Posts Tagged cognitive bias

Career theory starter kit

Beam Engine Kit by Phil_Parker

James Watt wasn't really into career theory

Multi-theoretical rather than meta-theoretical

I am highly wary of people who take only one theoretical perspective.

No matter how rich and multi-dimensional your theory is, no matter how many other theories it incorporates and subsumes, it’s still only a theory. It will never account for all of the variety, complexity and general messiness of real live people in real live environments.

The real problem with only taking one theoretical perspective is that you become subject to the Law of the Instrument (or Maslow’s hammer).

Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. (Abraham Kaplan)

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. (Abraham Maslow)

If you only have one theoretical perspective, you only have one set of concepts by which you interpret a client’s situation. Because of confirmation bias, you will tend to look for things that fit in with those concepts and you may fail to notice things which don’t fit.

It is tempting to force the facts to fit the concepts and limit what you notice to things that you can describe easily in your frame of reference.

That’s why I shy away from big theories which seek to do everything and try to collect lots of simpler theories that look at career decisions from very different angles. Phil McCash from Warwick University has described this as ‘theoretical triangulation‘.

So, if you’re just venturing out into the world of career theory, which theories should you start with? Here are my suggestions, with no sound scientific basis, just my personal preferences.

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Questionable decisions

No entry

This is how it feels

Last week Lord Davis launched Women on Boards, which examines the gender imbalance at the top level in UK businesses. In 2010, women made up only 12.5% of the boards of FTSE 100 companies. The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimate that, at the current rate of change, it will take 70 years to achieve gender equality in the boardroom.

One half of the problem is to do with the ‘supply side’. Greater proportions of women with the potential to reach the boardroom step off the career ladder lower down to concentrate of family commitments. In addition, women seem to suffer more than men from lack of confidence in their own abilities and sense of worth. For example, they are less likely to initiate  salary negotiations — and when they do, they may get penalised more than men for doing so.

That last point indicates the other half of the problem. Why are the capable women who are still in the game not getting access to a proportionate number of powerful jobs?

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Dwindle, dwindle little STAR

Star in a web

Catch a falling STAR

The STAR model is ubiquitous. Almost every application form and interview presentation contains the acronym: Situation, Task,  Actions, Result. Some graduate recruiters even instruct candidates to follow this model in their application form answers.

It’s tried and tested…and I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong. I would rather that a candidate uses STAR than nothing. Any structure is better than no structure. But I’m not sure that STAR is the best possible structure.

Partly, I will admit, I am just being awkward and iconoclastic (I impressed myself with that word!). I have a default tendency to question and challenge anything that is well established and widely accepted without criticism.

However, I do have a couple of reasons, one pragmatic and one theoretical, why I think STAR isn’t the best possible model to be recommending.
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Focalism: What are you missing?

Play the video (only about 1.5 min – you don’t need sound) and count how many times the team in white pass the basketball to each other…

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Escape velocity

Push to Exit

Just waiting for the right moment...

A recent survey of over 4,000 UK employees conducted by GfK NOP found that one in four were planning to leave their organisation within the next year.

The survey suggests these intentions are linked to the actions taken by the employers dealing with the effects of the recession. Continuing measures such as redundancies, recruitment freezes, pay freezes and restrictions on training have led to reduced morale and diminished job satisfaction.

In the public sector almost 40% of employees reported that morale was worse than the previous year.

Throughout the recession a lot of attention has been paid to the obvious victims — those who have suffered redundancy and job loss — but what about the survivors, the ones who have kept their jobs but may have suffered in other ways?

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The decisive moment

Three cars

The red, the yellow one, no...

Choosing an expensive item such as a car can be hard enough. In 2006 Ap Dijksterhuis, a researcher from the University of Amsterdam, made things a bit harder. He gave people various items of information about a selection four of cars and asked them to choose the best option.

The information had been engineered so that each car had a different mixture of positive and negative attributes, but one car was designed to be a best option and another was designed to be the worst option.

Dijksterhuis then divided his subjects into four groups. To two of the groups he only gave four items of information per car (simple condition), whereas the other group had to deal with 12 attributes per car (complex condition).

After reading the information about the cars, half of each group were allowed four minutes to think about their choice (conscious choosers). The other half were given anagrams to complete in order to distract them from thinking (unconscious choosers). They were then asked to make their choice of the best car and their result was compared with the real answer.

In the simple condition (four attributes per car), there was no real difference in success rate between the conscious and the unconscious choosers. However, in the complex condition (12 attributes per car) the people who had been distracted made consistently better decisions than the people who had been allowed to consider the choice.

So, is the unconscious mind better at making complex decisions than the conscious mind?

Dijksterhuis, A. (2006) On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect Science, 311(5763), 1005-1007. DOI: 10.1126/science.1121629

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The danger of goals and power

Archer aiming for the target

How long will it take to hit the target?

Two of the frequent aims of career coaching or counselling are to empower clients and to help them develop amibtious personal goals. Nothing could possibly be wrong with that, you might think.

However, according to studies performed by Mario Weick, from the University of Kent, and Ana Guinote, from University College London, people who experience feelings of power can seriously underestimate how long it will take to achieve their goals.

Weick, M., & Guinote, A. (2010). How Long Will It Take? Power Biases Time Predictions Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.03.005

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Are you a maximiser or a satisficer?

Imagine that you were receiving feedback on something you had worked on along with a colleague. Which of these two scenarios would you prefer?

  • Scenario 1: You receive great feedback from your supervisor, but your colleague receives even better feedback.
  • Scenario 2: You receive really negative feedback from your supervisor but your colleague receives significantly worse feedback.

On the face of it, Scenario 1 seems to be the best situation; you are receiving great feedback rather than negative feedback. However, in one study, certain people experiencing Scenario 2 reported feeling happier and more self confident than those experiencing Scenario 1. They would rather do better than their peers even if it meant performing much worse overall. Not everyone felt this way, though. In fact, it was only people who reported themselves as being generally unhappy who engaged in this social comparison. Happy people were just pleased to get a good report and didn’t measure themselves against other people.

What makes some people more sensitive to their relative success than to their absolute success? And what implications does this have for career decision making?

According to Barry Schwartz and his colleagues the unhappy people are ‘maximisers’ and the happy people are ‘saticficers’.

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Can you be positive about uncertainty?

Tunnel in the fog

What's around the corner? Can you cope with not knowing for certain?

As an antidote to some of the recent posts which have examined ways of overcoming irrationality in decision making, it is time to highlight a celebration of the intuitive and the acceptance of ambiguity.

The concept of Positive Uncertainty has had a strong influence on some of the modern theories of career choice — especially those which emphasise chance and complexity, such as planned happenstance or the chaos theory of careers. The idea was introduced in 1989 by H.B. Gelatt (who appears to call himself H.B. — possibly to induce uncertainty in those he meets) and it was a complete turnaround from an earlier article he wrote advocating a totally rational approach to decision making.

Gelatt, H.B. (1989) Positive uncertainty: A new decision-making framework for counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 36(2), 252-6.

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Dialectical bootstrapping


Are they dialectical?

How could I resist writing about a technique with such a delightfully preposterous name! It has the same ridiculous elegance as ‘planned happenstance‘ and ‘positive compromise‘.

In an earlier post I wrote about how people can be induced to disagree with their own decisions. This wonderfully over-the-top phrase describes a technique which involves getting people to disagree with themselves on purpose in order to increase the accuracy of their predictions without reference to external opinions. See! Dialectical bootstrapping is a much more elegant way of saying all that!

[Herzog, S.M. & Hertwig, R. (2009) The wisdom of many in one mind: Improving individual judgments with dialectical bootstrapping. Psychological Science, 20(2), 231-7.]

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