J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Expectation Shapes Reality

Expectation Shapes Reality

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How much do your expectations shape what you get?  A lot.  David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write about how your expectations and attitude play a larger role in your perception than previously understood in their article, "The Neuroscience of Leadership", in "strategy+business" magazine.

Mental Maps Play a Big Role
Rock and Schwartz write:

"Cognitive scientists are finding that people's mental maps, their theories, expectations and attitudes, play a more central role in human perception than was previously understood. This can well be demonstrated by the placebo effect. Tell people they have been administered a pain-reducing agent and they experience a marked and systematic reduction in pain, despite the fact that they have received a completely inert substance, a sugar pill."

You Get What You Expect
Rock and Schwartz write:

"The fact that our expectations, whether conscious or buried in our deeper brain centers, can play such a large role in perception has significant implications. Two individuals working on the same customer service telephone line could hold different mental maps of the same customer. The first, seeing customers only as troubled children, would hear only complaints that needed to be allayed; the second, seeing them as busy but intelligent professionals, would hear valuable suggestions for improving product or service."

Cultivate Moments of Insight
Rock and Schwartz write:

"How, then, would you go about facilitating change? The impact of mental maps suggests that one way to start is by cultivating moments of insight. Large-scale behavior change requires a large-scale change in mental maps. This in turn requires some kind of events or experience that allows people to provoke themselves, in effect, to change their attitudes and expressions more quickly and dramatically than they normally would."

Individuals Have to "Own" Their Change
Rock and Schwartz write:

"That is why employees need to "own" any kind of change initiative for it to be successful. The help-desk clerk who sees customers as children won't change the way he or she listens without a moment of insight in which his or her mental maps shift to seeing customers as experts. Leaders wanting to change the way people think or behave should learn to recognize, encourage, and deepen their team's insights."

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • If you're a mentor, ask insightful questions over giving conclusions.
  • If you're not getting results from the training you take, change your mindset. If you think nobody can teach you anything -- you're right. If you think they can, you're right.
  • Bake time in for reflection. I think reflection and introspection are a way to have more frequent insightful moments. For example, for my team we use two practices for this.  First, we send a Lessons Learned mail around where individuals add their insights. Second, each Friday is our reflection (see Friday Reflection)
  • To change yourself, ask more insightful questions.
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