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The Powerful Are Lousy Planners

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The University of Kent is reporting a forthcoming research article by social psychologists Mario Weick and Ana Guinote of University College London on how feeling powerful affects one’s estimates. The more people felt powerful, the more optimistic their completion dates were. And it’s not just a small effect: “power drastically reduced the accuracy of forecasts with error rates soaring up to 70%.”

This isn’t really all that surprising of a finding. Powerful people tend to be more optimistic. When you make people feel powerless, they become more pessimistic. Optimists have long been noted to be lousy planners.

Except when you follow optimists over the long haul, as I noted some time back. In an earlier study of MBA students, “optimists” (whom you would expect to be tightly coupled with “feeling powerful”) had lousy initial estimates of their performance (again, which you would expect to be tightly coupled with “time estimates”). But these folks got better as they got feedback and information. On the other hand, “pessimists” had good initial understanding of their performance but got worse as time went on.

Time, as our good friend Elliott Jaques always insisted, must always be a part of your thinking.

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