Change Leadership Secret – 41 – Forget The Wishful Thinking

Change Leadership — Secret # 41
Forget The Wishful Thinking

A goal without a plan is just a wish. —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

What I Need to Know

The cognitive bias called “wishful thinking” is the tendency to consider only the data that reinforces your desired views and reject data that negates them. I am astounded at how many brilliant people and executives choose wishes over reality—to their great detriment.

Perhaps the clearest example is that of Quentin Thomas Wiles, a successful venture capitalist who invested $20 million in a company called Miniscribe in 1985. Mr. Wiles, a can-do, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer kind of person, personally took command of Miniscribe in mid-1985. He earnestly wanted to grow the company to $1 billion in revenues despite an industry-wide downturn and losing its main customers, IBM, Apple, and Digital Equipment Corp. Mr. Wiles rejected any data that negated his $1 billion wish and fired executives who brought him anything but positive data. He became so feared that employees resorted to shipping bricks (the company actually made computer disk drives) to fictitious customers rather than tell Mr. Wiles the company was not on track for $1 billion.
The consequences of Mr. Wiles’ wishful thinking?

  • The company (and many of its suppliers) filed for bankruptcy.
  • The company (and many of its suppliers) filed for bankruptcy.
  • Mr. Wiles received a criminal conviction and a three-year jail sentence.
  • Mr. Wiles’ career ended—in disgrace.

What I Need to Do

As a change leader, you do not have the luxury of wishing things to be true. Gather as much objective data as possible and provide an objective analysis to the customer. Be careful of the customer who:

  • Underestimates costs or risks.
  • Overestimates the benefits and chances of success.

Accurate expectations are not just in the customer’s best interest—they are in your best interest.
Second, make sure that people on your delivery team are not just wishing things to happen. Foster a can-do, problem-solving culture on your team and confront problems quickly and actively. Always keep the customer apprised of status, including any problems.

Most important, do not let yourself wish. Do this by remaining emotionally detached from the situation and not becoming enmeshed with the data or the outcomes. High energy and excellence in execution is different from emotional attachment.

Action Summary

  • Be sensitive of wishful thinking.
  • Replace wishful thinking with problem solving and action.
  • Avoid the dangers of wishful thinkers—by disengaging from them.
Change Leadership Secret - 41 Forget The Wishful Thinking
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