Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving Expertise And Ignorance: We Are All Ignorant—Some of Us Know It and Some Of Us Don’t

Expertise And Ignorance: We Are All Ignorant—Some of Us Know It and Some Of Us Don’t

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To make things even more complex, research findings suggest that we are more likely to be influenced when a leader uses an emotional appeal—especially if there is an element of fear in the message. We are more likely to turn away from a factual appeal–- despite the fact that the basic appeal is exactly the same whether emotionally-delivered or delivered in a more measured way. We “sign up for healthcare” based on an emotional appeal (“you could become ill or injured—then what do you do!”). Emotions will win the day over fact. Regions of our brain that govern emotions (such as the amygdala) take over from those regions (such as the prefrontal cortex) that govern reasoning.

If you are involved in organizational change management, you have undoubtedly been immersed in the communications aspects of developing a change plan. Change leaders tend to build out communications spreadsheets with stakeholder audiences, messages, messages/media, timing and the like. However, they seldom include psychological considerations. Change leaders and coaches could add a great deal of leverage and influence to their communications by considering some of these psychological nudges.


Incentives and rewards of various kinds are common in change and transition projects. However, few of the coaches and leaders we have worked with understand some of the psychological dynamics at play with the incentives they use (or should use). Research reported in the Journal of Economic Psychology (Dolan et al, 2012) offers many behavioral insights with regard to influencing behavior. We have already noted one of these insights: people strive to avoid losses more than they strive for gains. This is a basic human behavioral trait based on evolutionary loss-aversion.

Many companies we have worked with invest large amounts in providing incentives, rewards and recognition—with little or no benefit generated for their business goals. Indeed, providing material or money rewards and incentives is fraught with problems and can often be counterproductive. For example, in one organization with whom one of us consulted an analysis was conducted with all large business groups regarding the amount of money invested in recognition and rewards for employees.

I compared [these results] with the surveyed levels of engagement and satisfaction among employees in these groups. This analysis showed that the business function giving the greatest amount of incentive cash had the lowest levels of employee satisfaction.

Change leaders should consider framing “incentives” as charges that will be imposed if the change is not successful—however contradictory to our current and historical thinking this may be. For example, employees could be paid bonuses that go into a personal account as progress is made, with an understanding that these monies will all be withdrawn if the overall goal is not achieved – people hate to lose something that they have already received (and I know how difficult this thinking is for most of us!).

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