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Was This A Terrible Idea?
Confirmation Bias, Pre-Mortems, and Shabbat at Burning Man
Welcome to the first issue of Moneyball Judaism.
I’m flattered that you chose to subscribe. Especially because this could turn out to be a TERRIBLE idea.
I know, quite a selling point for a first issue!
I created this newsletter because Jewish leaders need an easier way to access information that will help them make decisions based on what they know, not what they believe.
But there is a decent chance I’m wrong…
Big Idea: Confirmation Bias
The reason why I am willing to open my first issue by admitting that this may be a terrible idea is because I dreamed of creating this newsletter for over ten years. And because this is a long-held dream, my desire to be correct leads me to seek out evidence that will confirm what I already believe, and ignore what does not.
In essence, this is confirmation bias, the pre-disposition to select the information that confirms pre-existing beliefs. First attributed to social psychologist Peter Wason, confirmation bias may be one of the most common sins committed by all leaders. Think about it:
How many Jewish leaders have you met who were willing to admit that their organization was incapable of being effective, and thus should not exist at all?
How many times have you seen a funder acknowledge that a pet project to which they devoted millions of dollars was doomed to fail from the start?
And how many times have you sat in a meeting where no one objected to a key decision, only to hear all of those dissenting voices appear after the decision resulted in complete disaster?
Confirmation bias is everywhere (a great primer can be found here).
But we should not be too hard on ourselves; all of us are guilty of confirmation bias, from time to time. Confirmation bias comes up frequently when we debate politics, but fortunately, we will not be discussing that here (as you breathe a sigh of relief).
But back to me =)…
I wrote an article entitled “Moneyball Judaism” in 2013 and wondered for years why the term never caught on and how I had this incredible opportunity to seize something everyone else ignored. Well, perhaps Moneyball Judaism never caught on because it wasn’t a good idea, in the first place.
I guess we will find out.
(By the way, some of you may think that you are too well-read to be impressed by a newsletter whose first issue is about confirmation bias. I get it. But I want to make sure we scaffold our concepts. Stick with me).
Book: Seeing What Others Don’t
The benefit of understanding that our brains are pre-disposed to commit certain unintentional errors means that we can be proactive in tricking ourselves before we make a mistake, and Dr. Gary Klein's book is an incredible analysis of how these kinds of insights are phenomenal “acts of creation.” And my favorite way that Klein does this is through his concept of a “pre-mortem.”
The inverse of a post-mortem, a pre-mortem is an exercise where, prior to making a major decision, a group of key decision-makers imagines what will happen if six months later they are sitting in the same room and forced to debrief why that decision went horribly wrong. In a pre-mortem, decision-makers are not debating whether or not they failed, but rather imagine why something might fail before it is too late.
The power of the pre-mortem is that it only succeeds if people open up and share doubts about the plan before it becomes live. Too often, groups make a decision where there is the illusion of widespread agreement, and only after failure do people voice their dissent (sometimes, this is called the Abilene Paradox).
I did not do a pre-mortem before launching this newsletter. I guess we will find out if that was a mistake later…
Quiet Firing: Right now, the term “quiet quitting” is entering popular culture, but who has heard of “quiet firing”? Quiet firing takes place when an organization implicitly shows an employee that they would prefer if the employee left the company so that the employee will quit without the messiness of termination, severance, etc. At a time when all non-profit organizations struggle to fill open positions, the evidence thus far suggests that it is senior management, not employees, who need to look in the mirror. Toni Morrison z’’l knew that back in 2017…
Fundraising During Inflation: Early in the pandemic, philanthropic donations went up significantly, as many people had extra discretionary income and oodles of free time. During this period of inflation and recessionary concerns, what does it mean for leaders to preach generosity? Here’s a “radical” idea: During a bad economy, major funders need to give organizations more money…
Kosher Baby Formula: My youngest child is eleven months old, and her mother and I are well-aware of a massive shortage of baby formula. However, I just read an incredible story about how the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Division (i.e. “the OU”) helped expedite the production of baby formula around the world. At the same time, the baby formula shortage may lead to some much-needed disruption in a slow-moving industry.
Shabbat at Burning Man: I’ve never been to Burning Man, and it’s unlikely that I will ever go. I’m terribly lame. But reading about Shabbat services at Burning Man was a must for me. Particularly as congregations struggle to bring people back inside their walls, it is always worth asking if this is the best time for experimentation.
Employee Compensation: Sadly, a colleague recently mentioned to me that part-time employees at their organization would make more per hour working at McDonalds. Their organization is not alone, but this will not change unless funders think about how higher compensation needs to be a strategic priority for all Jewish organizations.
Thanks for reading! I hope you found this insightful, easy-to-understand, and content-rich without being too dense (maybe even a little funny). Whether you did or not, I hope you will evaluate the newsletter here.