Here is a point I want to make about attribution bias and survivor bias, with respect to leadership theory.
Attribution bias is when we assign causation to something incorrectly;
Survivorship bias is examining the survivors of an event or an era, to discover what they have in common so as to reverse engineer success.
We run that risk with leadership studies which seek to define leadership (either individual or org) and attribute success to qualities, traits, processes when it may be that the times themselves favor certain behaviors at a deep level and that the environment already determines who will succeed, and that leadership has a very small role to play when considering the powerful forces at work.
Example: 10,000 baby sea turtles with a number on their back dash from nest to the sea after hatching. Although they have slight differences in strength size and timing, they are all essentially little baby turtles. Its random chance which determines which survive to get to the sea and then later on mate.
A scientist who studies the survivors and trues to find the patterns in the numbers painted on their shells will be missing the essential nature of the turtle-predator-environment dynamic by looking at only the survivors.
In this idea, it makes a lot of sense to examine the nature of the environment. There are some which could be classified as transformative based on an intersection of many change waves developing at once. This is the sense I was trying to capture when i was describing the early 90s as a transformative period which not surprisingly featured the emergence of the transformative leader literature.
In the early 90s, the Cold War came to an end; massive demographic, political and economic changes permitted an explosion in global connectedness in trade; digital technology had reached a tipping point in acceptance in design and efficiency of production. Communication was making the world smaller than ever.
American capital markets were awash in cash looking for opportunity; Peace dividends were being applied to the markets to bootstrap new technologies;
All of these conditions created an transformational opportunity for thousands of little start-up turtles to explode into business spaces which 10 years earlier had never existed
There’s nothing new in the business strategies of Gates and Jobs; They were applying, intentionally or not, the executive business techniques that had served others well in the past at moments when technology, transportation, printing, metallurgy etc created transformative moments. They didnt so much invent the new world, as they happened to be swept along with the wave and they were particularly adept swimmers
To be able to transform business models inside the storm waves to me seems transformative rather than transactional; however I also suggest that there can be profound competitive advantage in learning how to “cycle” transactions better, faster than others. Success has a transformative power all of its own
But, when those transformative times end, suddenly all of those new age, “this-time-its-different” leadership and management styles quickly fail when the cash dries up.
Companies with horrible business models and high burn rates and no real value add quickly disappear when the seasons change. Look at the companies with the enormous investments in their peoples comforts and happiness at work and see how fast they are changing their tunes lately. Those that are slow to adapt to the change in season fade away, even though they may still be trying to apply the fabulous transformational techniques that worked so well (apparently) in the boom years.
I believe we pay excessive attention to the acts of individuals and internal workings and not enough to the times and the context. I admire those who have an effective and far seeing sensory system to stay alert to the changing times, coupled with a heightened sense of danger and risk management. Andy Grove of Intel, to me, is the prototype of these kinds of leaders.
I am not convinced that the success of these kinds of folks is so much “seeing what needs to be done” but being able to steer clear of dangerous reefs and avoiding disaster.
the lesson from evolutionary biology is NOT that Nature favors the survival of the fittest, because the definition of “fittest” can change so quickly when the environment experiences a dramatic change. Rather, Nature vigorously punishes the unfit, immediately, while preserving as much variety as possible, in order to have an expansive gene pool, in order to “fund” the widest variety of next generation experiments as possible.
In retrospect, when we are seeking “leadership”, maybe we ought to be looking at “avoiding disastership”
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Why do we fear failure? Why do so many things fail?
What can we learn about failure that protects us from the shock of actual failure?
Why do we persist as a species knowing the odds are stacked against us so badly in just about anything we do?
I have been reading some commentary and advice about overcoming fear of failure, and wanted to comment on some ideas from an excellent book I am currently reading by Paul Ormerod “Why Most Things Fail”, a scholarly look at the normal phenomenon of why even robust successful, organizations, entities, and species fail on such a regular basis.
Ormerod draws some very interesting parallels between the rates of failure of dinosaur species and large human enterprises like corporations, and there seems to be some compelling parallels. He makes the usual observations on the well known failure rates of new business enterprises as well. From these many documented evidences of categories of failures, he begins to develop a sense of an Iron Law of Failure. He basically asserts that life is so variable and so complicated, and populated with so many organisms and enterprises that are already very lean and mean that the margin of error for success is extremely narrow.
Couple that fragility with a healthy dose of environmental variability and you have a recipe for almost certain failure.
Our natural optimism and willingness to suspend disbelief allows us to focus on how an idea can succeed, whereas looking at the results of a category of enterprises would lead us to conclude that failure is normal and expected.
Rather than concluding that action is futile, this may actually help us get over fear of failure, since it is by far the most likely outcome. Free of that fear we can safely venture with our ego intact since failure seems to be an integral part of nature and not a personal shortcoming.
So take your pick: If you act you will probably fail, but if you don’t act, you will absolutely fail. Where are the odds?
I find that a very freeing thought. To act without fear or worry, to do my best, and accept the outcome, and keep learning. One day it will click.