How Much Do You Really Notice in Proposal Development?

We all would like to believe that we are extremely observant and highly rational, especially when it comes to proposal development. Alas, there is little evidence for this in proposal development…or any other of our endeavors.

Over the last few decades, scholars in applied behaviour psychology and economics such as Cass Sunstein, Daniel Kahnemann, and Dan Ariely have demonstrated that our powers of observation and judgement are predictably limited and prone to predictable errors and biases. Max H. Bazerman starts with this premise in his new book, The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (2014).

Bazerman, the author of several books on behavioural psychology, teaches at the Harvard University Business School and the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. After examining such events as the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and J.P. Morgan’s infamous “London Whale” scandal, he concludes that we can be taught to make better decisions by becoming more observant and developing different ways of looking at our work and the way we make decisions.

For example, Bazerman recommends that we consider doing the following to help overcome our cognitive blind spots:
• Invent a third choice.
• Examine what did not happen rather than what occurred. Why didn’t the dog bark?
• Find unconventional ways to ask new questions and get new answers.
• Acknowledge self-interest and put yourself in other people’s shoes.
• Learn to detect misdirection – if things look too good to be true, they probably are.

Bazerman’s book is not a radically new way at looking at the way we think and work, but he does provide us with a step-by-step guide to helping us pay closer attention and realizing that what we see is not all there is.

How can we notice what our colleagues miss and make better decisions? Read The Power of Noticing and perhaps you will learn a little more about yourself and how to be a better leader.


  1. Thomas E. Burke
    September 4, 2014

    Mr. Sokolow:

    No problem with “he/she” as came up in Mr. Stevens’ comments.

    I actually found your blog to be very informative, and I will make it a point to look at Mr. Sunstein’s writings.

    I did not respond via LinkedIn because my comments may be a bit far afield from the “third-choice” approach.

    I have learned over time about an alternative approach to decision making. I have come to several crossroads over my long career: stay on the current track, or pursue an unanticipated alternative. “A or B?” More often than not, the answer to “is A better (or worse) than B” is “can’t really tell.”

    What always has worked for me is to look at the choice from the downside. “If I select A, what happens if that turns out to have been the wrong choice?” Same question for the B alternative. This approach almost always has enabled me to make the “best” decision.

    You might argue that you (I) am risk averse. I tend to be, but this approach has enabled me to make major career changes, which most would say are foolhardy, that turned out to be a fantastic choice.

    Thanks for the article.



    • TheProposalGuru
      September 4, 2014

      Heelo Mr. Burke,

      Thank you for your kind words. You are making choices based on an approach that I think Bazerman would like. I hope it continbues to work for you!



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