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Yusen, We Have a Problem!: Think Traps! (Part One)

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 8, 2018
Updated: Thursday, February 8, 2018

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.

Homer: "Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm."

Lisa: "That's specious reasoning, Dad."

Homer: "Thank you, dear."

Lisa and Homer Simpson in The Simpsons "Much Apu About Nothing"


"It's a TRAP!"

-Admiral Ackbar in Return of the Jedi

In our last article, we explored two thinking systems – 1 (your GUT) and 2 (your brain) – when addressing complex problems at your gemba. We spoke of Gallagher and his "new eyes" approach to addressing an issue. Very often, our GUT (system 1 thinking) will trick us into believing we have thoroughly investigated an issue (system 2 thinking) when, in reality, we just happen to be acting on our own personal beliefs rather than proper data analysis.

The solution, one might think, is to just grab a whole bunch of data, lock a group of people in a room and go over everything until the clear and obvious answer presents itself. However, as anyone who has ever served jury duty can attest, very often the same people seeing the same information can come away with dramatically different conclusions. Turns out, we humans are predisposed to bring a heaping helping of good ol' fashioned logical fallacies to any think party and once they get in the door, they are seriously difficult to kick back out. These fallacies, also known as think traps, are insidious and often down right tenacious!

Quick call back to our Kaizen rules articles of yore. If you (and you should) use the PDCA method of problem solving, during the P (plan) phase you should have clearly articulated the issue, collected relevant data and put together a team to facilitate the process. When you move into the D (do) phase, the team will have to crack into the data. This is phase we are discussing at this moment.

Pearson's red critical thinking model (check out the excellent book, Now You're Thinking) suggests that the first thing to do before you begin to analyze the data is to take a moment and "recognize" your assumptions: What do we know? What do we think we know? Here is where think traps can first be sprung.

There are two major think traps that can derail your efforts for genuine and effective problem solving right out of the gate, so it's best to learn how to recognize them early.

The first is called Confirmation Bias know exactly what the problem is and how to solve it, and finally you have this opportunity to convince others and you are not going to waste it. You start the process already "knowing the answer" and the data and experience that supports your position is good evidence and anything that just happens to differ from your solution or presents a slightly alternate option of cause is obviously bad evidence and quickly discarded. This is a danger in all walks of life, not just critical thinking. Think of that uncle at Thanksgiving with the politics and such and you will see confirmation bias at its most primal. The danger, of course, is if you only take seriously that which supports your system 1 (gut) thinking and discard anything else, you will never obtain an objective view of the evidence and may miss an opportunity to hit root cause. The best plan is to, in the early stages of brainstorming solutions, never discard an idea, no matter how outlandish it may seem to you. Document everything as it comes out. There is plenty of time later to let the ideas enter Thunderdome and battle it out; for now, just get everything recorded. If you find yourself, or someone else on the team, debating and dismissing something as it's being suggested ("no, we tried that before and it doesn't work"), take a moment and acknowledge that yes, there may have been instances before where this idea/data/solution was broached on the floor, but let's not be too quick to dismiss until we've fully discussed.

Confirmation Bias has a step-sibling in the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. The idea behind this think trap is that if you take a gun and shoot a bunch of bullets at the broadside of a barn, then after shooting, draw the bullseye around the place where there are the most bullet holes sp you can prove that you have excellent aim! It's akin to Confirmation Bias in that you are still only addressing data that supports your position and ignoring the data (or bullet holes) that do not. It can also be called the ex-girlfriend fallacy: Oh, she posted on Instagram a picture of that movie we saw, so she must be thinking about me; why else would she have posted that movie? Oh, she's posting a favorite movie every day because this is "favorite movie week" on social media? Doesn't matter, because today is Tuesday and our first date was on a Tuesday, even though we saw the movie on a Friday, but that doesn't matter because she also posted a picture of her in that shirt that she wore once on a date, so that along with the movie proves that she is thinking about me. And the band played on… Same as Confirmation Bias, when you're collecting data or going over test results, don't focus on patterns that are not there, no matter how much you want them to be there. Data is data and it often doesn't lie. Take the time to fully explore every angle.

The main takeaway from these two think traps is to make sure you do not bring a "solution" with you when you enter the brainstorming session. After all, if you knew the actual solution, chances are the problem may not have occurred in the first place.

Next time we will look at two other major think traps – ones that can derail the train of conclusion! 
McRaney, David. You are not so smart: why you have too many friends on Facebook, why your memory is mostly fiction, and 46 other ways youre deluding yourself. Gotham Books, 2012.
Konnikova, Maria. The Confidence Game The Psychology of the Con and Why we Fall for it Every Time. Canongate Books Ltd, 2016.
Chartrand, Judy, et al. Now You're Thinking!: Change Your Thinking... Transform Your Life. Pearson FT Press, 2014

Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.

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Tags:  Think Traps 

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