Can too many cooks not spoil the broth?

Too many cooks spoil the broth” — this popular idiom implies that when too many people work together or are involved in an activity, the final outcome or result becomes inferior.

While we all agree to the idioms with our versions of experiences, a popular management term “synergy” comes into mind. On a flipped perspective of the idiom, shouldn’t multiple cooks be rather reinforcing the broth with their own camaraderie and united strength than spoiling it?

This proverbial expression metaphorically denotes employing excess resources causes inefficiency. On a more literal term, too many cooks might not always spoil the broth. It is having multiple inputs from too many people that derails the progress. Contrary to the belief, there can be multiple number of people and less number of inputs. Sounds superficial and counterintuitive, but it is not impossible to achieve.

The Earned Dogmatism Effect: Culprit for the Spoiled Broth

“We don’t know everything, and we probably never will.”

This sentence sums up the antidote to the earned dogmatism effect, which explains that as we start becoming more experienced and knowledgeable – and thus, move from amateur to expert, we start becoming more close-minded and adopt a relatively dogmatic orientation – inclined to lay down certain beliefs as incontrovertibly true. Little do we know, multiple truths exist.

Read in detail about ‘The Earned Dogmatism Effect’ here.

When the cooks start believing that their way is the “ultimate right” way, the broth gets spoiled. If the cooks (or anyone in general) become more self-aware of their own dogmas and its impact on the bigger picture (i.e., the spoiled broth), they can help prevent this accident. Of course it is against the common human nature to not add recommendations in such quandary. But this should not be seen as a “sacrifice” because one does not necessarily have to put forward their ideas and recommendations all the time.

How to Save the Broth?

Here are a few steps (out of many) to help us save the broth and move towards achieving ‘synergic’ results.

1. Self Awareness

Checking in with yourself always helps. As the popular saying mentions, “the only way out is in“. It becomes important to understand how our thoughts, emotions, and actions are ever evolving and changing as we learn, and grow more with education and experience in life. The more we know, the more likely we are to fall into the diagnosis pitfall. The diagnosis pitfall notes that the “experts” at times are blinded by their past experiences, and could be fixated on the new event being the same as their past events. When we tend to selectively focus only on a part of the event that triggers our inner advice monster, we succumb into this trap of diagnosis pitfall. 

Read in detail about ‘The Diagnosis Pitfall” here.

As credible and knowledgeable experts, it becomes easy for us to advice people irrespective of their need for the guidance. Taming our inner advice monster is essential, and so it understanding that advice giving is not the problem.

Advice giving becomes problematic when i) we fail to understand the real depth of the challenge or the problem, ii) we think our advice is amazing when it might not be (Knock, knock: The Dunning-Kruger Effect), and iii) most frustratingly we cut away the other person’s sense of confidence and autonomy by trying to be a messiah or savior with our advices.

Self awareness helps us to check our biases within us, and realize that these cognitive biases can be problematic not just for us, but for the overall team and the outcome of the project/activity.

2. The golden pyramid of conscious and empathic listening

The golden trident of listening effectively comprises of three components – i) Understanding, ii) Humility, and iii) Curiosity.

Listening to someone should be more about understanding, and not about responding or reacting. And to make things clear, understanding does not mean agreement. We can develop this amazing ability to listen to someone say a complete opposing view without agreeing to them, but trying to understand where they are coming from.

The second component is about having the intellectual humility, since we do not have the knowledge of everything in the world. Even if we might have mastered cooking, we might not have full comprehension about all the dishes of the world. This humility allows us to listen rather than recommend more inputs to spoil the broth. Finally, the third component is about curiosity. Curiosity can be summed up with two words – asking questions.

Imagine you were about to clean the dishes voluntarily. Then someone comes in and then asks you to clean the dishes. You, now, might still do it but not as wholeheartedly as you would have done it before. Now imagine that instead of that someone ordering you to do it, they come up to you and simply asks, “what are you about to do?” Your probable response would be, “I’m about to do the dishes”. You might find the difference in your thoughts, emotions, and actions while doing the dishes now.

As human beings, being asked questions is a way to open up discussions and create platform to express ourselves. Asking questions implies that the other person is curious to listen, know, and understand about your views. Asking questions and staying curious in the conversation is more likely to push you to a listening zone. As the principle of reciprocity goes, when you listen to someone, you get listened to as well.

3. Imposed gets opposed.

Finally, when we try to impose our ideas and recommendations on others, we can expect it to be challenged, criticized, and even opposed.

Imagine your vegan friend pressing you hard to leave your juicy steak and turn into adopting a plant based diet. Imagine a religious priest avouching you to turn into following a certain religion, or trying hard to turn your atheist views to believing in god. Imagine someone with high inclination towards alternative medicine trying to influence and persuade you into following their methods. When you feel these things being imposed on you, you won’t budge no matter how much of logical statements they make, or how much evidences they present to you. They simply come across as “logic bullies“.

Any idea or change that is imposed will largely get opposed. In order to save the broth, we need to remain mindful that we are not imposing our inputs and recommendations to others. Understanding this simple rule will help us to easily get things done through our teams and groups.

Even the recommendations mentioned here in this article are not imposed; people are free to practice their own will. Just don’t impose it to others.

The Diagnosis Pitfall : How even experts can fall in it?

The Diagnosis Pitfall

A woman – visibly in panic and grief – runs into the emergency room with her two years old daughter, who was experiencing severe stomach pains.

Normally, the ER (Emergency Room) doctor & the team would have started running tests for diagnostics. However, in this particular case, the ER doctors shifted their attention from the two-year old daughter to the mother, because the mother appeared to be overly concerned and seemed like a parent who would overreact. The doctors sent the mother-daughter home, dismissing any signs of impending severe dangers.

The woman returned the next day. While the ER doctors know how vital it is to carefully listen to the parents while treating infants, the doctors were now even more justified that the woman was overreacting, and labeled her as “hypochondriac”. Once again, the ER doctors sent them home, without proper tests and diagnosis.

The third day – the woman is back at the hospital with her daughter. It was only when the toddler lost consciousness, the doctors realized something was terribly wrong; but by then, it was already too late to save the precious life of the two-year old.

The moment the ER doctors labeled the mother “hypochondriac”, they fell into this pitfall of “Diagnosis Pitfall”, or “Diagnosis Bias”.

(Story adapted from Ori & Rom Brafman’s “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior”)

How can skilled, educated, and experienced doctors & physicians make such a disturbing decision? They go through years of rigorous training and intense practises because they’re responsible of saving someone’s life. But is it possible that even these knowledgeable doctors & physicians fall into the diagnosis pitfall?

Turns out, they can.

They’re humans after all. And our reliance on our cognitive process is vulnerable to biases, which makes treatment and diagnosis errors more likely than we think.

The journal article from Jill G Klein (associate professor of Marketing at INSEAD) published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) explains about the five pitfalls in decision making about diagnosing and prescribing. The five common pitfalls are – i) Representative Heuristic, ii) Availability Heuristic, iii) Overconfidence, iv) Confirmation Bias, and v) Illusory Correlation.

Studies based on both simulated cases and questionnaires show that doctors are susceptible to decision making biases, including insensitivity to known probabilities, overconfidence, a failure to consider other options, the attraction effect, and the availability heuristic. The good news is that training in these dangers can reduce the probability of flawed medical decision making.

Caroline Wellbery, MD from Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, District of Columbia explains in her paper about the diagnostic bias and prevention strategies.

Diagnosis Pitfall

For a list and explanation about 50 various cognitive and affective biases in medicine, click here.

The Diagnosis Pitfall : How do you fall in?

In the above story, the doctors fell into the diagnosis pitfall in the moment they labeled the patient as “hypochondriac”.

When we label a person or situation, we put blinders to all evidence that contradicts our diagnosis. The “experts” at times are blinded by their past experiences, and could be fixated on the new event being the same as their past events. This happens to all of us. When we tend to selectively focus only on a part of the event that triggers our inner advice monster, we succumb into this trap of diagnosis pitfall. When we listen to someone sharing their story, and a part of it resembles our past event, we quickly prescribe them what had worked for us without realizing their situation might be completely new.

“When we tend to selectively focus only on a part of the event that triggers our inner advice monster, we succumb into this trap of diagnosis pitfall.”

There are usually three parts in falling prey to this biasness, viz. i) selective focus, ii) awakening inner advice monster, and iii) putting blinders to evidences that contradicts our diagnosis. Selective focus is when we tend to pick up only the selected event that resembles our past experiences and then zone-out the rest. Then, we subconsciously awaken our inner advice monster to prescribe what worked for us in the past, and finally, we do not look up enough evidences and factors that can contradict the advice we are about to prescribe.

The Diagnosis Pitfall : How do you get out?

To overcome this diagnosis, we need to understand how we get in first. Once we understand the “getting in” part, we can become aware of this dangerous pitfall, and the cost of this pitfall could be catastrophic. Being aware of our cognitive biases is the step one of overcoming any biases.

Second, understanding the three steps of falling prey to the diagnosis pitfall is essential. The answer to “getting out” of this pitfall is hidden in the route to “getting in” this pitfall. To overcome selective focus, we need conscious and empathic listening. When someone is sharing their situation, it’s not only the words that we should be paying attention to. Empathic listening is about letting the speaker know that we are genuinely interested in listening to them, we understand their problem as well as how they feel about it.

Taming the inner advice monster could be hard, but not impossible at all. To tame our advice monster, what we want to do is replace our advice-giving habit with a new habit: Staying curious. It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that.

Only when we have listened empathetically and not awakened our inner advice monster in between, we can then finally look for prescriptions. However, we should also be aware to look out for evidences that contradicts our prescriptions. In addition to vouching for “how this advice could work for you because it worked for me”, we should also seek to answer “how this advice could not work for you”.

Each person and each situation is different. Therefore, practicing a beginner’s mindset – or “shoshin” – could be crucial to overcome this pitfall. As Dr. Tracy Ochester (author of ‘Attitudes of Mindfulness: Beginner’s Mind’) puts it, “when we adopt the mind of a beginner, we endeavor to look at things as if for the first time, free from the influence of the past or speculation about the future. We open ourselves to what is here now, rather than constructing stories about what we think is here”.

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