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Topic: October 2014
Date: Tuesday - October 21, 2014
Topic: Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
Speaker: Rick Brenner


Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making

For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. Some people are called "decision makers" and they do indeed make decisions. But what many don't realize is that the rest of us make decisions constantly, and these decisions do matter. When you're choosing a name for a variable or subroutine while writing a program, or choosing your words while talking to a customer, or participating in a debate at a meeting, or writing an agenda or invitation list for a meeting, or even deciding what to do next, you're making decisions.

We tend to believe that, for the most part, we make our decisions rationally. We'll admit that when stressed or hurried, we might not make our most rational decisions, but otherwise, we decide rationally.

That is a mistaken belief.

Very few of our decisions are purely rational. Almost all decisions are subject to a range of non-rational influences that psychologists call cognitive biases. They affect the quality of our decisions, and most of the time, we're unaware of their influence.

In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner serves as a guide through the fascinating world of cognitive biases. He'll introduce the concept and survey some of the more common cognitive biases, showing how they can affect the decisions we make at work. And most important, he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases on those decisions.

After you're introduced to this vital and still-growing field of knowledge, you'll have more awareness of the limitations of your decision-making practices. You'll learn how to improve them by dealing with the effects of cognitive biases, and you'll learn how to structure group decision-making to improve the quality of decisions your teams make.

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About the Speaker

Photo - Rick Brenner

Rick Brenner

Rick Brenner is principal of Chaco Canyon Consulting. He works with people in dynamic problem-solving organizations that are making products so novel or complex that they need state-of-the-art teamwork and stronger relationships among their people. In his 25 years as a software developer, project manager, software development manager, entrepreneur, consultant, and coach, he has developed valuable insights into the interactions between people in complex dynamic environments, and between people and the media in which they work.

As a coach, he works with managers at all levels, emphasizing development of interpersonal skills, especially in fluid, high-stress contexts, such as organizations that are moving from a strict operational orientation to one in which ongoing operations must compete for resources with special enterprise-scale projects. Such a mixed environment creates organizational stresses that leaders must understand, not only because of the change-related issues that arise, but also because of the challenges to managers that they create, even when equilibrium is attained.

Over a period of seven years, he attended or assisted in numerous workshops under Jerry Weinberg, Dani Weinberg, and Jean McLendon. It was during this period that he acquired his skills in designing and facilitating experiential education. He was a founding member of the AYE Conference.

Mr. Brenner has held positions at Symbolics, Inc., and at Draper Laboratory, both of Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Symbolics, he was responsible for development of products based on Macsyma, a computer algebra system. At Draper, he was a principal investigator in a DARPA program, the Evolutionary Design of Complex Software, where he conducted research into advanced concepts for software de- velopment environments based on dynamic object-oriented programming lan- guages. From 1993 to 2014, he taught Spreadsheet Models for Managers, a course he devised, at the Harvard University Extension School.

He serves as the facilitator and group administrator for a discussion group he created at Office Politics, Workplace Politics, and Organizational Politics. Discussions there are energetic and enlightening. The group now has over 750 members.

Mr. Brenner holds a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT. He is a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), the Boston Software Process Improvement Network, and the Agile New England Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery. He has served in various leadership roles ranging from board member to vice president to chair (president) in local chapters of these societies. He was selected Chapter Member of the Year for NSA New England in 2001 and 2007. He is a member of the Project Management Institute.

His current interests focus on improving personal and organizational effectiveness in abnormal situations, such as dramatic change, enterprise emergencies, and high-pressure project environments. He has written a number of essays on these subjects, available at his Web site,, and writes and publishes a free weekly email newsletter, Point Lookout, which now has just over 3,000 subscribers.


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