The Gulf of Mexico is going to take a long time to recover.  While the people responsible may never have intended the consequences, the choices and decisions made during any number of strategy and implementation meetings, all made well before the explosion of the oil rig, have left all of us with a terrible mess.

Most of us are not going to experience the same kind of public scrutiny that BP executives are going through as a result of their failure in the Gulf of Mexico.  However, the impact of a bad decision can be equally devastating, even if to a smaller business, organization, or family.

Since most of us typically operate and behave based on what we think/feel and know to be true or false, we watch constantly for something called a “cognitive bias” that leads us to see things as we would have them rather than as they are.  Just as with the BP executives, any of us can and do make unwarranted assumptions about how good things are; and we make no “what if . . . “ plans to deal with unpleasant to disastrous outcomes.

Here are three suggestions on how to avoid the “cognitive bias trap” that led to the tarred fins, feathers, and beaches in every state that fronts the Gulf of Mexico.  Keep these in mind as you lead your own business, organization, or family.

Opposition to an idea needs to be heard with an open mind.  Unfortunately, we have a tendency to overcome opposition by labeling it as negative thinking (which it may be) and we criticize people who always seem to see only the dark side.  Stay focused on what you want to have happen, and pay attention to the red flags that your trusted advisors wave at you.

Your first loss is almost always your smallest.  Oddly enough, the more we spend on something, the more difficult it is to change direction.  We double down; we cross our fingers and take short cuts, sometimes hoping against hope that we will “dodge the bullet”.  When the “ego” investment is as large as the “financial” investment, the problem gets compounded.  Regardless of the rider’s skill, a dead horse is still a dead horse.

Bad decisions and errors in judgment are contagious.  If you’ve ever seen a little league game, you know that once the players start throwing the ball around, no one really knows what’s going to happen.  The tighter the schedule, the more requiring the execution, the more likely that the initial error or bad decision will create a domino effect.  To end the chaos, slow the system.

People are going to make errors and mistakes.  I make them.  You make them.  The challenge is always to recognize them, admit them, and look for ways to minimize the probability that the same mistake will occur a second, third, or fourth time.

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