially subject to abuse.

Experience v | b | t

visibility | b | t

High visibility. Measurable in years, or reputation, or demonstrable by tangible success. Success measurable by metrics of application not acquisition.

v | behaviour | t

Applied know-how is able to be demonstrated. Learning whilst doing and understanding of contextual application in action and deeds. Contextually relevant is therefore more detailed in explanation and demonstration. It can command more respect simply because it is the being part of the process, not simply representing the potential to be.

v | b | trust

A closer approximation of fit to role is possible. It requires a greater ability to share a trust. A trust can be built based upon shared understanding of process. Abstraction by both parties (e.g. employer and employee) who can better empathise with the other, having better modelling in mind of what the process they share as intentions, requires of the other.

A practical example of having or owning knowledge vs applying it

I conclude with a further example of the limited visibility that owned knowledge represents. This is day 643 of lockdown in Casa Beardall. Undoubtedly now my most intense era of knowledge acquisition. One MSc completed, and another underway. Owned knowledge by qualification. But my owned knowledge is accumulating by another metric – by the volume of literature I have acquired. This last 12 months, the calendar year of 2021, I have spent over £1,000 on books. I have accounted for them all. They are listed in the table below. I can claim to have read them all. I do claim to have read most. But all you can seek as validation is visibility e.g., evidence that I physically own them.

Some of these books have been heavy reading. Some almost impenetrable (Kant or more recently Heidegger). Some of the books are just a guide to others. The point is who is to know if I have read them, let alone understood them. But even if I sit an exam to demonstrate an understanding of them, it has no reflection on whether I can apply them to anything meaningful to you or anything worldly at all.

A book seems to me the perfect metaphor as a simplification of this debate. Anyone can own a book. Have this knowledge to hand. It is a literal form of knowledge. But to apply knowledge is to not have it to hand. It is to have it abstractly available in mind. And thereby find means to apply it to something new.

In the zoom age these displays are everywhere. Bookshelves strategically located behind camera shots. Mine included. The academic class more guilty than most. Other than perhaps politicians.

We can display all, but in the end it is application that counts. And experience is the easiest representation of that.

I will conclude the crassness with the following table. Hubris on show.

Having or Being | Form or Process | Acquired or Applied?

A list of books purchased in 2021. A gratuitous display. That demonstrates more of my commitment to charities vs publishers, than it does to how the content may be applied.

£803.70Subtotal from Oxfam 
£36.84The goalamazon
£29.99Historical Sociology and World Historyo51****
£27.07What is ancient philosophy?amazon
£24.99Language and Social Relationso50****
£21.95Fool’s Goldamazon
£21.38Becoming humanamazon
£20.00Jungian psychoanalysis: Working in the Spirit of Carl Jungo38****
£20.00Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Poppero51****
£20.00William James and the transatlantic conversationo44****
£19.99Social Psychology — 8th Editiono65****
£19.99Psychology and Alchemyo38****
£19.99History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russello51****
£19.99what causes human behaviour – stars, selves or contingencies?o61****
£19.33Essays of Francis Baconamazon
£16.48Karl Jaspers : The origin and goal of historyamazon
£15.99Kants Critique of Practical Reasono46****
£15.00Representing and Interveningo51****
£15.00Short History Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Uniono44****
£15.00ETHIC of Benedict de Spinoza: Demonstrated in Geometrical Ordero44****
£14.99Principles of Brain Dynamics Global State Interactionso38****
£14.99Summa Theologica – Volume 17: Psychology of Human Actso33****
£14.99Existentialism and Humanismo33****
£14.99Leibniz: Nature and Freedomo51****
£14.99The Psychology of Politicso61****
£14.99The human use of human beingso61****
£14.99The Philosophy of David Humeo45****
£14.99The Freud Jung Letterso50****
£14.99Kant’s Critique of pure reason; translated by Norman Kemp Smitho45****
£14.99Will Hutton – Them and Us – Signed First Editiono44****
£14.99Newman on the Psychology of Faith in the Individual [1928]o44****
£14.99An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Second Editiono44****
£14.99Joseph Campell’s selected letters 1927-1987amazon
£14.50Josepeh Campbell’s hero with a thousand facesamazon
£14.02Joseph Campbell’s pathways to blissamazon
£13.99Being and timeo44****
£13.66Your Leadership Legacy : becoming the leader you were meant to beamazon
£13.62Tales from two sides of the brainamazon
£12.99Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambitiono46****
£12.991177 BCE : the year civisation collapsedamazon
£12.95Explaining the Braino44****
£12.15Bandit Capitalism : Carillionamazon
£12.00Complex/Archetype/Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jungo33****
£11.99Imitatio Christio46****
£11.98The goal of philosophyamazon
£11.63The conciousness instinctamazon
£10.99Freedom and beliefo38****
£10.99The Essential James Hillman: A blue fireo44****
£10.00The Problems of Philosophyo33****
£10.00The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionismo51****
£10.00Statistics for psychologyo44****
£10.00Vygotsky’s Psychologyo44****
£9.99Analyzing Social Science Datao65****
£9.99Ego & Archetypeo38****
£9.99Coleridge’s Works – Aids to Reflection – published in 1890o51****
£8.99Buddhismwithout belief : a contemporary guide to awakeningamazon
£8.96Applying AI to Project Managementamazon
£8.75How the Project Management Office can use AI to imporve the bottom lineamazon
£8.44Gods in Everyman : a new psychology of man’s lives and lovesamazon
£8.15Risk Savvyamazon
£8.00The structure of scientific revolutionso46****
£8.00Routledge philosophy guidebook to Kant and the Critique of pure reasono44****
£7.99The Story of Civilization. Rousseau and Revolution 10. The Protestant Northo46****
£7.99Chomsky’s Reflection on Languageo46****
£7.99The Conscious Mind In Search of a Fundamental Theoryo38****
£7.99The Poetical Works of Shelleyo45****
£7.99The desert fathers :sayings of the early christian monksamazon
£7.78Who’s in Charge?amazon
£7.50Mind and cosmoso51****
£7.49The Vision of Judgment and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos III & IVo51****
£7.49Existential Analysis 11.2,12.1 & 13.1o50****
£7.19The Human Side of Managing Technological Innovationo46****
£7.00Time – Rhythm and Reposeo38****
£7.00The House at Pooh Cornero33****
£7.00Radical prioritieso44****
£7.00Mapping The Mindo44****
£6.99Foundations of Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometryo46****
£6.99The Neurotic Personality of Our Timeo46****
£6.99An Essay concerning Human Understandingo45****
£6.99Early Christian writing : the apostellic fathersamazon
£6.71Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophyamazon
£5.99The Shakespeare Classics: The Taming Of A Shrewo33****
£5.99Critique of the Power of Judgment (2008)o51****
£5.97Critical chainamazon
£5.00Mapping the Mindo51****
£4.99Social Psychology: A Study of Human Interaction (1965)o65****
£4.99Two treatises of governmento46****
£4.99Rousseau’s Political Writingso45****
£4.99An enquiry concerning human understandingo45****
£4.99Freedom Evolves, Daniel C. Dennett, Penguin Paperbacko44****
£4.99Workplace counsellingo44****
£4.84Plato : The Republicamazon
£3.99Understanding the Self-Ego Relationship in Clinical Practiceo51****
£3.99Mind Watching: Why We Behave the Way We Doo61****
£3.99The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and the Mindo45****
£3.99The village effecto44****
£3.00Oscar Wildeo45****
£2.99Real Confidenceo44****
£2.99The emerald tablet of Hermesamazon
£2.49The Science of Passionate Interests: … Tarde’s Economic Anthropologyo51****
£2.49The measure of all thingso51****

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

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.


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.

Find my professional mask here: