Ball Hogs and Blowhards

Anyone who knows anything about me will know why I'm writing about a Freakonomics blog post that uses basketball to help explain why meetings are long – I love hoops and hate long meetings. From the post:

On the surface, ball hogs and endless meetings might seem unrelated.  Research, though, indicates that players chucking shots at a basket and people prolonging a meeting with endless comments may actually be a function of something similar.  Specifically, how do we know someone is “competent”?..

A couple of years ago Cameron Anderson and Gavin J. Kilduff published a studyexamining how people in meetings evaluate each other.  Obviously we would like people in meetings to think we are competent.  And one might think, the best way to get people to think you are competent is to just be competent.  But that is not what Anderson and Kilduff found.  In a study of how people in a meeting – a meeting designed to answer math questions — were evaluated by their peers, these authors f0und (as Time reported) that actual competence wasn’t driving evaluations:

Repeatedly, the ones who emerged as leaders and were rated the highest in competence were not the ones who offered the greatest number of correct answers. Nor were they the ones whose SAT scores suggested they’d even be able to. What they did do was offer the most answers — period. 

“Dominant individuals behaved in ways that made them appear competent,” the researchers write, “above and beyond their actual competence.” Troublingly, group members seemed only too willing to follow these underqualified bosses. An overwhelming 94% of the time, the teams used the first answer anyone shouted out — often giving only perfunctory consideration to others that were offered.

This makes so much sense to me. I can't tell you how many times in my life I've been on a team with superior talent, including the guy who's obviously the best player in the gym, only to lose handily.  It happens because too many guys view themselves as the best shooters in the gym, so they make bad decisions about when to shoot because in their mind them shooting a bad shot is better than a less gifted player taking a good shot. Ask any basketball coach in the world and he'll tell you the good shot from an average player is better than a bad shot from a great player.

As far as meetings go, who among us hasn't been stuck in a meeting with a blow hard who thinks he knows everything and somehow convinces others in the room that he does? Anyone who wonders what's wrong with any company need only find the conference room and hang out for a while. It won't take long to identify the problem.

Ball hogs and blowhards – hate 'em both.

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