Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

When Is “Changing the Market Landscape” Just An Illusion?

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance Part 2

I started the chapter with a story about craps, and ended by saying that craps and the workplace have a lot in common in that in both cases we are in less control than it seems.

Funny thing about craps, the game is random, but it can seem like you have control, especially after a few of those free drinks.  And in fact, studies by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer have shown that people act as if how they throw the dice has an impact on the outcome, making soft throws for low numbers and hard throws for high numbers.  This is an example of what Langer calls the illusion of control – “the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events that they demonstrably have no control over.

According to Langer, the illusion of control arises in recurring situations when routine behaviors in the mind become correlated with a particular outcome.  A person who’s routine includes one or more of the following is particulary susceptible to the Illusion of Control: [1]

  • Choice
  • Competition
  • Familiarity with the activity
  • Involvement in decisions

Now, lets look at what “Patrick” the vice president of development has to say about managing to the big picture.  (I should add that I think Patrick is a Wolf.  From talking to him and others he works with, he is definitely not a Fox.  See this post for an explanation.)

“It’s a best practice to say that [the work will have a large impact.]  But if people can’t see reality beyond the words, it can be counter productive.  To say we are changing the landscape of the market is a stretch when our competitor has 80% market share.  The reality is that we are going to try to get market share.  It’s less exciting, but it reflects reality better.”

Do any words stand out as you read this?  He never says illusion, but he sure says reality a lot!

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  2. […] last point applies to Patrick, who we met in the last post.  Pat was considered by his peers to be one of the most solid and capable leaders in the […]

  3. […] reinforced her perception that the company was helping to revolutionize drug discovery.  (See this post on the illusion of control.) And, these companies were a very lucrative source of revenue.  At one […]

  4. […] who ended up in the hospital once because he was working too much.  (Told in this post.) I’m happy to say Pat learned his lesson.  When he was a senior director at his previous […]