At the conclusion of day 3 in the 3rd Ashes Test from Headingley, I made what I thought a bold prediction: “The Poms are going to win this!”
There was no science behind this revelation. Merely a hunch based on scratchy memories of previous test matches the Aussies had lost.
Of course I wasn’t alone in the prediction stakes. Large portions of the English media were drawing conclusions after the English first innings batting collapse. Impressive arguments about serious structural deficiencies, based on recent performances were mounted.
Losing this match was inevitable and should have been foreseen.
As I watched the final, gripping hours last night – highlighted by the phenomenal efforts of Ben Stokes, I deluded myself: “I picked this!”
Convincing myself of my own genius, I was no sooner brought to my senses as one of the messages from Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ rudely entered my consciousness.
In his bestseller which outlines what psychology has revealed into the workings of our minds, Kahneman demonstrates, among many profound insights, our penchant for making predictions despite the reality we are hopelessly ill equipped to do so.
In a chapter titled: ‘The Illusion of Validity, Kahneman writes: “Everything makes sense in hindsight…we cannot suppress the powerful intuition that what makes sense in hindsight today was predictable yesterday. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.”
Added to this illusion is our tendency to jump to conclusions due to a host of cognitive biases, many of which we aren’t conscious of.
Woven into this discussion, Kahneman highlights the reality that so much of what unfolds in life is completely beyond our control.
Whether we call it luck, chance, providence, fate or anything else, we have little control over what happens next in life.
Take the final hours of yesterday’s test match.
There can be no doubting the brilliance of Ben Stokes’ innings. Stokes’ strokes were clearly filled with great guile and outstanding execution. He gave himself and England every chance of victory.
But “chance” is the operative word.
Stokes couldn’t control how his batting partners responded, nor the umpires and certainly not the Australian fielders. The near run out of Jack Leach followed by the “Not out” verdict for the LBW appeal from the next delivery, highlighted this.
There’s no way I could’ve predicted such a bizarre set of circumstances to arrive at my clever conclusion the night before. The dire predictions from experts in the English press certainly show they didn’t predict it.
And so to lessons from Headingley for our efforts as leaders in the workplace.
It’s crucial we have the humility and wisdom to recognise our inability to make bold predictions based on our hunch we can foresee outcomes due to our knowledge, skill, experience and intuition.
Whether it be in our decision making regarding the employment of new staff, or the implementation of significant new initiatives, we need to do all in our power to check for possible biases in our thinking.
We mustn’t allow our first impressions to dictate our thought patterns, nor permit ourselves to fall into the hindsight trap.
We need to challenge the thinking of those advising us and in turn give permission for others to question our lines of argument.
Kahneman advises it’s when we feel most comfortable in arriving at important decisions, that we need to be most alert to our inclination to be lazy in our thinking.
We owe it to those we lead, to ensure when important matters are on the line, that our thinking is as determined and focused as the efforts of Ben Stokes’ yesterday.
Even then, we have to be at peace knowing we can’t control everything. Sometimes circumstances will go our way – sometimes they won’t.
I’m sure even Ben Stokes would acknowledge much of his amazing feat was beyond his control.
PS. Let’s hope members of the Australian Touring Party don’t fall into a Red Triangle paradigm as a consequence of the loss. I’ve never known blame to enhance performance in any endeavour in life.
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