The opening slides in my Value-Selling program read as follows:
The main objective of the program is to help you improve the Top-Line and Bottom-Line performance. When the training program commenced the conversation between the trainer and the participants used to be on the following lines:
T: Is the objective clear?
T: Do you need any clarification?
T: Can I go to the next slide?
P: Yes please.
As I was getting similar responses from different batches, a few programs later, I decided to check my assumptions and asked the group:
“By the way, what do the two terms mean to you?” and most of the responses ( barring a few correct ones) were as follows:
Top-Line : meeting the top boss, closing the order, profits etc.
Bottom-Line: making a cold call, meeting a purchase executive, handling objections, achieving the targets etc.
With a simple profit-and-loss statement, the discrepancy between their response and the right answer was shown. When asked about the learning from the exercise, the response was that the top-line and bottom-line correspond to revenue and profitability respectively.
Welcome to the world of human biases, which are distinctive patterns of errors people make which are systematic in nature, wherein people may be confident even when they are wrong. The above example shows that people were not only blind to a specific concept ( top/bottom line) but were blind to their blindness too. (None of them said, I do not know)
A Chennai based petrochemicals company had set an objective to achieve a top-line of Rs. 500 crores within the next five years from the existing revenue of Rs. 62 crores in 2008.
When asked, the promoters replied that they have a basket of great products, competitive pricing, good location and a rising demand. What they did not factor were poor leadership quality (lack of trust and transparency, frequent squabbles between the CEO and MD,) high attrition rate, lack of proper systems and processes etc. External factors like the market dynamics, petroleum pricing, competition strategy etc were assumed to remain constant or were not considered while setting such a target. The company which had clocked Rs. 62 crores in 2008 managed to reach around Rs 115 crores by 2015 . As Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in Black Swan, ‘what you do not know is more significant than what you know.’
Till the 70s, it was assumed that human beings are rational animals who become irrational only under the influence of emotions like anger, fear. The subsequent research in neuroscience and psychology has proved otherwise. Irrationality is an integral part of human nature and is due to the inherent design of the human cognitive processes.
Another bias which affects decision making is the Illusion of Understanding; a variation of which is Illusion of Explanatory Depth–IOED which was coined by Leonid Rosenblatt and Frank Keil.
The illusion of explanatory depth (IOED) is the belief that we know more about the world than we do. When we are asked to explain the concept, then we become aware of our limited understanding.
Fact or process knowledge has a discrete end and can thus be described. Explanatory knowledge which is about opinions and beliefs does not have a discrete end and is difficult to explain. The interesting part is even if your explanation is not sound or comprehensive you feel you understand. You convert a target question ( difficult) to a heuristic ( easy ) question.
During one of our training programs, Pradip, a die-hard Modi Bhakt made a statement: Modi is a great leader. When asked to explain the concept he said, “ because he has many followers.”
T: Are you aware of the numbers?
P: It must be at least in crores; it is difficult to state.
T: A celebrity like a cricketer or a Bollywood hero also has followers in crores. Does it make them great leaders?
P:Forget that. He has performed well in short term and long -term.
T: What is your definition of short-term and term?
P: It can be one year and five years.
T: Did Modi get that time?
T: What are the indicators of performance, and do they indicate a good growth of economy?
P: Frankly speaking, I do not know.
The above is not only relevant for die-hard followers but also for bashers. Taking the converse of a statement, Modi is not a good leader, the basher may also be short of arguments after similar probing. The hatred and the polarization that is happening in the society can be reduced if we can get stumped by the level of our ignorance.
Generally, it is felt that passionate people are more knowledgeable, but the converse may be also true. Passionate people who take a vehement stand on issues like CAA/NRC, Rights of Minorities, LGBTQ, Religious Freedom, abortion etc. tend to focus on only one side of the coin which is essentially to prove a point rather than explore the truth. IOED states that knowledge of a subject might be inversely proportional to your passion and the stand you take. It is easy to state a fact or a process than explaining something in depth.
There is a thin line of demarcation between confidence and hubris. In the world of VUCA ( Volatility, Uncertainty, Ambiguity and Complexity) humility is more important than hubris.
I recollect my interaction with Narayanan, an eminent trainer from Chennai. I enquired about one of his public programs. “By the way, how did it go?” He said, “the program had to be cancelled due to poor response.” What might be the reason? He said, “frankly speaking I do not know. If someone were to ask me a question for a similar situation 20 years back; I would have confidently said the problem has to do with the timing, location, pricing etc. But today being in this field for so long; I do not know why some events succeed and some do not. However, such setbacks do not deter me, it is all a question of randomness which one must factor in life.”
Socrates made a clear distinction between knowledge and wisdom. A knowledgeable person maybe knowing things; however, he may act foolish as he may be too confident in what he knows. A wise person, on the contrary, cannot act foolish as he knows his limitations. He knows what he does not know.
Socrates said, “the one thing I know is that I know nothing.” This was not out of humility, but it was an expression of reality.