Thinking in Bets

“Wanna bet?”

Former Poker Pro Annie Duke argues that offering a bet in any situation makes us refine and examine our beliefs, temper our generalizations and get closer to the truth by acknowledging the risk inherent in what we think we believe versus what we actually believe. By attempting to make explicit what is already implicit, we develop exploratory thought patterns that encourage open-mindedness and a more objective consideration of alterative hypotheses. By embracing uncertainty we can uncover biases and make better decisions. Acknowledging uncertainty then becomes an acknowledgment of a complex and uncertain world so that we are less likely to think in binaries, and more likely to think in probabilities.

In Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts, Duke provides a framework for decision-making that includes a variety of techniques, ideas and strategies for dealing with bias. Duke argues that organized scepticism needs to encouraged and operationalized. By providing permission and space for dissent, we invite others to play devil’s advocate by presenting the other side of the argument, to argue why a strategy might be ill-advised, why a prediction might be off, or why an idea might be ill-informed. By considering all perspectives the best decision can then be made. In order for this to become part of the fabric of how teams operate, some clear parameters need to be established so that dissent does not become about shooting the message or the messenger, but rather an open exploration of multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

Other good ideas for developing strategy with teams that resonated include;

    • Scenario Planning or Future Reconnaissance – identify possible future outcomes and assign a probability for each occurring. Build a decision tree and determine probabilities of different futures based on the information you have at your disposal.
    • Backcasting – working backwards from a positive future. Imagine you have already achieved a positive outcome, holding up a newspaper with the headline “We achieved our goal!” Then think about how we got there. A team leader asks the group to identify the reasons why they achieved their goal, what events occurred, what decisions were made and what went there way in order for this to happen. This enables identification of strategies, tactics and actions that need to be implemented to get to the goal.
    • Premortem – reveals the negative space. Imagine the headline “We failed to reach our goal.” A team leader then challenges the team to consider things that could go wrong. A premortem is an implementation of the Mertonian norm of organized scepticism. Once we frame the exercise as “Ok, we failed. Why did we fail?” that frees everyone to identify potential points of failure they otherwise might not see or might not bring up for fear of being viewed as a naysayer.

I read many books each year and don’t often take the time to summarize or reflect. It’s something I am working on going into 2019.

Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts is a book that gets a little repetitive at times but provides some useful frameworks and excellent anecdotes about decision-making.

Student-led Expedition

On Christmas Eve, together with a team of Year 10 and 11 students, I returned from a 3-week expedition in Nepal. The team travelled backpacker style throughout the areas of Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan, soaking up the incredible culture, trekking through the Annapurna region of the Himalaya, viewing Mount Everest, and contributing to the rebuilding efforts of a school damaged via earthquakes in the medieval city of Bhaktapur.

This was not your ordinary school camp or tour however. This expedition was 100% student-led. Preparations began in March of 2017 as the team of students designed an itinerary, conducted travel simulation days at the You Yangs, raised funds for the community service project and developed skills of leadership, communication and budget management that would be soon put to use.

Each day in Nepal a student or group of students would be responsible for leading the group. Nothing was pre-booked, so these responsibilities included arranging accommodation for the night, transport, logistics and navigation, deciding on locations for breakfast, lunch and dinner, ensuring the team had enough drinking water and most importantly, managing the team budget.

Our Vision for Learning recognises that students require an awareness and understanding of not only themselves, but also the world in which they live. Students need to explore the world in a variety of ways to develop skills and attributes to communicate across cultures while expanding their awareness of the world’s complexities and learning to appreciate difference. By giving students opportunities to lead and make real decisions, they become skilled at making good decisions and develop a greater understanding of what it means to be a leader and indeed, a good citizen.

Students did both themselves and the College proud by showing resilience, perseverance, leadership skills, teamwork, confidence in travelling and being independent and self-sufficient. College programs like this student-led expedition empower young people to uncover their unique identity, develop life skills and embrace the world beyond their own borders through a combination of adventure, cultural immersion and experiential learning opportunities.

This Expedition to Nepal will become a permanent addition to our College calendar and is an exciting part of our commitment to student leadership development and community service.

The Geelong College Student-led Exhibition to Nepal, 2017 from CLRI on Vimeo

 

A Subtle Art

“In life, we have a limited amount of f*cks to give. So you must choose your f*cks wisely. Because when we give too many f*cks, when we choose to give a f*ck about everything, then we feel as though we are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times.”

The idea of not giving a f*ck is a simple way of reorienting our expectations for life and choosing what is important according to Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.

In a humerous but deeply philosophical two hundred pages or so, Manson shares his life lessons for living a happy life. His main points include;

  • We are all wrong, all the time, some are just a little less wrong than others.
  • Things go wrong, for everyone, so happiness is learning how to appreciate the struggles in life.
  • You are not special, stop trying to prove yourself.
  • Life is about solving problems, therefore pick good problems to solve.
  • Always be skeptical of yourself and have a fluid sense of your identity.
  • Conflict is necessary and inevitable. Learn to deal with it.

Manson suggests that most people who have “first world” problems are often victims of their own mentality and these problems stem from the fact that they have nothing more important to worry about. In addition, some people choose to believe that there is nothing they can do to change their situation. But there is always something that you can do. Changing the way you perceive problems and overcoming this victim mentality requires an individual to take extreme ownership. This can then reorient the way we choose to approach situations and help to overcome feelings of anger, helplessness and despair.

This is a self help book that challenges you to stop sweating the small stuff, find your purpose and embrace your faults in order to live a more content and happy life.

Extreme Ownership

This year I have committed to reading fifty books.

My first read caught me somewhat by surprise – Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Jocko and Leif are two combat-proven U.S. Navy SEAL Officers, who led the most highly decorated special operations unit of the war in Iraq and demonstrate throughout how powerful SEAL leadership principles apply to business and life.

I seriously think this may be one of the best leadership books I have read. Each chapter is broken into three parts; the first identifies a leadership lesson learned through Navy SEAL combat or training experience, the second explains the leadership principle and the third demonstrates the principles application to the business world.

Through riveting storytelling and the use of military language, the book explains the laws of combat applicable to any situation; Extreme Ownership, Cover and Move, Simple, Prioritize and Execute, and Decentralized Command. 

Extreme Ownership in particular prompted some deep reflection. The principle dictates that an individual must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame. For anything. If something isn’t working as it should, a team isn’t functioning or a relationship between two staff members isn’t working, then it is the leader’s responsibilty to look in the mirror and take extreme ownership of the situation. As Willink explains,

“As individuals, we often attribute the success of others to luck or circumstances and make excuses for our own failures and the failures of our team. We blame our poor performance on bad luck, circumstances beyond our control, or poorly performing subordinates – anyone but ourselves. Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept, and taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage. But doing just that is an absolute necessity to learning, growing as a leader and improving a team’s performance.”

I think this is a worthy challenge to all teachers and leaders in schools in 2017. Take Extreme Ownership of your situation. Take personal responsibility for failures. Have a difficult parent to deal with? Not happy about something in the curriculum? A relationship with a co-worker has broken down? A team you lead not performing satisfactorily? Take Extreme Ownership, engage others in the conversation and create a solid no-nonsense list of corrective measures that can be implemented to improve the situational outcome.

This book is a must read. Practical leadership lessons from a diferent perspective.

Leadership Lessons

Being a leader isn’t easy. There is no playbook. Everything is contextual. You have to figure out on your own what you need to do. You have to find ways to adapt, overcome and be innovative – but the foundation of everything is culture. Work on culture first and everything else starts falling into place.

To be a leader is to be always learning. These are the lessons I have learnt:

1) Work relentlessly on culture.
2) Schools are never exactly how you want them to be.
3) Relationships are important.
4) Don’t talk. Listen.
5) You are never going to have all the resources you think you need.
6) No amount of professional development is ever going to help anyone.
7) Evangelize learning by doing.
8) Communicate your thinking. Even if you think you are being repetitive.
9) People are always going to criticize – no matter what you do – so do what you think is right and stay true to your vision.
10) You will make mistakes. Get used to it. Own up to them, acknowledge them and then move on.
11) Get feedback. But ultimately you decide how much weight to give it and what to do with it.
12) If you don’t feel uncomfortable you are probably playing it safe.

What else would you add?

Non-Negotiable

A successful friend and entrepreneur, who I respect and admire, asked me today how I lead within a large educational organization. What was my philosophy?

I responded that it was an incredibly nuanced and contextual approach. Whilst I was a devout student of Kotter, I’d like to think my style incorporated an awareness of my own shortcomings as a leader and that I try and address these on a daily basis. At the same time, I recognize that I can’t be all things to all people, so in that sense I just try and be myself. The importance of having others around you that compliment your own skill set can not be underestimated. This is the essence of a highly functional team. To lead is to really cultivate this team, to grow and encourage those around you to ensure a diverse and skillful group of people.

I also have a relentless focus on the core business of a formal place of learning; learning. Not politics, not policy and not other perceived pressures, but constantly asking others around you “what’s the most important thing that we need to focus on?” That’s the non-negotiable. Learning. It should be the crux of all conversations and decision making within an educational organization. It definitely helps to have a co-constructed vision and to enable Departments within your setting to engage in co-visioning.

In the busyness of school it requires a sustained focus to maintain this vision, and the foundation of this focus has to be the people within your organization. Trying to physically show that you value everybody’s work isn’t always easy when driving change, but it is necessary.

Relationships allow you to achieve your goal of focusing on your core business. Learning.