Donald Trump, Control Charts, & Lesson’s in Psychology from my Favorite Cartoonist

Note: The Illusion of Management is not a political blog; however, those struggling to create  change within their organizations and build a culture of responsible data analysis can learn a tremendous amount from Scott’s new book. Thus, I explore the concepts of Adams’ book and how they pertain to the Illusion of Management.

Win Bigly is Dilbert cartoonist (and trained hypnotist), Scott Adams, newest book where he reviews his prediction that Donald Trump would win the 2016 election from the viewpoint of Trump using the techniques of what Adam’s describes as a Master Persuader. Other examples of Master Persuaders are Steve Jobs and Tony Robbins.  Adams walks readers through his explanation of why facts don’t matter, tactics of Master Persuader’s, and explores the psychological concepts of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance through the lens of the 2016 election. Adams explains a Master Persuader is an individual who recognizes people are irrational 90% of the time (recall behavioral finance advocates from the last post argued innate irrationality invalidated the efficient market hypothesis) and uses this observation, along with confirmation bias to “pace and lead” the victims subjects. Adams draws  upon examples such as Trumps extreme immigration stance early during the Republican primaries as a way to match his supporters on an emotional level and then lead  them later in the race as he transitions to a less extreme position. Adams also notes Trumps ridiculous behavior and visualizations such as the infamous “Wall” are a tool to prompt discussion which elevates the issue in importance as a result of the “energy” consumed from the ensuing discussions and ridicule. Enlightened individuals such as Illusion of Management readers have likely seen this tactic deployed in the office as a skilled individual can successfully “spin up” a seemingly benign issue and suck the life out of an organization.

Persuasion Tip #4: The things that you think about the most will irrationally rise in importance in your mind.

Another popular tactic outlined by Adams is the High Ground Maneuver where a persuader elevates the discussion to a level where everyone agrees. Adams example is Steve Jobs’ handling of “Antennae gate”  where Jobs famously stated all smart phones have problems  in response to issues with the iPhone 4. In the corporate world you’ve likely heard ambiguous statements such as  “We need to focus on quality” or “create a quality mindset”(Note: Strategic Ambiguity is also a tool of the Master Persuader). Inevitably if the High Ground Maneuver goes unchecked the organization will likely kick of projects such as standard work deployment projects where the resulting  work instructions are pulled out for external audits and collect dust for the other 360 days a year.

Persuasion Tip #13: Use the High Ground Maneuver to frame yourself as the wise adult in the room. It forces others to join you or be framed as the small thinkers.

Though Win Bigly aids readers in identifying tactics of the Master Persuader, the continued discussion of confirmation bias is vital for ensuring meaningful performance improvement. From the perspective of the Illusion of Management, confirmation bias is crucial in perpetuating an environment where “noise” in performance data can be translated into “evidence” of progress or poor performance based on the bias of the observer. Adams uses evolution to explain this as understanding reality isn’t essential for people to live long enough to procreate. Evolution & confirmation bias also explains why people are skilled at pattern recognition enabling humans to circumnavigate the globe with the stars; however, prompts us to see patters where information is purely random (Source). The most fundamental tool in the war against confirmation bias & motivated persuaders is the control chart. Control charts can be used with upper and lower control limits which bound individual results within a range which is considered “noise” or common cause variation. Other rules such as those developed by Western Electric (link) can be used further enable filtering of signal from noise. Armed with tools such as control charts and the lessons of Master Persuaders outlined by Adams’ provide enlightened and motivated individuals with a fighting chance against the Illusion of Management.

Persuasion Tip #7: Its easy to fit completely different explanations to the observed facts. Don’t trust any interpretation of reality that isn’t able to predict.

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