Projects are People

People are Human

I realize this piece is likely, nearly certainly, to ruffle some feathers. That is not my intention for sure.  We have written on the impediments to us seeing things truly as it is.  There are many cognitive biases that may plague us. In fact, we dedicated an entire section in our latest book (with Shawn Quigley – yes we are related, he is my brother), Continuous and Embedded Learning for Organizations through CRC Press.


I am a university-trained engineer.  I am comfortable with ideas that have repeatability.  In fact, I think repeatability and reproducibility are the things that make an assertion confident or reliable.  Sociological studies are different than laws of physics or natural laws, not like gravity for example.  The variation in people and how they act and react, I believe that to be one of the reasons for the replication crisis in psychology.

The replication crisis in psychology refers to concerns about the credibility of findings in psychological science. The term, which originated in the early 2010s, denotes that findings in behavioral science often cannot be replicated: Researchers do not obtain results comparable to the original, peer-reviewed study when repeating that study using similar procedures. For this reason, many scientists question the accuracy of published findings and now call for increased scrutiny of research practices in psychology.[1]

What can we say about findings when an experiment does not consistently produce predictable results?  I would think this puts some damper on our interpretation of these studies, specifically the veracity of the study results.  Why are these results not uniform in general?  That does not mean that these studies are not without merit, and as such, we provide this as a prelude in advance of the next section.



Fundamental Attribution Error

One would have to be blind to not notice the seemingly newfound ability in the human species, specifically.  The ability to read people’s minds and hearts and ultimately understand the rationale for the actions we witness in others.  For example, if a person interrupts us, it is because they are rude.  They are a misogynist or have some other personality defect.  When we do it, there is some obvious and compelling reason.  It is outside of our control.  We are compelled.  We have a question or need more specific information about what was just said, and it is still rude.

The fundamental attribution error (FAE) refers to an individual’s tendency to attribute another’s actions to their character or personality while attributing our behavior to external situational factors outside of our control.[2]

I recently read an article on LinkedIn written by a woman about her recent experience.  I did not copy the link to the article when I read it. However, whether I had the link or not, I am not sure I would include it.  Pointing to a specific person is not necessary.  Likely we all have seen similar instances described, but that might be availability heuristic speaking.

A story

She told a tale (no doubt true from her perspective) of a time when she presented an idea in a group meeting, and the idea was dismissed.  In the following meeting, somebody else put forth what she deemed as the same idea.  The idea was received well and accepted.  She attributed the acceptance of the idea due to the gender of the delivery person as they were male.  The only possible reason for the different outcome, sometime later (week(s)), was the gender of the delivering person.  All of those people in the meeting were swayed by this idea now, only because the person talking was a man.


Of course, she may be right, however, how does she know?  Was she able to read the mind of the person that presented her original idea?  Was she able to read the minds of those that agreed with the person that presented a comparable idea sometime later?  Being a STEM person, I do not envision being able to read minds as a true explanation.   This is but one example, and my guess is everybody reading this can share similar examples.



There may be reasons

There are many things that can happen in the span of a week (assuming a week) or the distance between these two meeting events.  We provide a short list of things that might be different that would change the outcome in the intervening two meetings.

  1. The way she articulated her idea, was likely different than the way the subsequent person described the idea. This may have nothing to do with gender. It may be based upon experiences, education, or just a difference in verbal capability.
  2. The team members in the meeting might have learned things during the intervening time that allowed them to more readily understand or see the obvious benefits of the idea.
  3. The level of distractions (stress) during the subsequent meeting might be lower resulting in better listening and a better-received idea.
  4. The events prior to the second meeting might have left many of the team members more concerned about these externalities than in the first meeting. Things change, and people can learn during this gap in time between the two meetings.
  5. The events of the week of the second meeting might be less stressful resulting in the idea being better received.

There are likely many more reasons why the team received the idea better during the second meeting than in the first.  What are the possibilities that everybody around that table has ill or evil intent?  The idea was pitched by somebody new but was received well.

I am certain there is no upside to believing we know why others are doing the things they do, especially when we use verbiage to justify our own, similar actions.  This is not a productive approach for people to take to get along.  It will not help our individuals or team members achieve their maximum potential.

Hanlon’s razor states that one should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity (or lack of understanding).

We cannot know why others are doing the things they are doing.  Assuming does not work.  Asking them why they are doing the things they are doing might not get a valid answer.  My friend Steve says there are two reasons people do the things they do, the reason they say, and the real reason.  It is not helpful for us to attribute it others’ observable behavior to some character or moral defect, but when we do that same thing, we provide valid reasons for the same observation of others for our actions.

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. ~ Harry S Truman

Improve Interactions

The first time I meet with a new group or team, I always have a set of rules. The rules are written on a large piece of paper and taped or pinned to the wall in the front of the room.

  1. Limited quiet conversation
  2. Raise your hand if you have a question while someone else is speaking
  3. Phase opinions fairly – no “that’s dumb” sort of opinion
  4. A Parking Lot paper has been hung to capture closely related topics
  5. Open discussions will be conducted after the initial meeting topics

[1] last accessed 7/14/2022


Post by Jon Quigley