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Ingenuity Tip: Upgrade The Moment

Here’s another ingenuity tip from the Ingenuity Lab.


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Ingenuity Tip: Upgrade The Moment2017-02-08T14:45:12-05:00

Ingenuity Tip: Mining Insights

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Ingenuity Tip: Mining Insights2017-01-31T10:51:03-05:00

Yes There Is an “I” In Team

Adapted from my book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity.   (2016). Dave Fleming. A Tribal Alchemy Resource.


The “I’s” Matter

When I was growing up, there was a game in my house that I loved to play. It consisted of a round plastic plate, on top of which were approximately 15 individual plastic, bubble-like structures. A magnet, yellow on one side and black on the other, was inside each bubble structure. There was also a small plastic wand—maybe three or four inches long—with a magnet on one end. One side of the wand’s magnet was black and the other was yellow.


The goal of the game was to place the wand on the bottom side of the plate where it would turn all the magnets to the color yellow or black. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly. The magnets did not act independently. So when I placed the wand under one of the individual magnets to turn it yellow, three others magnet would flip to their black sides. This created enormous frustration because just about the time you had all the magnets flipped to one color, a few would flip back to the other. I threw it across the room on several occasions. Luckily, or not, it was very sturdy.


After a few decades of working with tribes, the game from my childhood has become a powerful metaphor that highlights an essential dynamic: individual tribe members affect each other in very specific and powerful ways. It only takes one or two “out of sync” tribe members to flip many other tribe members upside down.


Thus far in the book I’ve emphasized the collective effort of groups to ingeniously use their raw materials to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. I would be remiss, however, if I did not highlight just how influential—for good or for ill—individual tribe members can be in the process of alchemy and the well-being of the tribe.


One, two, or ten (depending on the size of your tribe) misaligned tribe members with negative intentions can undo collective ingenuity and spread destructive attitudes. These attitudes and actions can overtake a tribe like a virus. I have witnessed individual tribe members wreak havoc through subtle and not so subtle sabotage. The force generated by their actions stalled innovation and deflated the energy required to make needed change. It is hard to overestimate the damage that can be done by such saboteurs. It is also sad when they are allowed to continue their ways because of ineffective leadership.


I have also witnessed the amazing energy and creativity individual tribe members can bring to a tribe because they are committed to their own self-development. I’ve watched as well-developed tribe members exude confidence in the midst of ambiguity and know-how in the midst of uncertain and difficult times. Not only are these types of tribe members magnetic and energizing, but they are often the starters and sustainers of the alchemy process.



No matter the tribe, leaders and engaged members alike want to populate their tribe with individuals who care about their own self- development and consistently pursue it with vigilance and intention. How individual tribe members behave in the pursuit of personal continuous improvement affects the well-being and creative productivity of the tribe. In other words, when individual tribe members pursue personal excellence, rather than personal mediocrity, it increases the likelihood of tribal alchemy. The oft-quoted phrase “There is no I in team” is both untrue and potentially very dangerous. There are many “I’s” in tribes—and how each approaches his or her personal improvement—will affect the tribe.


The last brief section of this book explores targeted practices that tribe members can cultivate on a regular basis to ensure they are “alchemy- ready.” Not only will these practices increase personal effectiveness, but they will also enable tribe members to lend their best energies to the alchemic process.


Here are the four practices:

  • Attend: Pay attention to self, others, and situations.
  • Explore: Be curious and discovery-centered.
  • Create: Be creative in your life and work.
  • Adapt: Graciously flex with change.


Watch the rigorous routine of Lebron James. He is “alchemy ready” for his tribe.

Yes There Is an “I” In Team2017-01-12T07:41:59-05:00

Coming Early Summer 2017: Intersections of Ingenuity

Close your eyes and picture an intersection. Make it one that you either walk or drive through on a regular basis. Got it? Now try and put yourself at the moment where you intersect with others. Imagine that you’re walking down the street— or driving in your car. The intersection, with all the people and activity, is approaching. Can you see it? Feel it? As you approach that intersection–or any for that matter–what happens to you?                                                                                                                                                                               

Here are a few possibilities.

  • You have a heightened sense of awareness
  • You move at a slower and more deliberate pace (unless external forces require you to speed up)
  • You scan for potential dangers
  • You watch for fast emerging situations
  • You yield to vulnerable people on foot or bike                                                                                                             

Intersections are tricky locations on the road. To navigate them with success requires vigilance, thoughtfulness, and skill.                                                                                                                                                           

An intersection is a helpful metaphor for the interactions we have with each other. When we intersect with others– in life or at work– we need the same attentive vigilance we have at an intersection on the street. In fact, we need more skill and awareness.                                                                                                                                   

I’m currently working on a writing project— due out later this year called— Intersections: Four Crossroads Critical To The Ingenious Execution Of Your Mission. Intersections will be available as a workbook, workshop and eventually as an online course.



I look forward to sharing ideas and updates with you as I create this program. I also hope it can be of value to you as a leader-manager to increase the ingenuity of your tribe and your effectiveness as you intersect with them.


Here’s a sneak preview:                                                                                                                                                              

Intersections: Four Crossroads Critical To The Ingenious Execution Of Your Mission

As a leader and manager, you and your team regularly face challenges and opportunities. During these times, you need world-class creative solutions that keep your mission moving forward. Teams need everyday ingenuity to thrive in this kind of environment.


Everyday ingenuity happens when teams find more usable ideas, maximize current resources, and adapt fast to changing conditions. When a group of people consistently act in these ways, magic happens.                      


Here’s another important aspect of everyday ingenuity:

          The way you interact with your team influences how ingeniously they will execute the mission.                  


All intersections with team members matter. However, there are four that increase the likelihood of everyday ingenuity. These four interactions are like intersections. When you’re approaching them, and as you pass through them, you need to increase your attention and act with wisdom.


The Intersections methodology and workshop explores the four intersections, how they are related, and how you can maximize each one toward the ingenuity you need.

  • Intersection One: Selecting Talent for Your Tribe
  • Intersection Two: Onboarding to The Party
  • Intersection Three: Coaching for Continuous Improvement
  • Intersection Four: Correcting for Change


Your mission is too critical to waste.
Your resources are too precious to squander.
Let the Intersections methodology help you find everyday ingenuity.


Coming Early Summer 2017: Intersections of Ingenuity2017-01-09T12:14:16-05:00

Increase Collective Ingenuity Through This Practice

This is an excerpt from my book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity. The excerpt explores one quality of collective ingenuity: how a group behaves when they “circle” a challenge or opportunity.


How You Enter and Behave in the Circle Matters
I live my life and do my work in the shadow of a simple but powerful principle: the way you enter a situation has a lot to do with the way it will turn out. Now, of course there are limits to this idea and sometimes it’s just plain wrong. You can enter a situation with a positive attitude and great intentions, and it can still fall apart on you. However, mindsets do influence outcomes. Just head home tonight to your significant other in a foul mood, ready for a fight, and see what happens.


The way your tribe enters a conversation has a lot to do with the outcomes that conversation will yield.


[Tweet “The way you direct your collective thinking matters. @davefleming360”]



When alchemy-producing tribes enter a conversation about a challenge or opportunity, in the midst of the chaos and ambiguity, they direct their intentions toward insights. They desire to see the raw materials through different frames and organize those ideas and materials into new possibilities. This begins when tribes anticipate insight through their collective vision and conversation.


During times of circling, there are a number of unhealthy alternatives available to tribes. Here are just a few:


  • Splintering
  • Ambivalence
  • Blame
  • Distraction


The way you direct your thoughts (together) matters


The ambiguity of facing challenges and opportunities can lead to dysfunctional mindsets. In fact, sometimes it may be impossible to avoid them. We can’t be at our best in every moment of every conversation. However, dysfunctional strategies that emerge during a conversation are often a cue that a tribe needs to reset the direction of its thoughts. And in what direction do we want the thoughts of the tribe to move during this phase? Insight.


You “join” to uncover insights that can lead to the alchemy of your raw materials. Tribal insight is more likely when it is the explicit desire of the tribe. Remember the principle above? The way a tribe enters a situation (or conversation) has a lot to do with the way it will turn out. It’s likely your tribe knows this principle is important, but it’s quite another matter to practice it in the midst of strategic dialogue. Therefore, when your tribe “joins” in the circle, it’s important to set “insight” as your intention before you begin. If you’re all expecting insight (something we will talk more about later), it is more likely that you will bring your best effort to the circle.


If your tribe is new to directing thoughts toward insight, it’s best to begin conversations with that as the stated desire. “Okay, we have X challenge in front of us. We know it’s frustrating, but beyond the frustration, there is a creative solution. Let’s set our intention toward insight. As we talk, let’s do it with an anticipation that something will reveal itself.” Now you might think that stating that is just over the top. You might not be able to see your tribe inviting such an intention. Well then, I simply refer you back to the earlier principle stated a bit differently. If you don’t think you can do it, you probably can’t or won’t.


Mantras That Help You Reinitiate 


Your tribe would do well to develop some cues or mantras that initiate or reinitiate collective intention. Here are a few possibilities:

  • We bring our best energy to this moment
  • We stretch toward our challenge/opportunity with intention
  • Join the circle (now these words mean something more)

If these don’t resonate, develop mantras that trigger and cue mindful circling.


Once you’ve set your intention, don’t force it. Once your tribe sets insight as its desire, don’t work too hard to find the insight during the conversation. Spend your energy on the quality of the conversation about your raw materials and let the insights sneak up on you. If you push too hard for the insight, it will often elude you. If you focus on the raw materials and your tribe’s ability to uncover new possibilities, insights will pop.


Remember autostereograms? They can be helpful here. I noticed over the years of staring at these pictures that if I tried too hard to find the picture, it didn’t reveal itself. I needed a kind of relaxed focus that enabled the picture to pop. Tribes that push too quickly for solutions miss the relaxed but focused nature of the conversations that lead to insight. Set your desire for insight, keep it a part of your tribal psyche during the conversation, and then place your focus on seeing ingenious ways to use what you have. Let the insight come to you.

Increase Collective Ingenuity Through This Practice2016-12-27T09:26:47-05:00

Why Productive Complaining Changes The World

This is an excerpt from my book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity.  Dave Fleming, 2016.

Productive complaining has a purpose, and that purpose is alchemy. Productive complaining occurs when the complaining highlights something that is wrong in the system, something that needs to change. The issue can be frustrating and even cause tribe members to express frustration. But the difference between unproductive and productive complaining is the purpose.


Productive complaining reveals the issue in order to free a tribe from a problem through solution making. It’s kind of like productive coughing. When my sons were young and sick, the doctor would often encourage what she called “productive coughing.” The coughing gets gunk out that is slowing the healing process. Once the gunk is out, the body can go back to magic making. Though it was always hard to let them cough, in certain cases, it was exactly what needed to occur.


The word complain comes from the French word complaindre. This word literally meant to beat the breast in grief. Over time, the word became associated with the grief of physical pain. We still use the word in this manner even today. If I said to you, “I went for a run and my legs complained the entire time,” you would understand that my legs hurt during the run.


When tribe members complain, it’s likely that there is “pain” somewhere in the work or the system. As we’ve seen, some people have made a sport out of complaining. They don’t complain to locate challenges that need alchemy but rather to thwart progress or find solidarity with other serial complainers. This is not productive complaining and should be eliminated from tribal communication. Productive complainers identify challenges and then quickly initiate alchemy to address them. The speed with which tribe members move from complaining to creating alchemic solutions is another way to determine if the complaining is productive. I’m not sure we can get rid of all complaining. I’m not even sure we should. What we want to rid our tribes of is endless complaining about the same things.


Faye Crosby (1993) in a journal article entitled “Why Complain?” put it this way:


Silence without end is not acceptable. There is cause for grumbling and a need for action. Working for a better world is a task fraught with constant difficulties. The very first challenge—the one that must be met if the long, hard work of social action is to meet with success—is to assert one’s point of view honestly and without pretense. To do so requires the courage to initiate action long before one is strong enough to win a confrontation and the wisdom to sustain the action in face of a frank realization that one is annoying or inconvenient to others who are as human and as good as oneself. (p. 175)

Ingenious tribes make room for productive complaining. We have ways of describing this productive complaining that sets it apart as positive. In my work with tribes, I’ve noticed they often use the word pushback to indicate a desire to complain or challenge the prevailing idea. Too often leaders squelch complaining because either the tribe is stuck in unproductive complaining or because the leader is threatened by the mere idea that someone would be “disloyal” enough to counter or protest. Smart tribes know that productive complaining not only reveals challenges in need of alchemy but is the signal that action, or alchemy, is needed.


Again, Crosby wrote:

First, when complaining, we should remember that protest is but the first of many steps in making a better world. Actions, which may or may not be accompanied by more complaints, are integral to the meliorative enterprise. Neither at the level of interpersonal face-to-face relationships nor at the level of societal interactions is it healthful and helpful to complain chronically “without offering solutions to problems.” Complaint without action is ultimately unsatisfactory. (p. 170),


One of the significant differences between productive and unproductive complaining is delivery. Oftentimes productive complaining is delivered with an “I’ve got our back” or “heads up” approach. However, there are times that irritating people, who deliver their complaints in irritating ways, have productive insights. In this case, we have to get past the delivery in order to discern the nugget of insight. We also should do more to encourage people to diminish irritating styles of delivery. We will talk more about individual accountabilities in the “practices” section.


What’s important at this point is to understand that complaining often reveals challenge, and challenge reveals the possibility of alchemy. Second, tribes have the benefit of dealing with complaints together—if it’s productive, that is. They can attend and absorb together. Complaining must lead toward creative solutions and away from entropy.



Tribe members can more easily push through this entropy and embrace the barriers that invite ingenuity and progress—that is, if they are mindful. If tribes are mindless, then complaining is the first step toward entrenchment and entropy. This eliminates creative thinking and a desire to work for alchemy.


Tribes turn challenge into something negative when they taint the challenge with bad attitudes. Tribes turn challenge into something positive when they inspire each other to overcome. This is why the way tribes engage challenge and each other in the moment of challenge is critical—something we will explore in the process of alchemy.

Why Productive Complaining Changes The World2016-12-14T07:20:12-05:00

I Am Not So Smart. And No Offense But Neither Are You. Understanding Cognitive Biases. Pt. 2

In part one of this article we explored what a cognitive bias is and how they can wreak havoc on our thinking and living. In part two we’ll look at how cognitive biases infect groups and I’ll give you a four-step process to reduce the influence of biases.


What Do You See?


Take a look at the picture on the right? What’s going on? When I show audiences this picture, people seem sure that they know exactly what is going on. The only trouble is this: there are always significant disagreements about the story behind the picture. Some people believe it’s clear that the man is having a secret romantic moment with the woman on the right, while his wife (leaning on his shoulder) is oblivious to it. Others believe the woman nearest the man is his sister. The woman to the right is his girlfriend.

And that’s not where it ends. I’ve heard six or seven interpretations of the picture. All the interpretations quite different. All the interpreters quite certain they are right. How is this possible?


We make meaning; our biases, if we’re not paying attention, shape the meaning we make. 


Seeing Together: A Worthy Chore


Everyday we make meaning out of experiences. The crazy thing though is that people regularly make different meanings out of the same experience (like the picture above).  Just because we’re at the same party, meeting, or event, doesn’t mean we interpret that experience the same way. Our unique perspectives and cognitive biases influence what we see and the meaning we make. This is one reason why people can interpret the same situation so differently.


Have you ever walked out of a meeting (work or otherwise) and thought, “that went really well.” Only to find out later that no one else shared your opinion. Some thought the meeting was a bore. Others believed the meeting made current circumstances worse. And two people were offended and now want apologies for words uttered. You think, “are you kidding me, was I in a different meeting?” The answer to that, based on cognitive biases, is a big fat yes. When you think about it, it’s amazing that we can create any shared meaning at all. As soon people start talking (heck, before people start talking), each person’s biases and opinions flood their thoughts and words. It’s frustrating and often painstaking to find a shared meaning that allows us to move forward. This may be one reason we cleverly AVOID the hard work of creating alignment.


Avoiding Can Lead To Disaster


My new friend and author, Michele Wucker, has written an insightful book about how groups of people often ignore avoidable dangers. She calls these avoidable-dangers-waiting-to-happen, Gray Rhinos. A gray rhino is avoidable because we have prior knowledge of the danger and perhaps even the potential disaster that looms. But we ignore the warning signs until it’s too late.  In the book, Michele recounts story after story of real-world disasters that were the result of this avoidance. And she recounts how cognitive biases, group think (a collective bias), misalignments, and our penchant for avoiding conflict, sets up the perfect storm that leads to disaster.




I asked her how the response to the book has been. Here’s what she said:

It’s been interesting seeing the reactions to the book as people relate gray rhinos to personal, work and even policy challenges. So many readers tell me, “Yes! What you’re saying is so important, and I am using these concepts in my life and business already.” But then there are the doubters who say that we are dealing well with the obvious, because it’s obvious, so we don’t need to worry; ironically, they are the ones who most need to be on the lookout for gray rhinos and could benefit from the concept. Their cognitive biases are holding them hostage.


Read that last sentence again.


Cognitive biases not only hold groups hostage, but they also significantly diminish collective ingenuity. It’s hard to find powerful insights and act together on those insights with available resources when our shared view is riddled with bias. It’s also difficult to make magic together when we have no shared view and we are lost in disagreement and debate. What can we do to reduce personal and collective bias and move important work forward? Here’s a four step process that can help.


Number One: When you enter conversations, be epistemically humble


Being epistemically humble is a fancy way of saying, “don’t be a know-it-all.”


The first way to reduce the power of bias is to be certain of only one thing: when it comes to your view of a situation, you are likely wrong (at least in part). When I interpret a situation or a person’s actions, it’s easy to begin with the view that my interpretation is “mostly right.” The trouble is that it’s not true. I’m not mostly right about anything. Further, when I lead with the idea that I’m right, other people must then work to unseat me from my view. I’m entrenched in my rightness. And if they are also entrenched in their rightness, finding shared meaning is tough. If, however, we both lead with the assumption that we are wrong (at least in part), due to our biases, we are more open to consider other possibilities–including each other’s.


Individuals in groups should approach conservations with this kind of personal humility. When you enter a conversation, consciously remember that your biases are part of your interpretation scheme. For example, when you get riled about a comment, assume your bias is, at least in part, what triggered you. Don’t just assume other people are trying to ruin your day (with their comments). Of course, that is possible. But it’s far more likely your emotional activation is partly due to your own bias toward the situation or the person. Factor that in and look for ways to tell a different story. That leads to number two.


Number Two: Challenge your personal story with alternatives


If you find yourself stuck in a bias or locked in unproductive conversations with team members, go back and examine the story you’re telling yourself. Challenge your view. Try to alter that story by asking these questions:


What else could the person mean? Why else might they be acting and talking the way they are? What else could be going on here? What bias of mine could be influencing me? What bias could be influencing the other person? How can I gracefully challenge their bias as well as my own?


The questions above enable us to think about our thinking and the stories we believe. It’s easy to get locked into a story and its “rightness.” We have to be willing to challenge our view in order to consider alternative views.


I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve created a story in my mind, about another person, only to find out that I was wrong. And not just a little wrong. But completely wrong. I have so often misinterpreted words, tones of voice, facial expressions and more. Remember, we are meaning-makers. We can’t help but make meaning. And once we make meaning, it’s not so easy to change it. This is where the questions (above) can open you to other options and possibilities.


Number Three: Require opposing views


Notice the word, require. Don’t simply “tolerate” or “expect” opposing views, but “require” them.

One of the best ways to break the grip of a bias (personal or collective) is to seriously explore opposing views. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with opposing views, but rather you are willing to genuinely explore them. Here are 5 ways to explore opposing views:

     • Seek to understand rather than debate

     • Ask genuine questions that lead you to appreciate the different view (you don’t have to agree with it to appreciate it)

     • Practice empathy toward the person with the opposing view (put yourself in his/her shoes)

     • Ask the other person to explain what she disagrees with about your view (again really listen–this is not about agreement or argument, but exploration)

     • Look, intentionally look, for ways you could integrate some opposing views into your view so that you create a shared view. This leads to number four.


Number Four: Reduce bias by integrating differing views


Integrating ideas enables us to take the better parts of everyone’s ideas and create a shared story. I call this integration of ideas, ideaweaving. You can read about it here.


Think “Reduce” Not “Eliminate”


It’s unlikely that we will eliminate our cognitive biases. Reducing the influence of a bias should be our goal. The good news: this is possible. The more we think about our thinking and let other people think with us, the more we can reduce the grip of our pesky biases. It’s worth the effort. Shared meaning leads to shared action. And that leads to the alchemy we need as we execute our mission (whatever that mission may be).

I Am Not So Smart. And No Offense But Neither Are You. Understanding Cognitive Biases. Pt. 22016-12-12T12:10:52-05:00

Don’t Just Generate Ideas, Weave Them Together

Yesterday I sat with a team that had to make a pressing decision. The decision was fraught, as many decisions are, with “if-then” possibilities. You know how these conversations go, right? “If we do A, then B could happen. But if we do C, then D might happen.” And of course, none of the possible outcomes seemed all that appealing. The team would get close to a potential solution and then one of those pesky “if-then” possibilities would surface.


About an hour into the conversation, one of the team members said, “Oh wait a minute, what if we did X.” She went on to explain how X would mitigate certain of the more concerning “if-then” possibilities. The team discussed and refined the idea, adding some color and texture to it. We walked out of the meeting aligned on the solution and feeling content with the process that enabled it.


You’ve been in these moments too. Your team is stuck trying to figure something out and suddenly someone has the eureka moment. When a person has the eureka moment, we often congratulate him or her for it. “Great idea Dave.” “Nice going Sally, great thoughts.” But is it really accurate to assign ownership of the eureka idea to the person who has it? Did the person who had the insight really have that idea? Is it really “hers?” I say, no.


The aha-moment is usually a tribal affair. It may end with one person putting the cherry on top, but it’s dependent on the effort of the collective. It’s unlikely that the person in the meeting I attended would have had the idea without all of the conversation leading up to it. It was a layering of ideas that led to the insight. I call this layering of ideas, idea-weaving. Here’s how I describe idea-weaving in my book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity.

As we’ve seen, multiple perspectives enable tribes to generate varied and robust ideas. When it comes to tribal vision, idea generation gives a tribe the initial “stuff for the conversation.” Idea generation is important because it becomes part of a tribe’s raw materials. However, idea generation alone is not enough to lead a tribe to insight. We need to add another dynamic to idea generation.

I call this next action idea weaving. Idea weaving occurs when pieces of perspectives are retrieved from the conversation and layered together in order to make a more robust collective idea. It’s the collective idea, this superidea, that provides a tribe with the possibility of alchemy. The alchemy of ideas leads to the alchemy of action.

When your team meets to discuss, dialogue or decide, remember idea-weaving. It’s the layering of many ideas that leads to the insight. When you begin the meeting, make insight the stated goal.  State it. “We need to gain insight around X issue.” Then, converse with anticipation. As ideas emerge, weave them together, layer them, experiment with combinations, and you will be more likely to get that aha moment. Once that moment arrives (in whatever form) congratulate the tribe. You did it together.

Don’t Just Generate Ideas, Weave Them Together2016-12-09T07:13:04-05:00

The Reason Humility Matters

Setting The Stage


This excerpt is from my book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity. It comes at a point in the book where I discuss personal practices that increase collective ingenuity. Throughout my coaching and research, I’ve discovered that high performing teams are populated by individuals who are vigilant about their own self development. They want to be better, for themselves. But they also want to donate their excellence to their tribe. I call this being “alchemy ready.” This small section reveals the important quality of humility and why it’s important to personal and collective ingenuity.


To Be Ingenious Is To Be Humble

When we are appropriately discontent, when we venture out and ask questions, we are demonstrating humility. Know-it-alls aren’t discontent—except with everyone else. They don’t venture out; they expect others to come to them. And they declare far more often than they ask. Humility, on the other hand, grounds a person in the reality that they have much to learn and therefore need humility.


Humility grounds me to two realities:

  • I am finite and frail and there is so much to life than I can’t 
  • I have ability to search out the unknown and unexplored 


The word humble has partial origins in the Latin word humus, which literally meant “on the ground.” Humility then isn’t about having an ever- diminishing view of yourself. It’s about having an appropriate and grounded view that allows you to explore with wisdom.


Searching the unknown and unexplored requires humility because without it, we might barge into situations that leave us, and others, vulnerable to unnecessary danger. 
Mapmakers used to draw pictures of dragons at the edge of the known world. “Here be dragons” was the warning. This warning should certainly engender humility when venturing beyond the known territory.


Humble venturing is an action we all need to develop when encountering the unknown. Humility doesn’t eliminate a confident search of “what could be”; it enables it. Neither is humility fear based. Some might look at the dragons and shrink back out of fear. Humility allows us to enter the unknown with healthy apprehension. Healthy apprehension helps us move at the right pace and intensity so that our venturing out has the best chance of leading to new discoveries rather than new dysfunctions.


The Reason Humility Matters2016-12-07T07:27:17-05:00

I Am Not So Smart. And No Offense But Neither Are You. Understanding Cognitive Biases–Part One

Distorted Thinking

I’m currently reading, You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, an d 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself , by David McRaney. The book explores the many cognitive biases that plague our thinking. A cognitive bias is a fallacy we apyou-are-not-so-smartply to our thinking that allows us to justify beliefs and/or actions.

For example, the confirmation bias (a very common one) occurs when we pay attention only to information (about a given topic) that confirms what we already believe. Confirmation bias would also lead us to ignore or deny any information that is contrary to what we already think. Do you have a favorite cable news channel? If you do, ask yourself why.





Understanding Bias And Why It Matters

I have to admit, as I read McRaney’s book, I unfortunately and regularly repeat the phrase, “I do that one. Oh, I do that one too.” In one sense then the book is valuable because it helps me understand my biases and how they might be at play in any given situation. But knowing my biases is not enough. I also want to loosen the grip they have on my thinking. The implications to this second desire (loosening the grip on biases) has significant implications at work, home and everywhere else in between.


Jim, And A Very “Selfish” Confirmation Bias

Imagine Jim–a leader with strong confirmation bias toward selfishness.  Jim believes that, in every situation, everyone is cut throat and looks out only for personal selfish interests. No matter the situation, that’s his bias. One of Jim’s direct reports (Bonnie) comes to him with a financial deficit in her department. The deficit could require Bonnie to terminate two full time positions. But she has a solution that could mitigate the terminations. Bonnie shares with Jim that she, and three of her managers, are willing to take pay cuts for six months to get through the difficulty and avoid terminations.

Upon hearing this idea, here’s the conversation that Jim and Bonnie have:

Jim: So you’re trying to get my job again, huh?

Bonnie: (nervous laugh) What are you talking about Jim?

Jim: Take a pay cut and be a hero. Make yourself look good in front of the whole company. You think I’m going to let you do that?

Bonnie: Jim. I don’t want your job. I want to save the people in my department.

Jim: Bonnie…everyone wants my job. And you better watch out. If you do this, those three managers will also look pretty good. Maybe everyone in your department will want one of them to replace you.


Yep, That Really Happened

Now you might think that no one would actually say what Jim said. And of course you would be wrong (maybe because of your own bias). In fact, I witnessed that very conversation a number of years ago in a coaching session with Jim and Bonnie (not their real names). When the real conversation occured, it seemed as bizarre to me then as you might think it now. But when you consider Jim’s confirmation bias about “universal selfishness,” it makes perfect sense. No matter what Bonnie would have said, Jim would have found a way to use her words to confirm his bias (which he did).


Understanding Is Good, But Not Enough

By this point you might be thinking, “Holy smokes, these cognitive biases are sneaky and could really affect me.” And you would be correct. In fact I would encourage you to read McRaney’s book to learn more about biases and how they are likely affecting you everyday. You can also see a list of them I provided here– in a different article.

Understanding cognitive biases is a good first step. As I mentioned earlier though, it’s not enough. If we want to loosen the grip of cognitive biases, we’ll need to interrupt our automatic thinking and shift to a more mindful approach. We’ll explore how to do that in part two of this article.

For now, check out a list of cognitive biases. Get familiar with the dozen or more common  biases that creep up on us. Find your “go to” biases and watch for them as you make your way through your day.


Warning: If you look for cognitive biases, you will surely find them. Don’t look if you don’t want to see. And if you don’t think you have any cognitive biases, um…that’s your first one.

I Am Not So Smart. And No Offense But Neither Are You. Understanding Cognitive Biases–Part One2016-12-05T05:35:59-05:00