Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Powerful Manage Time Poorly

Heidi Grant Halvorson, blogger and author, has published a list of the top 10 psychology studies of 2010. She cites one interesting study about how we manage our time, published by Mario Weick and Ana Guinote. Halvorson points out that the new study extends our understanding of what psychologists call the "planning fallacy" - i.e., the tendency during a planning phase to under-estimate how long it will take to complete a project. Halvorson writes:

"New research by Mario Weick and Ana Guinote shows that, somewhat ironically, people in positions of power are particularly poor planners. That’s because feeling powerful tends to focus us on getting what we want, ignoring the potential obstacles that stand in our way. The future plans of powerful people often involve “best-case scenarios,” which lead to far shorter time estimates than more realistic plans that take into account what might go wrong."

I find the study particularly fascinating, given that the planning fallacy seems most evident, and most problematic, to me in the case of corporate acquisitions and large public works projects. In acquisitions, executives often under-estimate how long it will take to integrate two firms. In public works projects, politicians almost always get it wrong on both schedule and budget. What do these two situations have in common? You guessed it - the decision-makers are very powerful folks!

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