New Test Better than Ever

Project Leadership Questionnaire (PLQ)

Leadership can be defined in terms of the ability to build, motivate and maintain high performing teams, groups, departments and organisations. There has been a great deal of speculation about what makes a good leader, with the personality of leaders being at the forefront of this debate. This is even more so with specific domains of leadership, not least project leadership.

The project leadership questionnaire (PLQ) is one of the few psychometric measures which has the credentials of being an academically rigorous inventory and an accessible tool for business leaders that can be used specifically to select and develop project professionals.

Psychometric properties of the PLQ

The PLQ is the results of 12 years of development. The measure has gone through several revisions and the latest version shows the measure has excellent psychometric properties. These are shown below

Reliability

Reliability refers to the consistency of a measure. It indicates the extent to which observations (scores) are dependable. Reliability indices of the PLQ show that a majority of the facets score substantially above the standard (which is a score of 0.7). The average reliability of the 7 scales as measure by Cronbach’s alpha is 0.74.

Social desirability

In psychometrics, social desirability checks are made in order to assess whether the items (questions) of the questionnaire may be framed in a way as to engender socially desirable responding (sometimes called “faking good”). All dimensions of the PLQ variables are normally distributed suggesting that the items of the PLQ do not engender socially desirable responses. There is also an in-built test that helps indicate of a person’s responses appear high, relative to the norm, on this dimension.

Validity

Validity essentially refers to the usefulness of the test. Most notably, validity assesses whether one can predict performance outcomes based on scores on the psychometric tests. Analyses show that all facet scores of the PLQ are linked to important performance outcomes. These include the budget and the duration of the project a leader will be in charge of, as well as the experience they will have.

Incremental validity tests are made in order to examine whether the personality traits as measured by the PLQ are important for performance after age and experience of leaders is taken into account.

Our analyses show that several PLQ facets apparently predict the performance of project leaders, even after the gender, age, and experience of the leader are taken into account. In simple terms, the higher a leader scores on the PLQ-R, the bigger the project they lead – regardless of their gender, experience, or age.

The data also shows that some PLQ facets are important for all performance criteria, while others are only related to specific criteria (e.g. the duration of the project). This stresses the importance of considering specific personality traits of leaders depending on the objectives of the project.

Overall, the PLQ is a reliable and valid measure that is not subject to socially desirable responding, making it an excellent tool for businesses to select and develop top-level project leaders. Given the relative lack of reliable and validated tools developed for these purposes, the PLQ is likely to add substantial value to businesses and individuals alike.

To try the test for yourself please go to www.thepsychometrictest.com and to read more of the technical detail of the latest analysis the full report can be found here.

Gorkan Ahmetoglu is an Occupational Psychologist and Visiting Lecturer at the University of London’s Goldsmiths and Heytrop colleges. He is an expert in psychometrics, personnel selection, and organisational training and development. He is also a business adviser and speaker in the areas of consumer psychology and decision-making.

Gorkan has published numerous research articles in leading scientific journals, and his first book, Personality 101, will be published later this year. Gorkan has made several media appearances and frequently acts as a government adviser.

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New Fix to Old Issue..

It’s great, at this point in time, to keep hearing the word YES, wherever I go.

I personally believe we / business / projects / societies are on the eve of massive, long lasting change, as a Dad I certainly hope so. I think there will be a “tipping point” of people who’s drive increasingly becomes a conscious search for true, intrinsic value or “meaning”. As this occurs, some of the stuff we’ve been conditioned to chase traditionally will appear increasingly dated and unnecessary. There HAS to be something more…

I certainly believe the next evolution of development for project management is to focus on “leadership” and not management. To get deeper into why people  “bother” and to link performance more to meaning than money.

I am, by trade, a project manager and project management trainer. I am used to developing people’s (and my own) understanding of technical PM tools. On the whole it is easy to teach tools that, on first appearance, look hard. Earned value analysis, critical path analysis, risk  evaluation, internal rate of return, analytical problem solving, estimating techniques. Once pulled apart and applied, these tend to stick and stay.

How is it then that despite the fact that this sort of training has been around for a good 50 years, and prolific for at least the last 30, I keep hearing very similar stories about project disaster? (blame the training maybe?)

The collapsed overbridge

It seems that, whilst technical training is important, it is maybe the wrong tool to solve modern project problems, or at least an incomplete programme of development. Increasingly project challenges are less practical and more political, less mathematical and more multicultural

I have just come off a tour of training that took in Amsterdam, London, Abu Dhabi, Edinburgh and even Coventry! It is striking how similar everyone’s needs are on project management when probed.

It is customary to ask learners what they want from the course, good manners really! Despite the fact I was there to run technical planning courses, everyone was asking for:

Communicating across a diverse team”

“Managing expectations”

“Managing upwards”

“Dealing with conflict and conflicting objectives”

“Negotiating for more time to think!”

“Dealing with uncomfortable situations”

“Motivating the team

Regress pretty much any problem in a project and you end up with a behaviour at fault, not a technical tool. Any time I suggest this to an experienced PM / Programme manager I get a resounding YES! Don’t take my word for this, reflect and vote on these as possible causes for project problems you have experienced:

I could go on!

Are these technical issues? Of course there are tools, techniques and templates to support all these scenarios but the real missing link is the belief, behaviour, confidence and drive of the person you have left in charge of the thing.

So why does the PM world insist on trying to eradicate this emotional epidemic with a technical vaccine? It simply does not make sense and will not, does not work. There does not seem to be any compelling evidence that the zillion classroom hours spent learning Prince 1, 2, or any other methodology has reduced these issues.Possibly because, in a formal sense there has not, as yet, been a credible attempt to define the specifics of project leadership. As a trainer my experience has been this. I run 6-day courses in a project management “body of knowledge” in order to get people through exams, the last day of which, typically, covers the “people stuff”. Having tried my hardest over the previous days to keep people alive during budgeting, scheduling, monitoring, reporting, lifecyles, plans, information control, configuration management, governance etc etc etc

AND, in that single last day my job is to use tools that were developed some time ago to help managers in a “business as usual” setting. Nothing could be further from the leadership needs of the contemporary project manager.

As we continue to study project problems it will increasingly illustrate that what business “does” to improve its projects is mismatched, wrong. Pinto and Slevin got close and most of their findings are more to do with a lack of leadership than technical skill. http://www.concept.ntnu.no/attachments/058_2004_torp_critical_succes_factors_proj_performance.pdf

I probably shouldn’t say this but some of the best projects I have known have been perfectly well conducted with virtually no resource and not a whiff of methodology. What they have had is great leaders and highly motivated “resources” or people as they were once known. What they also have is MEANING.

So, my next few blogs are going to describe in detail the outputs of a 7 year long study into the facets and attributes required from today’s project manager to succeed in leadership. As a taster I’ll start now by listing the 7facets of project leadership and, over 7 new blogs, talk about the relevance of each one. As always I would greatly value anyone’s feedback on our conclusions as we certainly see this as early in the journey still and we would like to keep our concepts current.

The facets:

Pragmatism, Creativity, Positive Intolerance, Stability,

Communication, Motivation, Group Orientation

In the next 7 blogs I’ll explain them, issues that come from a deficit in each and some thoughts about how to develop each….

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Project Leaders achieves Return on Investment

Project Management Mentoring; A Case Study

Beginning with the end in mind

After 16 months of collaborative working with Project Leaders, Steve Billingham, Geotechnical Instruments Ltd Managing Director offers the following thought:

“Do not accept the norm. Things can always be improved and you may be surprised by which members of staff are keen to help if you change the rules and ask for volunteers. The experience with Project Leaders ltd at Geotech has been truly business changing and it hasn`t stopped. Far from it, we now have a totally new energy, a desire to achieve and a motivated team who I can only say, I am privileged to work with “!

Background

Initially Project Leaders Ltd was asked to run a series of classic “instructor-led” training sessions across a range of subjects for Geotechnical Instruments Ltd (Geotech). Broadly these covered 2 areas; Project Management (technical planning skills) and Leadership (behavioural and personal development).

This training ran alongside 6-sigma and problem-solving training and combined to make the company’s “business transformation programme” (BTP) for 2009.

Geotech is a market leader in the gas analysis sector and has enjoyed brand-leadership advantage for some years. The Board had decided to invest heavily in their staff in 2009 to ensure the business continued to compete and grow, sustaining competitive strength into the future.

The BTP was deemed to be a success both in immediate commercial terms (for example achieving a 35% stock value reduction) and, possibly more significantly, in terms of the visible transformation of its future leaders.

Specific benefits of the BTP include:

  • Stock reduction of 35% value
  • Testing and integration of 6-phase stage and gate process for new product introduction
  • Accurate costs awareness in service department leading to relevant KPIs, cost controls and data for root cause analysis
  • Accurate KPIs for sales order process
  • Reduced rework in service allowing more to be done with fewer people
  • Specific variance analysis work leading to stringent external body quality mark (UKAS)
  • Broad, cross-company understanding of the need to change
  • Development of a strong leadership and accountability culture where more individuals take ownership for results
  • Development of a strong coaching culture where individuals understand the importance of continuous personal development
  • An increase in entrepreneurial activity and mindset

Project Management Mentoring

The BTP helped to develop important skills in the short term and, as all training programmes do, helped identify areas where additional development was necessary.

Key amongst those was the ability to drive new projects through quicker, and involve more people in the process from different departments of the business. The picture above represents the core team made from 5 separate parts of the business. (taking an action-learning approach).

It was agreed that Project Leaders Ltd would act as a “Project Mentor” for a new Project Manager in Geotech in order to help meet the following objectives:

  • Speed up projects from concept to implementation (or sales release)
  • Apply financial “decision rules” to make decisions based on overall financial value of the project and not simply production cost
  • Plan and organise projects according to established project principles
  • Improve project communications to increase buy-in and reduce issues and confusion
  • Apply standard estimating techniques to set stretching but realistic targets and manage stakeholder expectations
  • Involve and develop colleagues that had not previously been directly involved in new product projects
  • Manage clients and external stakeholders inputs and expectations
  • Manage suppliers to contribute additional value to the project

How it worked



Initially Project Leaders Ltd had a high level of involvement in helping to establish a robust plan and project charter that was understood and agreed by all key project contributors. This required involvement on a 2 to 3 day/ week basis as a defined plan emerged from the original product concept.

Geotech follows a “stage and gate” process and Project Leaders Ltd’s involvement was intense up to Gate 2, by which time the specification had been agreed and the financials signed off.

The arrangement was deliberately flexible to allow for the right amount of support at the point and time of need, this helped move the project along at the right speed without involvement when the project was running smoothly or when there was nothing additional to do.

An excellent example was in dealing with suppliers for one particularly complicated engineering component issue. For a short while it appeared the solution required was physically and commercially impossible to resolve. This culminated in a number of potential component suppliers being invited in to help in the problem-solving process and, eventually, the impossible was achieved (for the same cost as the replaced component!)

Specific benefits of Project Leaders Ltd’s involvement

  • Project lifecycle (timeline) reduction of 50% minimum resulting in £thousands saved in resource opportunity cost and accelerating sales incomes
  • Project brought in on cost and before client expectation
  • Development of new Project Manager who is now independently running projects and mentoring others
  • Development of supplier negotiation skills
  • Improved project communications with shorter, more productive meetings and regularly updated and circulated plans and reports
  • Removal of significant costs by challenging assumptions (e.g. moving to a new accreditation body, massively reducing certification costs and delays) – this alone covers the investment of the programme in year 1
  • Involvement of team members from different functions to reduce pressure on projects division and build strength across the business
  • Motivation of individuals on the project team
  • Improved perception amongst key customers and suppliers

Underlying principles

Training in a classroom can only go so far. In the worst cases people learn very little and even at best people learn important skills but rarely get to apply them in time. This means investment in training is difficult to evaluate in terms of its impact on the business and in times of increased stringency this becomes an ever-more important issue.

Companies should not reduce investment in their people when money is tight, on the contrary, those who sustain a support programme for their best resources will keep them at a time when they can not afford for them to go elsewhere.

By applying the project mentoring approach the host company sees direct commercial (and non commercial) benefits before their eyes. Savings are made in real time and people are being trained and developed simultaneously, the classic win/win.

Of course, what also gets left behind is a newly trained and motivated project leader and team who are able to mentor another new project manager from within the business. This builds internal capability, builds morale, reduces bottlenecks and of course reduces the long-term dependency on outside (expensive and low value-adding) training bodies who do not understand your business.

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7 Facets of Great Project Leadership

I am blowing the virtual dust from the old blog to open discussion on my latest project. Well, to claim ownership I am being somewhat presumptuous.

It is Prudence Clarke, Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and

Roger Thornham to whom most of the credit should go for their extensive research and development to date.

In simple terms, too many Project Managers are struggling with leadership, whether it be managing stakeholder expectations, negotiating with suppliers and contractors or raising team morale when the project has gone off the rails.

Prudence and the team have been grappling with this reality for 7 years, combining university and industry research to boil down those few factors that differentiate Project Managers from Project Leaders. Before going into these, I’d like to take a moment to consider the issue.

As a jobbing PM and PM trainer and consultant, I know this is an issue. There is a real deficit of leadership behaviour on projects. I believe there are a number of factors at play here.

Often, PMs become PMs because they were good at something else, software development, quantity surveying, forestry, you name it. This comes about through a misguided, (although usually well-intentioned), belief that project management is a fair way of promoting a subject matter expert into a wider role. Project management is of course a huge change of scenery from being the specialist in a niche.

One of the best presentations I’ve ever seen is by

Benjamin Zander please indulge when you have a spare 20 minutes or so.

The bit that really stayed with me was when he says that, as the conductor, he leads the orchestra but makes no  noise. He  positions leadership as coordination, guidance, a focal point, but not running round and trying to play  all the  instruments. Project Leadership, we have found, requires Project Managers to come out of the pit, and to  keep  everyone, players, composers and audience alike, delighted with what is going on. This is hard.

I also find that PMs are usually selected from the mid regions of the organisational structure yet the outcomes they need to achieve require the engagement of those higher in the food chain. When sponsorship is weak (which it so often is) PMs have little or no chance to influence the right people in the ways they need to.

Lastly, projects are about “change”.  Of course introducing change at almost any level creates a range of behavioural responses, not by any means all positive. It takes real leadership talent to deal with humans when they are expressing conscious and sub conscious resistance. All this also takes place in the pressure-cooker environment of balancing time, cost and quality parameters.

So, the result of our research has been to describe 7 facets of personality that create the basis for effectively leading projects, the difference between project management and project leadership. These are the facets we need to understand in order to elevate the role into a significant change catalyst and leader of business progress.

Our facets are a direct descendent of the

“big five” personality traits which have been updated and adjusted to reflect contemporary project leadership challenges.

So the 7 facets are:

  1. Pragmatism – goal-oriented, focused and determined completion of tasks
  2. Creativity – seeking novel solutions to old issues
  3. Positive intolerance – taking tough decisions to get projects achieved
  4. Stability – effective performance under pressure
  5. Communication – clear and effective articulation of any issue to any audience
  6. Motivation – of self an others in the project, especially when times get tough
  7. Group orientation – collaborating with others to improve project outcomes

Of course these headings can be, (and have been), deliberated and adjusted indefinitely. However we agree, from our extensive review of 100 years of leadership literature and, possibly more tellingly, repeated consultation of industry leading Project Managers, and the refinement of that consultation, that these fit the current picture.

Both training and consulting on project matters, I know first hand that the behavioural side of the job is given a second class status in comparison to technical tools. (Even those are patchy at best). However, from my own background in rehabilitation, I have always contested that “soft skills” are always the hardest to improve and embed.

So I am using this blog to canvas opinion on the facets – your views as to their relevance and experiences of where they have been applied, or where a deficit in one or some have costed the project.

I will use my next 7 blogs to unpack these facets a little further. This supports the work being done on the new PM specific psychometric that has been developed in accordance to the research with my business partner and web specialist

Jake Brumby

So, over to you, what are your first impressions?

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High-Fly NPI

I would like to share a summary of what should now conclude to be another project brought in under budget and ahead of an aggressive schedule. The technical details on this occasion are less important than the elements that have contributed to the success.

Team - I’ll use player’s initials although they should have nothing but pride for the way they’ve contributed. Overall we have applied some of the principles of action inquiry,  throwing the challenge of new product introduction to anyone in the business who was “up for” the task.

This developed a team who equally matched skill and will. The outcome has been a radically improved time to completion as we have not had to push people (in the main) to meet / exceed their promises. We have also challenged some long held assumptions that will save ten of thousands of pounds and untold project hours in the months and years to come.

individuals:

  • SB has provided direct but light touch sponsorship from the top – allowing us to move forward quickly, escalate a few decisions and expedite answers. He also excels in “managing by walking about”
  • OB has provided unswerving clarity from board level on the financial case for speeding up
  • CAM has managed his first NPI project. He has succeeded by keeping on top of all activity areas (note- not micro managing) all of the time using personal contact and a simple “tracker” tool. He has also learned to communicate assertively with the big chiefs to clarify requirements and encourage suppliers to exceed their previous levels of performance whilst simultaneously building stronger relations.
  • JB has played a crucial role as technical critique for all proposed changes and ensuring we have considered options and consequences. One flip side of rapid development is gaining too much momentum such that decisions are sometimes made too quickly. JB has helped us avoid at least 2 major bear traps, without slowing the overall process. He too has helped manage supplier input and worked relentlessy to test new ideas and sub components as they have come through the project.
  • AET has led the way on testing and shown that work can be acted upon quickly and progress made in a matter of minutes rather than days/ weeks with the right mindset.
  • GS has remained positive and relentlessly pursued progress from third parties to fulfil his part of the project. He embodies the whole team’s ethos that more than 24 hours without a meaningful progress report is unacceptable. He regularly seeks the Project Manager to proactively update on where his task areas is.
  • SE has taken a tough step to resume some of his former work in order to get this project forced through as quickly as possible. He has shown that all players in the team must be flexible and not too proud or hierarchy conscious to do whatever job is required to accomplish the project.
  • DK has also thrown hierarchy to the wind and, despite being one of the most senior and key members of the company, was one of the first to volunteer for this challenging project with he words “I will do whatever you need me to do” and has stuck by those dangerous words.
  • RJR has given top-level technical stewardship and stakeholder alignment.

There have been other contributors but the key learning points are these:

  • Cross functional working has enabled the team to learn across silos and ask questions the experts may not have thought or dared to ask
  • Letting people volunteer for the team has made it easy to keep interest levels high
  • Effective senior sponsorship has cut through the usual political interference
  • Relentless attention to task progress and holding each member responsible for clearly defined parts of the project has bred a culture of accountability
  • Nipping issues in the bud and recognising contribution has allowed us to keep the tone focused but also fun..
  • Involving suppliers in positive competition, sharing information with them generously, and pushing them for their best response has had remarkable outputs
  • Having a process but not being a slave to it has kept momentum up
  • Clarifying the commercial imperative of fast production has helped us make the best decisions quickly – hence being ahead of schedule
  • Being clear about the critical path and sharing daily updates on its progress has been vital
  • (both the last points described brilliantly in: http://www.newproductdynamics.com/book.htm )
  • Encouraging difference of opinion whilst always keeping one eye on the clock has helped us avoid some major post-release problems

What do we need to get better at? (not exclusive to this project by any means)

  1. Clarifying requirements quicker
  2. Applying positive intolerance with colleagues and 3rd parties
  3. Increased knowledge share across departments
  4. Pushing for best performance

Not a very long list, all things considered. I was tempted to conclude that, for an inexperienced project team this has to be considered a great success, but the reality is that, because of their lack of pre-conceived concepts and barriers, they have set a very new standard for project management in their business.

Nothing you won’t see in the text books I guess, but to see it diligently applied in the workplace has been inspiring

The firm in question is: and you should keep an eye on them. Proof positive, supporting recent FT bulletins,  that manufacturing and technology in this country has a bright future.

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Talking to chickens

Believe what you will, but there is a rhythm to and a reason for things, often times I think we’re too busy or clever to spot it. I haven’t been sniffing the pot pourri, I am both an atheist and positive sceptic (my dear friend Pru has the good grace to call me a “pragmatist”), but I firmly believe this.

I am involved in 2 projects and one programme for 3 different customers. I am spotting similarities in the problems to solve. Now, if you asked me to explain the challenges I’d over-stay my welcome. Luckily, AA Milne has done it for me and I found out tonight when Ethan, my Son, asked me to read this specific poem as our bed-time wind-down. (hence my point about unforeseen rhythm and reason, call it coincidence if you prefer)

Read it and reflect – ring any bells? – I’ll add my thought at the end (as a warning, if you want the really profound stuff, stop at the end of the italics)

The Old Sailor
by A.A. Milne

There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew
Who had so many things which he wanted to do
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
He couldn’t because of the state he was in.

He was shipwrecked, and lived on a island for weeks,
And he wanted a hat, and he wanted some breeks;
And he wanted some nets, or a line and some hooks
For the turtles and things which you read of in books.

And, thinking of this, he remembered a thing
Which he wanted (for water) and that was a spring;
And he thought that to talk to he’d look for, and keep
(If he found it) a goat, or some chickens and sheep.

Then, because of the weather, he wanted a hut
With a door (to come in by) which opened and shut
(With a jerk, which was useful if snakes were about),
And a very strong lock to keep savages out.

He began on the fish-hooks, and when he’d begun
He decided he couldn’t because of the sun.
So he knew what he ought to begin with, and that
Was to find, or to make, a large sun-stopping hat.

He was making the hat with some leaves from a tree,
When he thought, “I’m as hot as a body can be,
And I’ve nothing to take for my terrible thirst;
So I’ll look for a spring, and I’ll look for it first.”
Then he thought as he started, “Oh, dear and oh, dear!
I’ll be lonely tomorrow with nobody here!”
So he made in his note-book a couple of notes:
“I must first find some chickens” and “No, I mean goats.”

He had just seen a goat (which he knew by the shape)
When he thought, “But I must have boat for escape.
But a boat means a sail, which means needles and thread;
So I’d better sit down and make needles instead.”

He began on a needle, but thought as he worked,
That, if this was an island where savages lurked,
Sitting safe in his hut he’d have nothing to fear,
Whereas now they might suddenly breathe in his ear!

So he thought of his hut … and he thought of his boat,
And his hat and his breeks, and his chickens and goat,
And the hooks (for his food) and the spring (for his thirst) …
But he never could think which he ought to do first.

And so in the end he did nothing at all,
But basked on the shingle wrapped up in a shawl.
And I think it was dreadful the way he behaved -
He did nothing but bask until he was saved!

Senior managers are struggling with leadership. “To-do” is so ridiculously long that what is done rarely hits a critical path (that lies camouflaged in the undergrowth). My view, make a decision, get on with something. Don’t get me wrong, I teach people how to plan and am a big fan, but I see so much time wasted “feinting in coils”, usually because of an absence of decent planning. The options will always be multiple and information always incomplete. Weigh up the odds quickly and make a decision. I am surrounded by decision paralysis.

Time is money (or possibly something even more valuable?)

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Stopping the ROT

bad planningI was teaching project life-cycles last week, specifically the British Standard life-cycle which, broken down, can be easily remembered with the catchy acronym “CFROT”!

This stands for “Concept, Feasibility, Realisation, Operation and Termination”

I was describing the inaccuracy levels of early estimates and exponential increase in cost of change as you go further into projects, in short the costs of poor planning (the C and F of CFROT). At that moment, I’ll call him “Mike” (because that’s his name) had his Eureka moment..rotten-fruit-290x300

“That’s it!”  he exclaimed

“great, erm….what?” I rather weekly inquired

“that’s it, our problem, all our projects go straight to ROT!”

his point being, his organisation does not spend enough energy in the Concept or Feasibility parts of their projects. Weekly described project briefs, based on poor estimates and built on very shaky plans go quickly into the Realisation (making the thing) phase.

“Going straight to ROT” has since stuck with me as I reflect on hundreds of projects I have encountered. If I may borrow a Michael Jackson lyric Mike “you are not alone”

So it leaves me to pose some more questions, and I’ll post some thought on them in the following weeks.

Why do so many organisations dump good money down the toilet because of a lack of willingness to plan? Is planning activity too often seen as the unnecessary bit with too many meetings before “real work” begins?  Is this as widespread as I think (or am I suffering from “confirmation bias”)?  What can be done about it?bush stupid

 

I’ll put some ideas down but would love to know what the world thinks – especially if I’m wrong…(again)…

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