Weick, Karl E ~ Small Wins

Weick, Karl E.
Small Wins – Redefining the Scale of Social Problems

p. 40
There is agreement that social problems are big problems. And that’s the problem.

The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded and arousal is raised to dysfunctionally high levels. People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them.

When the magnitude of problems is scaled upward in the interest of mobilizing action, the quality of thought and action declines, because processes such as frustration, arousal, and helplessness are activated.

Ironically, people often can’t solve problems unless they think they aren’t problems.

p. 41

The specific effects of arousal on performance associated with the Yerkes-Dodson Law are that (a) there is an inverted-U relationship between arousal and the efficiency of performance with increasing levels of arousal, first improving and then impairing performance and (b) the optimal level of arousal for performance varies inversely with task difficulty. (Even though these coarse propositions have been amended, tuned more finely, and differentiated, they remain basic principles in which an analysis of social problem solving can be anchored.)

To invert this list, highly aroused people find it difficult to learn a novel response, to brainstorm, to concentrate, to resist old categories, to perform complex responses, to delegate, and to resist information that supports positions they have taken.

High arousal can improve performance if it occurs after a person has decided what to do and after she or he has overlearned how to do it.

To call a problem minor rather than serious is to lower arousal, which is also appropriate if people don’t know what to do or are unable to do it.

p. 43
Small wins are controllable opportunities that produce visible results.

p. 44
[Small wins] preserve gains, they cannot unravel, each one requires less coordination to execute, interruptions such as might occur when there is a change in political administration have limited effects, and subparts can be assembled into different configurations.
> Paweł erzählte von der extremen Ineffizienz von groß angelegten Projekten und Institutionen (z. B. dass der Zeitplan für eine Season Forge zu eng sei für das WEF + Partner). Wenn wir Small Wins anpeilen, können wir dem vielleicht aus dem Wege gehen?

Alinsky’s three criteria for working goals are that the goals be highly specific, realizable, and immediate (Peabody, 1971, p. 525). If people work for something concrete, if people have an opportunity for visible success from which they draw confidence,and if people can translate their excitement and optimism into immediate action, then a small win is probable, as is their heightened interest in attempting a second win.

p. 45
[…] incremental phenomena such as small wins have a basic compatibility with human preferences for learning, perception, and motivation.

p. 46
When a large problem is broken down into a series of small wins, three things happen. First, the importance of any single win is reduced in the sense that the costs of failure are small and the rewards of success considerable. Second, the size of the demand itself is reduced (e.g., all we need to do is get one city to discipline local polluters). And third, existing skills are perceived as sufficient to deal with the modest demands that will be confronted.

A small win reduces importance (“this is no big deal”), reduces demands (“that’s all that needs to be done”), and raises perceived skill levels (“I can do at least that”). When reappraisals of problems take this form, arousal becomes less of a deterrent to solving them.

Small wins induce a degree of certainty that allows greater access to the very resources that can insure more positive outcomes.

p. 47
Forceful action monopolizes the attention of other actors and becomes a causal variable in their construction of the situation.
> Wir können den Diskurs um unsere Themen herum formen, anstatt uns in eine vorhandene Diskussion eingliedern zu müssen.

Small wins are compact, tangible, upbeat, noncontroversial, and relatively rare. They catch the attention of people with short time perspectives who have only 11 minutes to read.
> Er meint damit Politiker in Washington, die einen konstanten Information Overload haben. Aber heute trifft das auf jeden zu, auch unser Publikum.

p. 48
[…] firm actions are more likely to occur when belief is strongly positive than when it is hesitant, doubtful, or cynical.

Highly aroused people who have flopped attempting a large win can’t see those specifics, so they abandon all faith and all possible scenarios for how life might unfold. That is the generalization that needs to be contained and often is contained by trying for smaller wins, with smaller stakes.

If you can tolerate high levels of arousal, go for big wins; ifyou can’t, go for small wins.

Changing the scale of a problem can change the quality of resources that are directed at it. Calling a situation a mere problem that necessitates a small win moderates arousal, improves diagnosis, preserves gains, and encourages innovation. Calling a situation a serious problem that necessitates a larger win may be when the problem starts.

About the author

Woitek Konzal

Producer, Consultant, Lecturer & Researcher. I love working where technology meets media in novel ways. Once, I even won an Emmy for digital innovation doing that. Be it for a small but exciting campaign about underground electronic music collectives or for a monster project combining two movies, various 360° videos, 72 ARG-like mini puzzles, and a Unity game, all wrapped up in one cross-platform app – I have proven my ability to adapt to what is required. This passion for novel technologies has regularly allowed me to cross paths with tech startups – an industry and philosophy I am all set to engage with more. I intensely enjoy balancing out my practical work with academic research, teaching, and consulting. Also, I have a PhD in Creative Industries, a M.Sc. in Business Administration, and love to kitesurf.

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