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Change Management

Consulting is our passion.


Juha Lipponen

This is a first post of a series of blogs talking about how your daily meetings can be made more participative and efficient.

You probably have seen or participated a contest of guessing the number of pennies in a large glass jar. The one, who guess closest, gets a prize. What is interesting though, as explained by James Surowiecki in his best-selling “The Wisdom of Crowds”, is the fact that if you average all the guesses of individual people in a large group, you will almost always get remarkably correct estimate of the actual number of the pennies. It’s amazing how the group’s common “guess” is often closer than any of the individual estimates, making the “crowd” winner the whole contest over any of the participants!
However, this works only if the guesses are independent of each other. This is easily true if the “Jar of pennies” contest is held in a middle of a farm fair, participated by a random passer-bys. However, if large enough group of participants hold a common bias, say, are from a foreign country, where they use remarkably different size of pennies, or have a chance to discuss what is the “right” answer to the question, the average guess of the crowd will be off from “zeroing” itself, producing a biased end result. Therefore, to eliminate any shared biases, the individual inputs have to be decorrelated.
This is an example used by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner in economics in 2002. He uses the ”jar of pennies" analogy when he explains the psychology of shared bias easily ruining an outcome of a meeting, if a genuinely common view is pursued. The shared bias problem arises if just the boss, or the loud guy, is pushing his or her ideas through in the meeting (even unintentionally). Further, this is what Kahneman writes in his best-selling book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”:
“The principle of independent judgments (and decorrelated errors) has immediate applications for the conduct of meetings, an activity in which executives in organizations spend a great deal of their working days. A simple rule can help: before an issue is discussed, all members of the committee should be asked to write a very brief summary of their position. This procedure makes good use of the value of the diversity of knowledge and opinion in the group. The standard practice of open discussion gives too much weight to the opinions of those who speak early and assertively, causing others to line up behind them.”
Here, Daniel Kahneman, the nobelist, makes a very compelling psychological argument of how and why the “O” phase (O for “Own Thinking”) works for better decisions in OPERA meeting, compared to a traditional one (Kahneman’s book is very good read anyway, highly recommended!)
In an O phase of an OPERA meeting, all participants are allowed to write down their own view of the addressed question, upcoming decision, presented suggestion, or simply produce ideas on a given topic. Here, the “Own thinking” phase is set right after addressing the topic to be discussed, and the O phase is held in silence. No discussing will be allowed (to eliminate any shared biases caused by discussion). The O phase will be scheduled to last for a few minutes, allowing everybody to give their input to the “Jar of pennies contest” at the meeting.
You can read more of Innotiimi-ICG’s OPERA method in an ebook “Opera - Guide for more efficient meetings”, available at https://itunes.apple.com/fi/book/opera/id871050555

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