• Published: Mar 28, 2023
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Each month we sign post for you some good reading on governance from around the web

Daniel Kahneman’s ideas on ‘Adversarial Collaboration’

People simply don't change their minds about anything that matters’

Kahneman is always worth listening to. His insights into our tendency for lazy thinking should be compulsory boardroom learning. Here he discusses another approach to what he calls ‘angry science’—the normal approach to resolving opposing views in research. He suggests that even the most skilled theorists are not fully aware of the extent to which proposed research processes are biased to favour an existing theoretical point of view.

In adversarial collaboration, the other team is looking for experiments that are likely to be ‘embarrassing to you’ because your theory doesn’t rule them out. Science should not be based just on refuting ideas but exposing theoretical weaknesses is useful. And sometimes both positions are wrong.

There is a connection to the suggestion that decision-making theorists offer—using isolated, separate teams working with the same information as a great process to come up with valid alternatives.

For more on Adversarial collaboration. Transcript or video.

Boosting your board’s cybersecurity literacy

Helen Yu’s LinkedIn post ‘Boosting Board Cybersecurity Literacy: An Organic Approach to Meet SEC Requirements and Enhance Resilience’ is based on the premise that it is crucial for board members to clearly understand the cyber risks their organisation faces, and to adopt a proactive approach to managing them. The consequences of a wide range of cyber threats—including financial losses, reputational damage and operational disruptions—can be significant.

Regulatory bodies are placing an increased emphasis on cybersecurity. Yu notes, for example, that in the US, the SEC is requiring public companies to disclose information about the cybersecurity expertise of their board members, underscoring the significance of an issue which may affect investor interest.

Yu contends the board must play a vital role in overseeing the organisation’s cybersecurity strategy and in ensuring that the right resources and measures are in place to mitigate the impact of potential attacks. By being proactive in managing cyber risks, board members can help secure the organisation’s assets, reputation, and overall resilience.

To that end, Yu offers a range of initiatives boards and board members might take to boost their cybersecurity literacy:

  • Read widely to keep up to date with current trends, threats, and best practices.
  • Attend cybersecurity training programmes, workshops and conferences to learn from experts and keep in touch with industry trends.
  • Work with your organisation’s IT and security teams to develop a comprehensive cyber-risk management strategy.
  • Ensure your organisation has adequate budget and personnel allocated for cybersecurity.
  • Regularly review security measures and procedures to identify areas for improvement and ensure employees are trained on security best practices.
  • Build partnerships with key stakeholders, including government agencies, industry organisations, and other private sector companies.
  • Encourage open communication between the board, management, and staff on cybersecurity-related matters.

How to argue better

Adam Grant suggests a good debate isn’t about one person declaring victory: it’s about both people making a discovery. The article, How to argue better, opens with the sad research-based finding that the average person would rather talk to a stranger who shares their political views than a friend who doesn’t. He suggests that too many of us think like preachers (proselytising our views) or prosecutors (attacking the other viewpoint) or politicians (listening only to people who shared our views).

He suggests the following disciplines are needed:

  • Learn to recognise your own lazy thinking.
  • Stay critical even when emotionaldon’t get too close to your own argument.
  • Don’t think in a binary fashionembrace the shades of grey.
  • Agree on an approach to arguingespecially important around the board table.
  • Start smalldon’t jump into big tough topics first.
  • Keep agreeing to disagree.

He concludes by noting that great minds don’t think actually alike, and that intellectual chemistry isn’t necessarily agreeing with someone, it’s enjoying your disagreements.

Testing the extent of your board’s busyness

Adam Waytz has penned a useful article—Beware a Culture of Busyness—in which he warns against prevailing corporate cultures that continue to promote busyness. This is a helpful read for board members for at least two important reasons. It addresses the implications of a busyness culture that rewards activity over achievement. It is also a sharp prod to think about the way a board uses its own time.

Increasing pressure on boards to consider corporate culture and employee wellbeing is reason enough for them to be alert to employee overload issues. Excessive workloads and burnout not only affect productivity and efficiency but have significant implications (including potential liabilities) for employee mental and physical health. The pandemic has caused many people to become more alert to ‘time poverty’ and to question the role of work in their lives. This has significant recruitment and retention implications.

Boards and their individual members can be equally vulnerable to the busyness trap. They face a multitude of expectations from regulators, stakeholders and others that create significant opportunity costs relative to attention that would produce greater board effectiveness.

Among many references to interesting and relevant research results, Waytz mentions the work of computer scientist Cal Newport. Newport makes a valuable distinction between deep work (professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit; value creating) and shallow work (non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks often performed while distracted; easily replicated and delegated).

This distinction is a useful diagnostic starting point for any board prepared to question how usefully it allocates its time. Look for signs, for example, that your board typically rushes through a jam-packed meeting agenda. Also, that you leave board meetings frustrated that, even if important discussions made it onto the agenda, they were dealt with superficially if at all.

(We have written extensively about time poverty at the board level and how this might be overcome. Feel free to contact us for further reading on this subject).

Fixing a dysfunctional board

Scott Baldwin’s The Savvy Director blog is worth keeping an eye on. Here he asks the question, if meetings are unsatisfying and directors are frustrated and unhappy, what it is the problem and what can be done about it? He cites Jeff Arnolds’ work on board dysfunction outlined across four domains:

  • Structural. Processes, procedures, systems, board size and composition
  • Strategic. Clarity of direction, and the ability to be purpose-driven and future-focused
  • Cultural. How the board works as a team (or doesn’t)
  • Individual. How individual directors show up and contribute.

Baldwin cautions that turning around the dysfunctional board is not achieved easily. Best to be aware of what the red flags look like and address them early.

Addressing one of the domains will also benefit others. Our experience is that so much of this can be prevented at the front end through informed recruitment and good induction. And yes, sometimes a director needs to be encouraged to ‘look for other opportunities’ that are a better fit.