I just read about something called a “premortem” and found it intriguing. It’s a technique devised by psychologist Gary Klein to help groups make better decisions. Unfortunately as we all know, groups are subject to groupthink and overconfidence. Once an idea is put on the table no one likes to express their doubts, be disloyal to the team or play the role of a pessimistic naysayer. Hence a premortem technique will help.

The idea is that you get the team together that is considering the proposal and instruct them to: 1) imagine that it’s been two years since they went ahead with the decision; 2) that it has been a complete disaster, and 3) that they should take five to ten minutes to write a brief history of the disaster. This exercise permits, or encourages, individuals to air their doubts and spot weaknesses in the proposed project.  It can also highlight strengths that may be present. 

In any event, groupthink overconfidence (also known as hubris) can be thwarted. The unknown unknowns may become clearer and decisions become better and more rational.

What a good idea! Would that it could be initiated in those institutions we belong to and suffer from—which hardly need to remain nameless. A proactive premortem would be so much better than our usual moans and groaning, “what were they thinking?” Any suggestions or examples come to mind?

Sidney Callahan

 

Comments

ed gleason | 2/3/2012 - 1:05pm
As on the other thread, we hope that the bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran crowd would have a premortem.. I would write up  maybe Israel would no longer exist if bombs fall on Iran. Maybe Pakistan would fill in for their Muslim brothers and sisters in Iran.. If they hid Osama Ben larden  from the USA how much concern would they have for Israeli/ Jewish good will. .  
Stephen SCHEWE | 2/3/2012 - 12:57pm
Better, I think, to help the group articulate the risks in a proposed plan, and what can be done to overcome those risks.  A third party facilitator can sometimes represent the interests of the group if a powerful leader is trying to push through an ill-considered venture.  There are ways to bring balance to such a discussion by asking the group for feedback anonymously (write your biggest concern about the plan on an index card; the facilitator collects the cards and synthesizes the concerns for the group.  Another approach is to clearly describe the current situation, sketch the ideal future that would be brought about by the new venture, and then discuss the gap:  usually, the risks come out as the group discusses why the ideal future hasn't already occurred.

New projects are hard enough to get off the ground without writing their epitaphs in advance.