Tagged: NASA

The Impact of Groupthink in Decision Systems


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“Together with his identical twin brother, Scott, he has laid the groundwork for the future of space exploration as the subjects of an unprecedented NASA study on how space affects the human body, which is featured in Scott’s New York Times best-selling memoir, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery.”

“Currently, Mark is on the Commercial Crew Safety Board at Space X […] and is the co-founder of World View, a full-service commercial space launch provider.”

Endeavour to Succeed. College of DuPage, Department of Physics. February 14 2019.


NASA 6


I managed to attend Captain Mark Kelly’s talk in Chicago just the day before I was leaving for Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress. M. Kelly’s presence and insightful remarks commanded both admiration and utmost respect.

Among many other fascinating topics, he discussed NASA’s None of US is as Dumb as All of Us as a reminder of the negative impact of ‘groupthink‘ in the context of faulty decision making. Most specifically, he referred to dramatic mistakes leading to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, which disintegrated upon re-entry in 2003.


“Large-scale engineered systems are more than just a collection of technological artifacts. They are a reflection of the structure, management, procedures, and culture of the engineering organization that created them.”

“They are also, usually, a reflection of the society in which they were created. The causes of accidents are frequently, if not always, rooted in the organization—its culture, management, and structure.”

“Blame for accidents is often placed on equipment failure or operator error without recognizing the social, organizational, and managerial factors that made such errors and defects inevitable.”

Nancy G. Leveson, MIT. Technical and Managerial Factors in the NASA Challenger and Columbia Losses: Looking Forward to the Future. Controversies in Science and Technology Volume 2, Mary Ann Liebert Press, 2008.


NASA 1Groupthink is part of the taxonomy of well-known cognitive biases and takes hold when divergent thinking and disagreement are discouraged (and even repressed) as part of group dynamics.

Hindsight is 20/20 and, statistically speaking, ‘black swan’ events are characterized by seemingly random surprise factors. Groupthink can obfuscate the early detection of predictors such as leading outliers and anomalies, which left unattended can overwhelm a given system over time… and be the source of cascading effects and critical failure.

Groupthink’s negative impact compromises any best intentions such as organizational cohesiveness in the spirit of consensus, agility, productivity, timely project progress and de-escalation management.

Often times, there might be neither adequate situational and risk awareness nor a basis for sense making drawing from the comparative analysis that comes with diligent scenario planning.


Individuals and organizational cultures with a succesful track record can also experience complacency. Over-confidence fosters the sort of behaviors and decisioning that served the group well in the past.

Though, when in the mix of a changing environment defined by new parameters under the radar, only operating within the perimeter of a given set of core competences and comfort zones, makes those specific behaviors blindsight and betray the team’s mission and purpose.

Many plans do not survive first contact (or a subsequent phase for that matter) as their implementation creates ‘ripple effects’ of various shapes and propagating speeds. Some of that can be experienced as ‘sudden risk exposure.’ Once passed the ‘point-of-no-return,’ if that challenge is met with neither contingency planning nor the ability to timely course correct, pivot or even deploy a basic safety-net offsetting the impact, the project fails to ‘cross the chasm’ and is headed for what’s technically known as the ‘valley of death.’


This was one of the key issues discussed by Clyton M. Christiansen when I took his Harvard class on the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma,’ and is also a key point behind Risto Siilasmaa’s ‘Paranoid Optimism’ as well Paul Romer’s ‘Conditional Optimism,’ all of which advocate for scenario planning and sensing optimization to be able to calibrate or re-assess the path forward.


“Michael Shermer stated in the September 2002 issue of Scientific American, ‘smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.”

Groupthink can also manifest itself by means of ‘eco chamber’ effects’ as misguided consensus amplifies what becomes a “self-serving” bias. That is, in effect, a closed feedback loop process that magnifies logical fallacies. These can come across as reasonable enough postulates, though if based on rushed judgement and selective focus they can also suffer from ‘confirmation bias.’ This is the case when new evidence is only used to back-up the existing belief system rather than share new light.


In the context of Decision Support Systems and Cognitive Analytics, the above reasoning deficits become root causes of errors impacting operations. That can involve both (a) Human-Human and (b) Human-Machine interactions, as well as impacting programming work resulting in (c) biased algorithms and automation pitfalls when left unsupervised.


NASA 3


REFERENCES

Carisa Callini. Human Systems Engineering. NASA, August 7 2017. https://www.nasa.gov/content/human-systems-engineering

Carisa Callini. Spaceflight Human Factors. NASA, December 19 2018. https://www.nasa.gov/content/spaceflight-human-factors

Clayton M. Christensen. The Innovator’s Dilemma. Harvard Business Review Press, 1997.

COD Welecomes Astronaut Mark Kelly. Daily Herald, February 13 2019. https://www.dailyherald.com/submitted/20190201/cod-welcomes-astronaut-mark-kelly-feb-17

Geoffrey Moore. Crossing the Chasm. Haper Collins, 1991.

MIT Experts Reflect on Shuttle Tragedy. MIT News, February 3 2003. http://news.mit.edu/2003/shuttle2

Tim Peake. The Astronaut Selection Test Book. Century. London, 2018.

Scott Kelly. Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery. Knopf. New York, 2017.

Scott Kelly. Infinite Wonder. Knopf. New York, 2018.

Steve Young. Astronaut: ‘None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us.’ USA Today – Argus Leader, May 13, 2014. https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2014/05/13/astronaut-none-us-dumb-us/9068537/

Will Knight.  Biased Algorithms are Everywhere, and No One Seems to Care. MIT Technology Review, July 12 2017. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608248/biased-algorithms-are-everywhere-and-no-one-seems-to-care/

 

Human Factors Engineering @ NOKIA: Celebrating HFE’s 70th Anniversary with Bell Labs


Mr. Karlin, associated from 1945 until his retirement in 1977 with Bell Labs, headquartered in Murray Hill, N.J., was widely considered the father of human-factors engineering in American industry. The legacy of that research now extends far beyond the telephone: the keypad design Mr. Karlin shepherded into being has become the international standard on objects as diverse as ATMs, gas pumps, door locks, vending machines and medical equipment […] In 1947 he persuaded Bell Labs to create a unit, originally called the User Preference department and later Human Factors Engineering, to study these larger questions.”

John E. Karlin, Who Led the Way to All-Digit Dialing, New York Times.


SNAGHTML2abe1c7bAs shared in my previous post, we were gearing up for Nokia’s event on Human Factors Engineering and kept busy with the final touches. The event management team at the Technology Leadership Council (TLC) had first planned to host this company conference on November 29. More recently, we moved it to December 6 to better manage some of the logistics.

However, since we will commemorate HFE’s 70th anniversary at Bell Labs this coming year, we have decided to shift gears: we are now working on a celebratory event expanding upon the current agenda. The date for the new conference has not yet been set. But, “third time’s the charm” and the event’s visibility, new scope and impact in 2017 are set to outdo our initial objectives. So, stay tuned : ) 

In the meantime, our team would like to thank everyone involved in planning and supporting activities up to this point. Given this new undertaking, we would also like to welcome those of you coming on board.

Last but not least, we are very grateful to our guest speakers and hope to be able to re-engage them for the bigger event.

You can click on the left picture to go back to my earlier post to see Nokia’s videos for some of the products and projects listed on the event’s current agenda. The following four ones feature our four guest speakers in some other videos, which happen to be available online. 


VIDEOS


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David Shrier, MIT


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Tom McTavish, IIT


Rodo Kotorov, Information Builders


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Gordon Vos, NASA


 

Happy Thanksgiving : )

Human Factors Engineering @ NASA


“Rapidly advancing technologies require humans to make critical decisions in increasingly dynamic and complex environment. Human factors studies human interaction with increasingly intelligent and automated engineering systems to address safe, efficient and cost-effective operations, maintenance and training”Areas of Ingenuity – Human Systems Integration at NASA Ames Research Center.

“SVS works closely with scientists in the creation of visualizations, animations, and images in order to promote a greater understanding of Earth and Space Science research activities at NASA and within the academic research community”Scientific Visualization Studio.