Report on “Workplace Superhero – could pausing for thought improve your output and performance?”, the lunchtime CPD talk given by Pamela Lyall on 26 November 2014.
business matters is very grateful to DWF LLP who hosted the event and provided a sandwich lunch for those attending.
To view the PowerPoint presentation which accompanied Pamela’s talk, hear a (30 minute) recording of her talk, or hear the (7 minute) recording of the Q&A which followed the talk use the icons at the foot of the page.
Pamela started her talk by outlining her background as a lawyer and mediator. What she was going to be talking about is part of what she does and she said she would draw examples from her experience there. She encouraged us all to seek examples from our own sphere of work.
She referred to a course on “Neuro–awareness for conflict resolution managers” which she had been on in 2014 – billed as being the interface between neuroscience and professional development. The overarching theme she took from the course was that, while we as a human race can land rockets on Mars and on small comets, what we know about our brains is actually quite limited. An interesting principle which has become clear is that our brains have evolved over time, from the era when decisions related to “fight or flight” when confronted with a sabre toothed tiger, to the present day. Our brains and ways of thinking have become more sophisticated and Pamela said she wanted to explore this and draw principles from it which will be helpful in our world of work today.
Pamela moved on from her introduction to highlight a book by Daniel Kahneman called “Thinking Fast and Slow” which she highly recommended. Kahneman has written an economics book but one which casts huge light on the thought processes of the human brain. His main thesis is that there are two ways that we think – “Fast” and “Slow”. “Fast” or “System 1” thinking (S1) is automatic, effortless and powerful and is active almost all of the time. It is valuable inasmuch as it provides that social and safety background to our thought processes and allows us to deal with life at a “normal” pace. There are, however, times when S1 thinking fails us and we need to be aware of this. At these times the controlled, effortful, logical, conscious “System 2” or “Slow” thinking (S2) needs to come into play.
Pamela used the example of a camera where the “auto” setting (S1) works well for most of the time but, for the tricky shots, we need to use the “manual” settings (S2).
So what does this mean for us? She was quick to emphasise that these two types of thinking are not mutually exclusive but it is true that we have to consciously engage our S2 thinking more than we currently do if we are to benefit. S1 is very intuitive and so there are a number of traps that we tend to fall into when trying to think through a process or a problem. She highlighted and explained these in some detail starting with an interesting example of a study involving a staff canteen, an honesty box and posters of eyes and flowers! Listen to the talk to find out the detail.
The traps highlighted include:
How we see things
- Priming – environment
- Framing – context (accompanied by an “audience participation” test)
- Anchoring – numbers (accompanied by an “audience participation” test which could be applied to any negotiation process you are involved in
- What you see is all there is WYSIATI – S1 thinking makes up a story and fills in the gaps based on the limited evidence you can see
- Looking for confirming evidence
- Fundamental attribution error
How we evaluate and decide
- Mixing up probability v similarity
- Experience v memory
- Wrong rule of thumb
- Over optimism – planning fallacy – Pamela used an example from Edinburgh itself
- Over estimating own ability
- Loss aversion – it was fascinating to see how the same proposition expressed in two different ways elicited different responses from those present
- Pursuing sunk costs
- Reactive devaluation – Pamela used an example from international diplomatic relations
- Inertia – sticking with the status quo
In avoiding these traps Pamela urged us to recognise the warning signs and consciously engage S2 thinking. One of the best ways of doing this is to slow down. So stopping, stepping back and thinking about the issues can actually produce better results in the long term. She cited William Urie, the author and mediator who is quoted as saying that the best button on his computer is the pause button – not sending an email straight away in the heat of the moment but coming back to it even after just a few minutes when you can ask “is this really what I want to say?” – looking at a proposal after a break of an hour or so to ask “have I correctly evaluated the options and allowed for any prejudices which I might be bringing to this?”
Having a third party to advise you can be helpful – indeed, in some instances, you can act as your own third party by asking “If I were advising myself on this problem, would this be what I would tell myself to do?” It may sound odd but even the act of asking the question can be enough to trigger and activate S2 thinking with the benefits it brings.
Pamela’s final thought was to advocate the use of a structured process when addressing issues and problems – she used the example of the Edward de Bono “Thinking Hats” process, saying that she knows of companies within the Edinburgh area who actually use coloured hats to follow this through!
As she concluded her talk Pamela urged us to change from the inside out and then opened the floor for what was a lively Q&A session.