28.05.2018
Robert Lowry
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The failure to address issues of Groupthink and Cognitive Biases will undermine the output of any forum for political decision-making. Such forums should, therefore, expect their participants to: 1)      Conduct themselves in a manner that helps mitigate against Groupthink; notably participants should avoid: a)       Belief in the morality of a cause without question; b)      The placing of pressure on individuals to conform, and by not seeing questioning as disloyal or heretical; c)       The suppression of ideas through failing to discourage self-censorship; d)      The interpretation of silence as consent; e)      Using people and processes to suppress dissenting and inconvenient information; f)        The stereotyping of opponents or other groups as evil or stupid; g)       Encouraging a sense of invulnerability that leads to unnecessary risks being taken; h)      Ignoring warnings of failure through engaging in collective rationalisation. 2)      Acknowledge the potential impacts of cognitive biases, especially: a)       Confirmation bias – whereby there is a tendency to seek information that confirms preconceptions but discounts contradicting information; b)      Self-serving bias – whereby there is a tendency to emphasise one’s own personal or group successes rather than failures; c)       Ingroup Bias – whereby there is a tendency to overestimate the capabilities of one’s own group and underestimate its limitations; d)      Belief bias – whereby logic is overridden by belief in a conclusion; e)      Projection Bias – whereby there is a tendency to think others think like you; f)        The Bandwagon effect – whereby there is a tendency to act as others around you do; g)       The Halo effect – whereby perceptions of somebody’s capabilities or opinions are influenced by unconnected facts such as celebrity status; h)      Availability heuristic – whereby there is a tendency to draw conclusions based on more memorable events whilst possibly overlooking more pertinent events. 3)      Conduct themselves in a manner that fosters civil debate by: a)       Being courteous to others; b)      Speaking truthfully and neither misrepresenting facts, words and actions, nor deliberately citing them out of context.
18.03.2014
Robert Lowry
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This is a DRAFT posting – interim comments most welcome The lack of awareness that Cognitive Biases and Groupthink impair judgement and decision making capabilities is a shameful part of modern political, diplomatic, moral and religious discourse. We are surrounded by biased opinions and we can – each and every one of us – be guilty of holding them without realising. Listening to or engaging in a debate on religion, a civil war, an independence referendum, a business plan or whatever, is an infuriating process when genuinely held beliefs contradict each other. To deal with this, we must do proportionately more to challenge the conditions that produce biased beliefs, rather than challenge the actual beliefs themselves. It has often been said that there is more than one truth to a narrative. However, some individuals or organisations blatantly ignore or unjustifiably belittle narratives that do not concur with their own agenda. In consequence, assertions from stances that lack any empathy with others tend to lead on to heated discourse at best, or violent conflict at worst. While it may often be more appropriate to counter the logical fallacies of an argument, it is the ignoring of Cognitive Biases or Groupthink conditions that paves the way either for never-ending clashes of partisan dogmas, or for the emergence of false consensuses that conceal the risks of failure. This omission does not aid the achievement of desirable long-term outcomes.  While I make no claims to be a psychology expert, I believe there are widespread benefits to raising awareness of Cognitive Biases and Groupthink, and in making use of this awareness so as to better understand root causes of differences, and to manage expectations in dealing with the issues arising. If you want to undermine a dogmatic stance, then it is worth recognising how a head-on, argumentative confrontation seems more likely to result in intransigent hostility than a change of opinion. Would it not be better to challenge the processes that have produced prejudice or entrenched doctrines? Raising awareness can be achieved by employing the lexicon of biases in discussions; challenging ourselves to be less vulnerable to biases than others; and then – only then – exposing our antagonists’ vulnerabilities to these same biases. Throw down the gauntlet. Rather than saying: “I’m right – you’re wrong”; or “I speak the truth – you lie”; or even: “I am good – you are evil”, you might say: “I believe I am more likely to be right than you are because my measures to cope with bias are better than yours, but if you think otherwise: prove it.” This is certainly not a pithy style of argument, but if the alternative is a vociferous exchange of entrenched assertions and counter-assertions, then it might be preferable. Moreover, it should help expose the narrow-minded for what they are, and undermine those who wish to participate in untenable blame-games or those who manipulate public debate with the distorted arguments of a propaganda machine. And with any luck, it should improve the rationality of one’s own arguments. So here are some Groupthink symptoms to be wary of: 1.      The unquestioning belief in the morality of a cause leading to the disregard of the consequences of actions;   2.      The direct pressure of conformity where questioning is seen as disloyal or heretical to the group; 3.      Self-censorship which, if not discouraged, will suppress ideas that might be seen to deviate from a perceived group consensus; 4.      The illusion of unanimity where silence is interpreted as consent; 5.      The existence of mind guards who suppress dissenting and inconvenient information; 6.      The stereotyping of opponents as evil or stupid will misinform and misdirect decision-making; 7.      The illusion of invulnerability that fosters misplaced optimism and risk taking; 8.      The collective rationalisation in which group members ignore warnings of failure. And here are a selection of Cognitive Biases to be wary of: 1.      Confirmation bias – a tendency to seek information that confirms preconceptions but discounts contradicting information; 2.      Self-serving bias – a tendency to emphasise one’s own successes rather than failures; 3.      Belief bias – where logic is adversely affected by belief in a conclusion ; 4.      Halo effect – where perceptions of somebody’s capabilities or opinions are influenced by unconnected facts (celebrity status for example); 5.      Availability heuristic – a tendency to draw conclusions based on more memorable events whilst possibly overlooking more pertinent events; 6.      Bandwagon effect – a tendency to act as others around you do; 7.      Positive Expectation Bias – a tendency to believe things can only get better; 8.      Negativity Bias – whereby more attention is paid to bad news; 9.      Ingroup Bias – a tendency to overestimate the capabilities of one’s own group; 10.  Projection Bias – a tendency to think others think like you.   [A non-exhaustive list of biases can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_biases_in_judgement_and_decision_making]   #BiasBingo So here is the idea: if you perceive an opinion that you genuinely believe is affected by conditions that encourage bias, point it out – helpfully and politely. The tag “#BiasBingo” with a little explanation would contribute to raising awareness of the issue across social media. We should also have the good grace to accept bias vulnerabilities being pointed out of ourselves. Remember it is not a question of stating: “I’m right – you are wrong”. It is more a matter of: “Please reassure that your views are not unduly affected by Groupthink or Cognitive Biases.” If not: “Your argument/decision would be perceived as more credible if there was greater evidence that its vulnerability to the following Groupthink or Cognitive Biases were less…” I would expect those people or organisations that are most vulnerable to bias to be those who are also the most riled by having it pointed out to them. However, this is not a scientifically-backed assertion and perhaps it is subject to my own biases – especially the Fundamental Attribution Error. It may also prove easier to point out the organisational and cultural conditions that foster Groupthink than trying to make verifiable accusations of Cognitive Biases. So sit back and watch an election campaign, TV debate or whatever, and highlight those biases. Tweet a #BiasBingo message if you feel like it, or perhaps draw up a score card and see if you can beat your colleagues at spotting a full set of biases, a pair, four of a kind, whatever. You define the rules, but be fair and never ignore your own potential bias blind spots. Just get out there and raise awareness.                                                                                                                Further reading: Dvorsky, G The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational http://io9.com/5974468/the-most-common-cognitive-biases-that-prevent-you-from-being-rational Janis, Irving L. Victims of Groupthink, New York: Houghton Mifflin (1972); and Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, New York: Houghton Mifflin (1982). Lowry, Robert M. Governance and Groupthink http://arkhonlowry.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/governance-and-groupthink.html Lubin, G 57 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up How We Think http://www.businessinsider.com/cognitive-biases-2013-8?op=1  Taylor, Jim The Power of Prime: Cognitive Biases v Common Sense http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201107/cognitive-biases-vs-common-sense
03.03.2014
Robert Lowry
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These are subversive words, So I won’t tell you again: Stop reading now And put down your pen.   But you’re reading on: You dare to defy; You doubt my wisdom And question me why. I know I’m right And you are wrong, Though I won’t explain: It would take too long. I’m not being arrogant Or dictatorial you know. It’s just for the best You stop reading and go. Accept my superior insight: There’s no need for debate, But continued defiance Will make me irate. Have I upset you? Oh, how can it be: You think your opinion Matters to me?   Now stop reading this. It’s time to relent, Obey my orders And desist from dissent. Don’t consider complaining: I’ll ignore your views, Suppress your rights And freedom to choose. Don’t dare discuss this: You already offend; And don’t think you win By reaching the end. Robert M. Lowry
07.02.2014
Robert Lowry
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If William Shakespeare were following news of Egypt’s presidential machinations he might notice a familiar reticence to declare leadership of the people. Egyptian Army chief of staff Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi reportedly told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasah that he “could not reject the demand” of the people that he should run for president. However, the military have claimed that Al-Sisi’s words were misrepresented in the 5 February report. Nevertheless, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has effectively given its public support to Al-Sisi’s undeclared candidacy amid calls that the “choice of the people” be heeded. SCAF promoted Al-Sisi to Field Marshall in January. As Al-Arabiya News puts it “Despite his promise that the military does not seek to rule Egypt, he [Al-Sisi] seems primed to ascend to the position. If in power, his backers say his status as a national hero will help him rebuild the country.” Maybe the history repeating itself is all Egyptian. Zahi Hawass, a former antiquities minister, told the 2 January Guardian newspaper that the upheavals mirror the century of chaos that preceded the accession of Mentuhotep II to the Egyptian throne in 2046BCE. "We need an elected officer – a strong man – to control the country. And in my opinion, Sisi is our only hope,” said Hawass. As pharaoh, Mentuhotep restored order to Egypt and “Sisi is really Mentuhotep II." Yet still some might hope Al-Sisi could be a Kleisthenes figure. Kleisthenes of late 6th century BCE Athens did not want his city state to revert to the bad old ways of political chaos. He won over the people by offering citizen rights to the masses – giving equality before the law, and importantly he weakened the power of factionalism that stifled progress. “Thus Athens went from strength to strength, and proved, if proof were needed, how noble a thing equality before the law is, not in one respect only, but in all,” wrote the father of history, Herodotus [The Histories (V:78)] But if Al-Sisi does follow Caesar’s lead, who’s up for Mark Antony’s role? Former Luxor governor Major General Samir Farag, and former Assistant Secretary of Defence for Finance and Administration, Major General Mahmoud Nasr will be running Al-Sisi’s presidential campaign according to some reports. Anyway, here are a couple of extracts from Act I Scene 2 of WillIiam Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:   Flourish, and shout BRUTUS What means this shouting? I do fear, the people choose Caesar for their king. CASSIUS Ay, do you fear it? Then must I think you would not have it so. BRUTUS I would not, Cassius; yet I love him well. But wherefore do you hold me here so long? What is it that you would impart to me? If it be aught toward the general good, Set honour in one eye and death i' the other, and I will look on both indifferently, for let the gods so speed me as I love the name of honour more than I fear death. … BRUTUS Was the crown offered him thrice? CASCA Ay, marry, was't, and he put it by thrice, every time gentler than other, and at every putting-by mine honest neighbours shouted. CASSIUS Who offered him the crown? CASCA Why, Antony. BRUTUS Tell us the manner of it, gentle Casca. CASCA I can as well be hanged as tell the manner of it: it was mere foolery; I did not mark it. I saw Mark Antony offer him a crown; yet 'twas not a crown neither, 'twas one of these coronets; and, as I told you, he put it by once: but, for all that, to my thinking, he would fain have had it. Then he offered it to him again; then he put it by again: but, to my thinking, he was very loath to lay his fingers off it. And then he offered it the third time; he put it the third time by: and still as he refused it, the rabblement hooted and clapped their chapped hands and threw up their sweaty night-caps and uttered such a deal of stinking breath because Caesar refused the crown that it had almost choked Caesar; for he swounded and fell down at it: and for mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air.   Further information: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-26062199 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/02/zahi-hawass-egypt-abdel-fatah-al-sisi-pharaoh http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/analysis/2014/02/01/Egypt-s-Sisi-From-field-marshal-to-pharaoh-.html http://www.shorouknews.com/news/view.aspx?cdate=06022014&id=817a0a4a-6067-4648-bcf1-3b46d0e82c41 http://www.william-shakespeare.info/act1-script-text-julius-caesar.htm  
29.01.2014
Robert Lowry
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When countries or companies fall apart, you often want to ask: why have unfolding events come as such a nasty surprise? Or if these weren’t a surprise, then why were attempts to mitigate the ill-effects so inadequate? Political processes, diplomatic projects or commercial ventures that do not include preparations for diverse possible scenario outcomes are at far greater risk of failure than those that do. Was ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak surprised or merely ill-prepared when he lost power? In Damascus, did Bashar Al-Assad make too many assumptions about his regime’s authority, or was Syria’s civil war inconceivable to him? Did either president have any competent contingency plans for the smooth transition of power? After all, no one lives forever. For captains of industry to presidents of countries, effective planning for the future is essential, but it is often constrained by Groupthink [see http://arkhonlowry.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/governance-and-groupthink.html]. Adopting Scenario Planning procedures can help to overcome this as well as improve the prospects of managing complex possible futures. Honest and open discussions are of paramount importance for Scenario Planning to be effective. Political and business arrangements or cultures that do not enable open debate cannot expect full potentials to be attained, and may be incapable of recognising impending disasters in sufficient time to respond effectively. At the core of the Scenario Planning process is a brainstorming SWOT Analysis of the Key Facts and Factors, as well as the Actors and Entities involved in a Scenario. These are the Drivers of the system. Categorising the Drivers’ influence on the system as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, helps identify various Possibilities within the narrative of a Logic Path that makes up a route map of a potential scenario. A note of the Motivations of the Actors and Entities may also be included in addition to noting the Parallels, Precedents and Trends relevant to the system. Where the Logic Path comes to a major Branch Point/Critical Uncertainty it may be necessary to create a separate scenario or mini-scenario. Provided there is adequate feedback within a system, then preparations can be made to deal with various outcomes, and early warning of the unfolding of a specific scenario can be conveyed when certain Critical Events occur or Branch Points are reached. These are the Early Indicators. Where consensus is illusive concerning the nature of Drivers, or the desirability or plausibility of a scenario, it may be prudent to draw up parallel scenarios and highlight the Branch Points where it would be possible to discount one or more Logic Paths. However, it is best to focus on only four or five scenarios, but crucially these should cover the range of possible outcomes (desirable to disastrous) rather than just those deemed the most likely to occur. The most likely scenario should be included as a base line. During the process, it is useful to note what Assumptions have been made, the Implications and the level of Certainty or Controversy concerning them. Categorising drivers as Enablers or Inhibitors of a Scenario helps in the development of the Logic Path, and, as far as developing Action Plans are concerned, will highlight whether action is needed to Mitigate or Capitalise on a Driver’s impact on a system. This is especially true with Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP). The key to TSP is to identify what a Desirable Scenario outcome is. Next it is necessary to identify the Key Drivers required to construct a Logic Path and initiate the Critical Events needed to attain that Desirable Scenario outcome. Scenario Planning should be an ongoing process that allows for frequent updating and reassessment so that Contingency Plans are more effective and Groupthink is avoided. There are many ways to set out the phases of a TSP process. Here is one: Analysis ·         Identify the Facts, Factors, Entities and Actors that are the system Drivers; ·         Undertake SWOT Analysis of the Drivers; ·         Identify Possibilities including the Assumptions made, and note the Implications of each possibility; ·         Highlight any Possibilities that are deemed Critical Events.   Scenario Development ·         Identify a range of Scenarios from desirable to disastrous; ·         Set out Logic Paths and note the Early Indicators/Branch Points for each Scenario.              Transformative Scenario Planning ·         For each scenario, identify the Inhibitors and Enablers; ·         Develop an Action Plan that steers the system away from undesirable scenarios and towards a Desirable Outcome. In his book Transformative Scenario Planning: Working Together to Change the Future, (2012 San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler), Adam Kahane sets out five steps of the transformational process. These are: ·         Convene a team from across the whole system; ·         Observe what is happening; ·         Construct stories about what could happen; ·         Discover what can and must be done; ·         Act to transform the system. Please send an email to arkhonlowry[@]gmail.com if you would like to find out more about establishing Scenario Planning for a range of settings including political, diplomatic, humanitarian, environmental, economic and business arenas. A Dynamic Transformative Scenario Planning process can also be set up to enable the easy and continuous review and updating of the process by subject-area experts and stakeholders who may even be unavailable at the same time or in the same place.
26.11.2013
Robert Lowry
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Ignorance undermines the efficacy of any government: ignorance of how best to determine an optimal policy and how best to implement it. The risk of poor decisions emanating from ignorance is greatly increased where issues of groupthink are not addressed. Everybody in a democracy, oligarchy, monarchy or even a theocracy is vulnerable to groupthink. This includes the politically savvy and the religiously well-versed. To deny vulnerability is to demonstrate vulnerability. Indeed, to anyone claiming there was once a time of perfection – a golden age – to which we should aspire, then it may need pointing out that the mere fact that imperfections are present today would suggest vulnerabilities to groupthink in the past. To claim infallibility of a past or present system of government is demonstrably delusional or dishonest. To claim infallibility of a future system opens the way for groupthink dangers. Groupthink symptoms include: 1.      The unquestioning belief in the morality of a cause leading to the disregard of the consequences of actions; 2.      The direct pressure of conformity where questioning is seen as disloyal or heretical to the group; 3.      Self-censorship which, if not discouraged, will suppress ideas that might be seen to deviate from a perceived group consensus; 4.      The illusion of unanimity where silence is interpreted as consent; 5.      The existence of mind guards who suppress dissenting and inconvenient information; 6.      The stereotyping of opponents as evil or stupid will misinform and misdirect decision-making; 7.      The illusion of invulnerability that fosters misplaced optimism and risk taking; 8.      The collective rationalisation in which group members ignore warnings of failure. Imagine two populations with similar problems and opportunities. One population has a government that takes measures to avoid groupthink, the other does not. Which government would you expect to be best informed to make better judgments? Now consider any government, non-state actor or individual of your choice and consider how effective they are at avoiding the pitfalls of groupthink. Those who claim to know the path to a better society, whilst stifling debate, rejecting re-evaluations, discouraging inquiry and obstructing learning, are deceiving themselves, and so too are those who only tolerate fashionable arguments. Further reading: Janis, Irving L. Victims of Groupthink, New York: Houghton Mifflin (1972); and Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, New York: Houghton Mifflin (1982).
13.11.2013
Robert Lowry
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They each have virtues and vices… Herodotus outlines the fundamental arguments at the very core of governance in a discussion on the merits and shortcomings of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. In The Histories (3.80-83) the eternal debate is given voice from among the seven conspirators for the throne of the Persian Empire in 522BCE. Otanes argued for popular government. He said that monarchy fosters the vices of envy and pride; it allows a ruler to do as he pleases with little responsibility. Even the best men would be corrupted by their own power, and would no longer perceive things as they used to. Worst of all a monarch may abuse his citizens and break up the structures of law. In contrast, the rule of the people avoids the problems of monarchs, it brings equality under the law and enables open debate. Megabyzus agreed with Otanes’s arguments against monarchy, but warned that in transferring power to the people, that power would be in the hands of the fickle, the irresponsible and the ignorant. Instead, power should be given to the best men who would naturally produce the best policy. Darius agreed with Megabyzus’s criticisms of democracy, but said that, in having a group of men competing for distinction from within an oligarchy, rivalries would develop that would lead to violence and civil war. Even in a democracy corrupt associations will develop. The cliques of power in an oligarchy or democracy would only be broken when a people’s champion comes forward and this person will be entrusted with absolute power. And so it is, argued Darius, that the people’s freedom and best form of government is ultimately derived from monarchy. Darius won the debate, and it was agreed that the new king would be whoever’s horse among the conspirators neighed first at dawn. Otanes withdrew from the contest. Darius used the scent of a mare to encourage his stallion to neigh; and so it was that the use of guile won power for Darius. A reported flash of lighting from a clear sky was acknowledged as a divine sign of approval. Nevertheless, the issues of effective governance remain.
11.10.2013
Robert Lowry
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Soon to be published: ARKHON is a fast-paced thriller that follows the fate of a former mercenary who becomes entangled in the overthrow of tyranny and the emergence of democracy in Ancient Athens. In portraying many real events and characters of the Ancient World, Arkhon explores present-day issues that include political legitimacy, foreign intervention, revenge, superstition and the manipulation of religion. The drama draws directly from the tensions and discourse that developed around the Arab uprisings of 2011-13.

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