Note: as this book is dense and comprehensive, I am publishing its summary into two parts. This is the part two, part one is here.
Book Chronicle and Summary of “Sources of Power”, part two:
Chapter 9: Non-Linear Aspects of Problem Solving
The leverage point concept (see previous chronicle) leads to thinking about problem solving as a constructive process. It is constructive in the sense that solutions can be created from leverage points and that the objective’s profound nature can be clarified whilst the person solving the problem is trying to develop a solution.
The leverage points of problem solving require a non-linear approach rather than a linear approach. Problem solving undergoes four stages:
- Problem detection
- Problem representation
- Options generation
There is no output stage as each one of these stages can generate a different type of output.
Problem detection is in itself an output, for example in military or health and safety radar surveillance stations of a country.
Problem representation is another output, sometimes sufficient for determining how to proceed: there are certain medical diagnosticians whose job consists mainly of providing an excellent problem representation. Producing forecasts is in itself a professional specialism in many jobs.
Generating an action plan is the step many people consider to be the output of problem solving. But whatever way options are generated, they will have to be evaluated, often through mental simulation.
The evaluation process can lead to adopting an option, or to identifying new barriers and opportunities, which require further problem solving.
The pattern shows why the process is interactive and non-linear. The objectives affect the way in which we evaluate the action plan, and evaluation can help us determine better objectives. The objectives determine the way in which we evaluate the situation, and the things we learn about the situation change the nature of the objectives. The objectives determine the barriers and the leverage points we are looking for, and the discovery of these barriers and leverage points alter the objectives themselves. The way we identify the causes leading up to this situation also affect the types of objectives that are adopted. Moreover, the leverage points we become aware of go beyond our own experience and our own abilities – on another interaction level.
Let’s see through a concrete example how a business has changed its objectives because of the way it evaluated its business plan. By evaluating an action plan, managers discover a leverage point opportunity. This information makes them revise their objective and lead them to synthetize a more extensive action plan:
A parent company has a network of franchises. Each of these franchises uses telemarketing to get customers and each must hire, train and manage telesales staff, which the franchise managers find hard going and annoying.
The marketing director of the parent company identifies this as a problem, but with an obvious solution: the parent company can centralize telemarketing onto one site. The head of the business is not too keen on the idea, as it requires a large investment. He then realizes that, with a centralized team of telesales staff, he could develop his idea of taking orders directly over the phone. At this point, he becomes even more enthusiastic about this project than the marketing director himself.
Whilst the marketing director and the chairman were doing a mental simulation of the proposed telesales center, the chairman noticed a new possibility. The idea to use telesales staff for sales increased the aspiration level of the chairman and changed the nature of the objective he wanted to pursue. This opportunity also suggested additional series of actions, which can easily be integrated into the original objective to help the franchises.
Chapter 10: The Power to See the Invisible
This section is about expertise. Experts can be considered as having accumulated a lot of knowledge. Although this is undoubtedly true, it creates an image of people whose brains are full of facts, burdened by a memory of knowledge and wisdom.
However, Gary Klein has a different approach; according to him, the accumulation of experience doesn’t burden the experts: it makes them freer. Experts see the world differently. And often experts do not realize that the rest of us cannot detect what is obvious to them.
There are many things the experts can see and are invisible to everyone else:
- Structures that novices cannot see.
- Anomalies – events that have not occurred and other violations of expectations.
- The Big Picture (awareness of the situation).
- The way things work.
- Opportunities and improvisations.
- Events that have already occurred (the past) or those that are about to happen (future).
- Differences too small for novices to detect.
- Their own limitations.
These aspects of expertise can be drawn from two main power sources: pattern matching with reality (intuition) and mental simulation. Intuition allows the expert to detect the typical things and spot the anomalies or the events that have not occurred. Mental simulations allow seeing what has not previously occurred and what is probably going to happen in the future.
There are also additional sources of power. The ability to make fine discriminations probably involves some perceptive learning, even though it is hard to distinguish it from the ability to make the pattern match reality.
Experts are indeed able to see the differences that novices cannot be forced to see. For example, to a novice, all wines taste more or less the same, whereas a wine expert can distinguish the taste of each wine, and even each year for each wine.
Expertise is thus more learning how to perceive rather than knowing.
Note: it is important to note that it is possible to believe so strongly in one’s discipline to believe oneself to be an expert when that discipline has no serious grounding. For examples, the ancient forecasters thought themselves to be experts in the art of reading the future in animals’ entrails, or the inquisitors of the Middle-Ages in the art of detecting the demons in witches, whereas instead of perceiving patterns, they were inventing some that had nothing to do with reality because they were missing a very important tool in their intellectual process: the validation of their hypothesis by experience. It is the foundation of the scientific process. And it is lacking, for example, for astrologers, graphologists and many other people, even to geniuses like Steve Pavlina. Be careful when you elaborate patterns to make sure they match reality by testing the hypotheses you rely on. Otherwise, you will be inventing a snake biting its own tail, and the concordances you will perceive will be mere products of your imagination to which you are granting too much credibility.
For example, if you are an astrologer, it is easy for you to determine your ability to predict the future: write down your predictions as you go along, and then check that they have happened, and carry out a statistical analysis: how many times were you right? Be careful in this case not to let your ego protect you by carrying out predictions that are sufficiently vague and nebulous to be more or less always valid whatever the issue, or by justifying your mistakes with numerous complex and convoluted reasons.
Chapter 11: The Power of Stories
We would be overwhelmed if we had to treat everything we see, each visual element, as a separate element, and had to understand the connections each time we opened our eyes or moved them from one viewpoint to another. Thankfully, this is not necessary. We see the world through structures.
According to the Gestalt, or Psychology of the Form, we have powerful organizers that structure the visual world into forms, and we naturally see things have correlations with each other. Indeed, if a group of birds is flying in the distance, we see it as a group sharing a common state. Each time the group changes direction, we do not have to follow the trajectory of each individual bird. If a bird leaves the group and starts to fly on its own, then only will we notice this bird and it will acquire a distinct identity. It has broken the previous structure, which creates a contrast attracting our attention.
According to Gary Klein, we organize the cognitive world in a similar fashion – the world of ideas, concepts, objects and relationships. We link them into stories. By understanding how this happens, we can learn to make better use of the power of stories.
A story is a blend of several ingredients:
- Characters – the people in the story
- Challenge – the problem the characters are trying to solve
- Intentions – what the characters intend doing
- Action – what the characters are going to do to realize their intentions
- Objects – the tools the characters are going to use
- Causality – the effects (both expected and unexpected) of the actions
- Context – the many details surrounding the characters and their actions
- Surprises – the unexpected things happening in the story
In a simple form, stories link all these ingredients together. Here is an example:
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, 1990’s. A nurse has been watching a newborn for several hours. Suddenly, the baby turns dark blue, almost black. The medical team immediately calls for a doctor and a radiologist and prepare to intervene, convinced that it is a pulmonary collapse – a wide-spread problem for babies placed under artificial respiration – and where a hole has to be made into the chest, in order to insert a tube and suck out the air in order to allow the lungs to fill up again.
But the nurse is convinced that it’s a heart problem. As soon as she saw the baby’s color, she’s suspected that he was suffering a pneumopericardium: air filling the pocket around the heart and stopping it from beating. She therefore tries to stop her colleagues’ preparations screaming “It’s the heart!”. But her colleagues point at the heart monitor showing that the baby’s heart is beating normally. She insists, pushes their hands away and orders them to be quiet placing a stethoscope on the child’s chest.
Not a sound. The heart is not beating.
A neonatal surgeon enters the room and the nurse immediately hands him a syringe. “Pneumopericardium. Prick the heart.” The radiologist, who has just received the test results, confirms the nurse’s diagnostic. The surgeon inserts the syringe into the heart and slowly releases the air pocket preventing it from beating. The baby is safe.
Later, the team understood why the monitor had misled them: it was measuring the electrical activity commanding the heart beats, and this had not stopped: the heart was simply unable to respond to it because of the air pocket pressure.
Stories such as this one contain numerous lessons; they are extremely efficient learning tools and are rich in teachings, which is why they are so abundant in all circles. They show how context can lead individuals to make the wrong decisions, and highlight the causal relations previously unidentified and the unexpected solutions that the characters have found to solve problems.
To learn more, I invite you to read my summary of Chapter 6 of Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, called “A Story”, which synthesizes most of the ideas in the chapter. Unsurprisingly, the authors rely on this present book to explain the importance of stories 😉 .
Chapter 12: The Power of Metaphors and Analogies
People use analogies and metaphors to complete a wide diversity of difficult tasks: making sense of situations, generating predictions, solving problems, anticipating events and making plans. An analogy is an event or an example taken from the same area or a similar area as the task to be undertaken. A metaphor comes from a different area.
Each experience we have – whether we have lived it or heard it – can serve as an analogy or a metaphor. Each time we complete a task, we can use this vast base of knowledge, full of experiences, stories and images.
For example, when Apple designed the Macintosh and the Lisa using ideas provided by Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, such as the mouse and the graphic interface, the designers had the idea to use the desk as a metaphor of what happens on screen. The users were going to use files, folders and documents on their virtual desktop, just like on their real desk.
The logic of metaphoric reasoning
Metaphors affect the way we see and interpret facts. Indeed the metaphor “Debates are like war” tells us that we ought to attack the other’s positions, especially its weaknesses, and defend our own. The metaphor “Debates are like music practice” instead suggests using a debate as an opportunity to find how we contribute to the discord.
Metaphors do more than embellishing our thoughts. They structure our thoughts. They condition our sympathies and our emotional responses. They help us gain an awareness of the situation. They determine the things we consider to be obvious and the results we pursue.
Studies have shown that designers use a lot of metaphors to design innovating products, often drawing inspiration from existing products. For example, the designers of the first word processors used the typewriter as a metaphor and the work of the interface designer was to build around this metaphor avoiding dissimilarity. They also had to post warnings to remind users to regularly save the file, which is necessary on a computer and not on a typewriter.
The Logic of Analogical Reasoning
Whenever we try to solve a diffuse objective, one strategy is to try and reach that objective by using failure to define this objective more clearly. For example, if in the morning, before going to work my car will not start, my ultimate objective is to get it started, but it is diffuse because the process required to get it started is not defined, as the cause of the breakdown is unknown. I can therefore carry out various trials and errors until I find the cause of the breakdown and my objective becomes more precise and becomes “fill up” or “change the starter”, or “call a mechanic”.
There is another strategy: find an analogy suggesting the characteristics of the objective. For example, if I remember that I left the lights on in my car by mistake and that it drained the battery, I can tell myself that this is what has happened now. Then, I will only have to see if the lights come on to determine whether the battery is on. If they don’t come on, then my vague problem becomes precise and I have a complete process starting off in my head allowing me to solve the situation.
Analogies may also be used to find solutions. I can remember an example where one time someone who had a flat battery made his car roll down a hill, which made the engine start without the battery. There is no hill around, but perhaps if I asked my passengers to push the car, this might produce the same effect?
Moreover, by taking into account the differences between the analogies and the current situation, we may adjust the analogy to make a prediction.
Chapter 13: The Power to Read Minds
This happens too often. You have sent someone to do something simple and they get it wrong. For example, you are tying to fix a mug, and you’ve asked your wife to buy glue when she goes shopping. Then your wife gets home with glue that doesn’t work on ceramics, and when you tell her why this will not work, she replies “You didn’t say anything about a mug. You asked me to buy glue, which I did. Am I supposed to read your mind?”
The answer is yes. When we make a request – asking for something or ordering – we need the other person to read our mind. To make this possible, both parties need to lean towards the other. The person making the request can help by specifying the intention behind the request. The person trying to fulfill the request must try to imagine what the other person really wants in order to manage the details that have not been explained.
Thus, “can you get some glue when you’re going shopping?” may not seem a difficult request. But when you are in the glue aisle, you can see that there are many different types of glue: for wood, glass, metal, etc. Some Superglues are sold with messages saying that they work every time. Is this true or false? Do I need to dissolve the glue afterwards? Do I need a fast-acting glue? Etc.
In general, we are not able to indicate all the details in advance. If you are doing me a favor, I must rely on your ability to read my mind and imagine how I will make all these choices. I do not believe that I am able to anticipate all the important details for you. There are some people I do not trust and to whom I shall not give a difficult task.
Let’s look at one of the most dramatic incidents and, yet not unknown to incomprehension in history:
The Goeben was a German cruiser stationed in the Mediterranean on the eve of the First World War, and the only German warship in the area. The British Navy knew it and was supposed to find it and sink it as soon as the war had been declared.
The British failed: they had the Goeben surrounded with a dozen warships, but, became confused about the ambiguous orders they were given by the admiralty, they let the Goeben escape and reach the Black Sea and the Ottoman Empire.
This simple fact had countless consequences:
- It led the Ottomans to get involved in the war on the side of the Axis, whilst many Ottomans were hesitating between neutrality and taking sides with the Allies.
- It is possible that the entry of the Ottoman Empire in the war may have extended the war by one or two years, with millions more deaths and the involvement in the war of the United States, who wished to remain neutral.
- The ship closed of the mouth of the Black Sea, cutting off 90% of the Russian naval imports and exports and precipitating, through a situation of want, the Russian Revolution of 1917.
How did this happen? When the British forces surrounded the Goeben, the ship’s commander was not sure of how to interpret the instructions from Admiral Winston Churchill, who indicated: “Do not at this stage be brought to action against superior forces.” Although the Goeben was surrounded by twelve British ships, she had 11-in guns at its disposal, whereas the British forces were made up of four cruisers with 9.2-in guns of inferior range, and eight destroyers, including five which were running out of fuel. The commander therefore thought he was in a situation where he was going into action against a superior force and decided to regroup rather than attack the German ship, allowing it to escape to the east towards the Black Sea.
The problem was that Churchill had never meant this. His instructions referred to the possibility of the British ships meeting the Austrian flotilla, and by no means the encounter of twelve ships against one enemy, be it more powerful than each individual ship of the British flotilla. When Churchill learnt the news, he was dumbfounded. He had never thought his orders could have been interpreted in this manner.
Thus the commander failed to read Churchill’s mind, to guess the intention behind the words. Churchill could have avoided this error, had he added extra information about the Austrian ships. But if had to clarify each point in each order he gave in order to avoid ambiguities, his work would have been impossible.
The solution is not to linger on the details. They take too much time and have their own cost. We can pretend that rules and procedures are clear and simple, but they are not. For example, if you give someone the instruction of pressing a button when a green light comes on, and the person asks “what is green?”, there is no way to answer this. We suppose that we live in a common culture with this person, where the meaning of green is known, as are other shared references. If we must work to explain each supposition behind each request, teamwork and cooperation would become impossible.
In a team, a great number of positive things happen when the intent is understood and shared by all, compared to teams where people are told what to do without explaining why. This notably significantly increases autonomy and reduces the need to supervise. Here are the benefits:
- Promote independence
- Improve team performance by reducing the need for clarification
- Detect deviations from the intent given by the leader
- Prevent errors in advance and anticipate problems
- Promote improvisation
- React to local conditions without the need to wait for permission
- Identify opportunities which are not part of the plan
- Define priorities in order to make choices of compromise
- Continue beyond results without the need to wait for the next order
But how do you communicate the intent? You can, for instance, use the Intention of Commandment of the US Army (see the summary of chapter 1 of Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and others ones die), i.e. communicating the intention in the most concise and efficient manner. It usually consists of this information:
- Here’s what we’re faced with
- Here’s what I think we should do
- Here’s why
- Here’s what you should look out for
- Now talk to me
Here are the seven types of information that can be presented to someone to help him/her understand what he/she has to do:
- The object of the task (the highest objectives)
- The objective of the task (an image of the desired result)
- The sequence of steps in the plan
- The logic of the plan
- The key decisions that may have to be made
- The anti-objectives (the results that are not desired)
- The constraints and other considerations
All these types of information are not always required, but this list can be used as a checklist to determine if there are still details to be added.
It is also important to note that the ability of a person to read minds depends on the familiarity you have with this person and the clarity with which his/her intent was defined.
Chapter 15: The Power of Rational Analysis and the Problem of Hyper-rationality
Hyper-rationality is a mental disorder in which the victim tries to manage all the problems and decisions on a purely rational basis, relying on forms of reasoning that are purely logical and analytical.
It is similar to Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disease leading to the loss of peripheral vision, which is a lot more incapacitating than Macular Degeneration, where peripheral vision is maintained but the more accurate central vision is impeded. To understand this, hold your fist as far as you can, then lift your thumb up and look at your nail: the nail represents all you could see if you were suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa. Let’s just say that it would incapacitate you a great deal and you would have the greatest difficulty to move spatially and position yourself.
Hyper-rationality is similar, in the sense that the individual who suffers from it tries to base all his/her ideas on one source of power: the ability to apply rational procedures whereas many other sources are useful, especially if they are used in combination with each other.
Rational analysis is still a powerful and specialized source of power, which can play a limited role in many tasks, a dominant role in some tasks and sometimes no role at all.
In order to think rationally, we must do the following:
- Decompose. We must analyze the task – break down the task, the idea or the arguments into small units and basic elements so that they may be manipulated.
- Decontextualize. Because the created contexts add more ambiguity, we must try to find elements that are independent from the context. In order to do so, we try to find a formal way of representing the world, of treating it like a representation, an image, a pattern. We try to construct theories and maps that can be substituted to the fact of having a direct perception of the task or the equipment.
- Calculate. We apply a pallet of formal procedures on the elements, as rules of deductive logic and statistical analyses.
- Describe. All the analyses and representations should be open to the public examination.
Despite its power, rational thought has limits:
- Lack of basic elements
Carrying out an analysis means decomposing a situation or a problem into its essential constituents. However, there are no “primitive” components that exist naturally. The components are arbitrarily defined and depend on individual objectives and calculation methods. There is no “good” way of decomposing a task. Different people find different patterns. The same person may also find different patterns depending on the objectives to be achieved. If we try to pre-define the basic elements, we must either work with approximate or artificial tasks, or take the risk of distorting the situation to match it to the so-called basic elements.
- Ambiguous Rules
The rules and procedures take a shape that is more or less of the if-then type (as in programming). They often appear to be simple, but the hardest is to properly apprehend if the antecedent condition, the “if”, has been met. This is why researchers prefer to work in a laboratory on problems which are artificially free of context and do not suffer any ambiguity. Outside of the laboratory, it is difficult to make the context limpid enough to ensure everyone agrees that all the requirements have been met. The episode of the Goeben perfectly illustrates such an example where the context makes the appreciation difficult as to whether the “if” has been met or not: Churchill’s order meant “If you meet a superior force, then do not fight”. Did the flotilla commander break this order by judging that the Goeben was a superior force over his twelve ships? The context of the situation makes this appreciation difficult.
- Difficulties to put calculations into place
When calculations require people to estimate probabilities, their own value, or to make other non-natural judgments, we are going ahead of the problems.
- The explosion of combinations
The formal methods of rational analysis meet difficulties when they consider a large number of factors. This is what the researchers Schank and Owen say:
The problem with deductions is, that there are too many to take into account. If, for instance, we make five deductions from a fact, and five more deductions from each of these deductions, and so on, then the complexity of the fact of developing each chain of deductions becomes overwhelming in just a few steps. The power of processing is not infinite, be it for human or for machines.
It is therefore important to understand that rational analysis is a source of power that has its strengths and weaknesses, and that it must be used sparingly and in harmony with other sources of power.
Chapter 16: Why the right people make wrong decisions
A wrong decision is not, according to Gary Klein, defined according to whether the result is good or bad; someone would deem a decision to be wrong if the knowledge they have gained would lead them to make a different decision should a similar situation occur.
As we have seen, expertise can provide important sources of power, other than rational analysis. The people with the most expertise are able to see the world differently. Experts spot problems more easily and have richer mental simulations they can use to diagnose problems and evaluate action plans. They have more analogies to rely on.
Expertise can bring us a lot of problems. It can lead us to see problems in a stereotypical manner. The sense of what is typical can be so strong that we can miss subtle signs of contradiction.
The problem is even more evident when we consider learning from experience. We often cannot see a clear link between cause and effect. Too many variables come into place, and the temporal timescales create their own complications. If managers see that they are successful – by making sure that their projects are completed on time and below the allocated budget – does this success come from their own competence, that of their colleagues, a strike of luck, the intervention of more senior managers, a mix of all these factors, or some other cause? It is hard to say.
For example, historians have studied in depth the Great Depression, or the 1929 crisis. Franklin Roosevelt was the US President in 1932, who helped the nation regain its prosperity, and put in place strong actions. Some historians and economists say that these actions had a positive impact, others that they made the situation worse. The 1929 crisis was a major event that has been very closely scrutinized and still, even today, 80 years later, we still do not know if Roosevelt’s actions were successful in redressing the economy. The situation is simply too complex to be analyzed.
Because of these difficulties for interpreting the cause and effect relationships, politicians cannot reach high levels of expertise. They can certainly learn the necessary procedures to become politicians – for instance, attending the most influential committees, building links with the lobbyists, doing favors to the right people. But they cannot learn the long-term impacts of the legislation they have put in place. They cannot learn the causal dynamics between their laws and the likely social changes. Their mental model is neither flexible nor rich.
The researcher Jim Schanteau suggests therefore that no true expertise can be constructed when:
- The field is dynamic
- We must predict human behavior
- We have less chances of receiving feedback
- The task is not sufficiently repeated to have a sense of what is typical
- We have made too few trials
In these conditions, we should be careful when supposing that experience becomes expertise. In such fields, experience can give us fluid routines, which show that we’ve been doing it for some time. But our expertise cannot go beyond the surface of routines; we would then not have the chance to develop an expertise in which we can trust.
Chapter 17: Conclusions
This book is an exploration into the strengths and abilities of the human being. Despite the fantasies of experience, we can give a reasonable meaning to our world. Even when we do not reach high levels of expertise, even when we are confronted with factors of uncertainty and other stress factors, we generally find the means to fulfill and improve our objectives.
Critic of the book:
This book is dense, and somewhat hard to follow. Summarizing it took me over 10 hours, and I skipped some of the chapters that appeared to be less interesting than others. But what interest and power it has! Very far from the traditional rational approaches to decision making, Gary Klein brings us out of the beaten track to explain that people only rarely use this rational approach, and gives us many other ways of making decisions, which he explains by beautifully blending theories with concrete examples.
He thus reinstates intuition by defining it and sheds light on the strengths and limits of the human mind in an absolutely captivating manner. Having read and summarized it, I wonder about the transformation of this new knowledge into concrete actions, but what is for sure is, that I have upgraded my mind and I am now perceiving more accurately the way the human mind works and the way we make decisions. My mental pattern is no longer the same as the one I had when I opened this book for the first time, and I feel absolutely overwhelmed that this pattern is now a lot more acute and pertinent. What is also strong is that the author highlights the limits of our knowledge and our current approaches, and particularly highlights the biases that can corrupt scientific studies, as well as the infinite complexity of the human brain and the importance of what we yet have to learn about it.
I therefore find it hard today to perceive how this new mental pattern will translate concretely, but it is certain that it can only make me more cautious regarding expertise, more aware of the relativity and the limits of knowledge, and what is the basis for the efficiency of teamwork and the decisions that are made daily.
I therefore recommend it. This book is a true jewel of intellectual stimulation, which should make your brain simmer long after reading it 😉 .
- Handles perfectly theory and practice by providing numerous examples
- Pertinent concepts and out of the beaten track
- Intellectually stimulating
- A true upgrade for our human pattern of the human mind
- A little heavy to read, with sometimes complex terms
Have you read this book? How do you rate it?
Read more comments about Sources of Power on Amazon.