Optimism bias: a defence against lack of presumed governance knowledge

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Title: Optimism bias: a defence against lack of presumed governance knowledge
Year: 2016
Authors: James Walker

Optimism bias is frequently identified as a reason governance bodies ‘did not look hard enough’ at the dynamics of information system projects prior to project failure. Governance roles are filled by executives with little experience of the function of information systems in maintaining organisational culture. As a result, research findings indicate over 64% of IT related projects fail, often at enormous social and financial cost. This paper considers optimism bias a defense against the anxiety associated with lack of presumed knowledge by members of governance bodies and raises ethical questions of duty of care when this lack becomes known to governance members and those who appoint them. Optimism bias is considered here as the continuation of projects in contradiction to evidence of their fundamental dysfunction. It appears initially as unconscious and serves to manage governance anxiety associated with lack of understanding. As the project is increasingly disrupted by budget demands and publically failing tasks, the optimism bias defence as signifier, increasingly becomes equated to its signified lack of knowledge resulting in dysfunction of the governance group itself. The paper concludes with a discussion of consulting approaches to address optimism bias. Works of Freud, Bion, Klein, Gould, Menzies-Lyth, Long, Lacan, Hilgard, and others are referenced.

Keywords: Optimism bias, defence against anxiety, governance failure, group social defence, ethics and unconscious intention
Language: English

Date: 06/24/2016
Location: Granada, Spain
Name of Event/Conference: 33rd ISPSO Annual Meeting
Sponsoring Organization: ISPSO

Submitted by:
James Walker

Corresponding author: James Walker

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