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How To Break the Snap and Stick Routine and Thrive in a World of Gray

October 23, 2014| By Mo Tooker | L/H General Industry, P/C General Industry | English

In my last blog discussing Gen Re’s work on decision biases, I shared how something called the fundamental attribution error inclines us to overweight the contribution that individual attitude and skill makes to our performance and underweight the role of the context in which we work.

In this blog I want to discuss the role of what we call “Snap and Stick Behavior”: When we are presented with an opportunity (a data set or a renewal, for example), our natural state is to snap to a very quick and distinct understanding of the situation, which is invariably informed by our personal experience.

Thereafter we are highly likely to stick to this instinctive understanding. The bias that inclines us to stick with an early diagnosis is the confirmation bias. It speaks to the part in all of us that seeks out information to support our prior conclusion, and that cuts off the search for evidence that contradicts our judgment. Indeed, the confirmation bias is so strong it encourages us to use any information to support our decision, even information that should cause us to call our initial conclusion into doubt.

We concluded that if our brains snap and stick in this way, the first stop in any critical decision making process should be to diagnose before treating. So now we are introducing a process through which we make time during strategic decisions to ensure that participants fully understand the starting point - before they even consider the desired end point.

We aim to have a complete understanding of the case, informed by multiple perspectives, before we seek to design a solution. Interestingly, we’ve found that when groups do spend additional time diagnosing before treating, it also introduces a discussion style that feels as good as it is effective.

Let’s be honest. Many of us have a natural bias for being in “broadcast mode” whenever we engage in conversation. When that happens, we don’t listen to the other person talking; we listen to our own internal dialogue about what the other person is saying, waiting for the opportunity to broadcast our perspective. Such behavior is poison to good decision making and more generally it’s bad for organizational performance.

By introducing a simple new discussion routine that is more reflective and contemplative, encouraging all perspectives and spending more time in diagnose mode, an organization can massively reduce the snap and stick barrier to better conversations and better decisions. 

The idea is that these relatively small contextual interventions will trigger the development of new behavior patterns, i.e., habits that will become the new standard. I strongly believe that these habits will be a critical difference in a world where things seem to be more and more gray and a lot less black and white.


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