The hiker who leaves a well-marked trail and wanders off, cross-country. The pilot who flies his perfectly maintained airplane into the ground. The kayaker who dives into a hydraulic whitewater "grinder" even though he's just seen it suck three buddies to their doom. "Gee," you think when you hear such tales, "I'd never do something like that." But would you? We like to think of ourselves as pretty rational, but that's hardly how we seem from the perspective of accident investigators and search-and-rescue crews.
Heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. Examples of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense.
The trouble is, as Wise states in "Deadly Mind Traps," People who deal with the aftermath of human error can tell you all too well that otherwise normal, healthy individuals are exceptionally predisposed to making the kind of mistake best described as boneheaded because we were on autopilot, relying on habit and time-saving rules of thumb.
Best-selling author Dan Pink has one of the top 20 most-viewed TED.com talks on "the surprising science of motivation" which makes a convincing case that traditional methods of motivating employees not only do not work, but they actually can be counter-productive.
I've long felt that way about ratings bonuses for personalities and programmers, thinking that it would be better to pay the bonus when the individual does the things that will be most likely to make the ratings go up, quite specifically, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping the sample is good and ratings reflect the outcome of the work, creating the attitude "it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't" in your key people and making the motivation based more on good luck than good work.
It's been my pragmatic belief as a manager that it's actually impossible for anyone to motivate anyone else. So, my approach has been to try to create the conditions to recognize and reward self-motivation.
Ohio State researcher Steven Reiss who postulates “There is no real evidence that intrinsic motivation even exists.” The argument is that people should do something because they enjoy it, and that rewards only sabotage natural desire. Reiss disagrees.
“There is no reason that money can't be an effective motivator, or that grades can't motivate students in school,” he said. “It's all a matter of individual differences. Different people are motivated in different ways."
No wonder, given when we know about heuristics. Putting yourself on auto-pilot, while believing you're cruising toward the goal can easily end in disaster.
Like that great philosopher and psychologist Garth Brooks has said: “The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself.”
When you recognize yourself starting to glide into one of the "I've always done it that way" mind traps on the way to an important goal, stop, take a breath, and turn on your rational brain.