Avoid Getting Sidetracked

December 20, 2013

Avoid Getting Sidetracked

Sidetracked book coverEarlier this year, Francesca Gino, Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Negotiation, Organization & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School, published a new book entitled, Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan. In the book, Gino illustrates a range of factors that — knowingly or unconsciously — influence our behavior and misdirect our efforts from achieving our intended goals. The impact of her research is far-reaching as the findings can potentially influence the goals and objectives we set out for ourselves, both within our professional and personal lives.

Bridging the Gap Between Our Goals and Outcomes

We make decisions everyday and set out an array of goals for ourselves. Some may be short-term focusing on different aspects of our personal and professional lives. Others may focus on relationships we hold with family and friends, or improving our health and wellbeing. But while we almost always establish our goals with the best of intentions, they often don’t seem to manifest the way we hope or plan. So what happens? Why do things not go according to plan? According to Gino, there are three forces that influence our decisions in ways that many of us overlook or fail to anticipate. Let’s explore them in detail.

1) Forces from within ourselves

The first set of forces relates to a number of factors that lie within our heads and hearts. These entail our beliefs and perceptions about our own abilities and competencies, the influence of our emotions on matters not directly linked to the particular goal, and our tendency to retain an overly narrow focus. These factors contribute to us not realizing our full potential and making poor decisions on matters of concern to us.

2) Forces from our relationships with others

The next group of forces pertains to the factors tied to our relationships and the social groups we identify ourselves with. These ties can be as strong and apparent as our bonds of family and friendship, to as innocuous and subtle as our connection to fans of the same sports team. The factors impacting our decisions in this category include: our inability to hold different perspectives, the presence of insidious social bonds, and our tendency for social comparison. As subtle as these factors may seem, they can influence our decisions in substantial ways; this can include conceding prematurely on a critical negotiation or making an irrational purchase to impress others.

3) Forces from the outside world

The last cluster of forces which affect our decision-making stem from our interactions with external conditions, situations, and contexts. In these cases, forces such as being provided with irrelevant information, the framing of questions and statements, and the specific conditions in the environment where we execute tasks and make decisions, end up shaping our decisions and behaviors. These external conditions play a pivotal role in how we understand a task, rationalize our motivations, and prioritize and execute our responses.

Digging Deeper: Stay Tuned for Actionable Tips from the Author

francesca gino

In the New Year, I’ll have an opportunity to meet with Francesca and explore in more detail some of the key findings and insights captured in her book. Additionally, we’ll have a chance to discuss different strategies that she would recommend to help founders and startups achieve their goals while operating in highly dynamic work environments.

Head of People Operations

Salima Ladha is the Head of People Operations at <a href="http://www.signpost.com">Signpost</a>, a cloud-based marketing software that gives local businesses the power to effortlessly build and manage customer relationships. She previously recruited top talent to to OpenView and our Portfolio Companies.