Today, we continue Classic Movie Monster Month with the film Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man which is often derided as the first of the ‘monster rally’ films where more than one classic Universal monster appears in a movie. However I found it to have some of the most interesting psychological elements present in any of the Universal classics. The film is really two in one; the first dealing with the Wolfman and the second when Lon Chaney playing the Wolfman meets Frankenstein’s monster and the chaos really begins. It certainly creates biases against one or both.

This first half with the Wolfman has some of the best psychological underpinnings of any of the Universal monster movies. Nigel Burton, blogging in his site Classic Monsters, said, “the opening scene of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the stuff of pure traditional gothic horror films. Excellent camerawork by George Robinson gives us a single panning shot of Llanwelly Cemetery as vagrants Cyril Delevanti and Tom Stevenson break into the Talbot crypt to steal a valuable ring from the corpse of Lawrence Talbot (Chaney), who died some fours previously. They discover the lycanthrope’s body to be strangely preserved, and as the full moon rises and shines through a window, Talbot returns to life, murdering one of the grave-robbers as the other frantically flees.”

That description does not even begin to do justice to the power of all the elements of the classic movie Wolfman, the full moon, wolfbane and the hand of the wolfman grabbing one of the grave robbers. It simply is a fantastic cacophony of light, shading, violence, folklore and terror. Yet this opening scene leads to another powerful scene when the Wolfman is found disheveled in a nearby town with a deep gash on his head. The wound came from a blow struck by his father, at the end of the original Wolfman. Chaney cannot remember what has happened and that night, under another full moon, kills again. He is finally committed to a Sanitarium but chews through his restraints and escapes.

Traveling to Europe and now safely as his alter ego, Larry Talbot, Chaney goes hunting all over Europe for Maleva the Gypsy woman from the first film, who first informed Talbot of the curse he inherited by killing her son Bela, who was also a werewolf. He finds her and implores her to help him end his accursed life so that he may at last find peace, the way Maleva’s werewolf son Bela had four years before. El Santo, writing in his blog 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting, said, “Maleva can do nothing herself, she says, but she does know of one man who might be able to do the job – Dr. Frankenstein of Visaria.” With that they are off for their adventure with Frankenstein’s monster.

I thought about the Wolfman and his search for peace when I read an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “Outsmart Your Own Biases”, by Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman and John W. Payne. The article has some interesting insights for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner. While noting that using your instincts is something we all engage in and can use to our benefit, the authors believe, “It can be dangerous to rely too heavily on what experts call System 1 thinking – automatic judgments that stem from associations stored in memory – instead of logically working through information that’s available.”

The authors believe the problem is, “Cognitive biases muddy our decision making… and even when we try to use reason, our logic is often lazy or flawed.” They cite the cause of this problem to be that “Instead of exploring risks and uncertainties, we seek closure – it’s much easier. This narrows our thinking about what could happen in the future, what our goals are, and how we might achieve them.” Finally, as a solution they suggest, “By knowing which biases tend to trip us up and using certain tricks and tools to outsmart them, we can broaden our thinking and make better choices.”

The authors suggest that to “debias” your decisions, you must broaden your perspective on three fronts. These are (1) thinking about the future, rather than simply one objective; (2) thinking about objectives, rather than simply the circumstances in front of you; and (3) thinking about options, rather than thinking in isolation.  

Thinking About the Future

This is more than simply hedging your bets. The authors note, “Because most of us tend to be highly overconfident in our estimates, it’s important to “nudge” ourselves to allow for risk and uncertainty.” They suggest that you use the four following techniques:

  • Make three estimates. “To improve your accuracy, work up at least three estimates—low, medium, and high—instead of just stating a range. People give wider ranges when they think about their low and high estimates separately, and coming up with three numbers prompts you to do that.”
  • Think twice, “make two forecasts and take the average” because “when people think more than once about a problem, they often come at it with a different perspective, adding valuable information. Tap your own inner crowd and allow time for reconsideration: Project an outcome, take a break (sleep on it if you can), and then come back and project another.”
  • Use premortems. I found this exercise very interesting. The authors explained, “In a premortem, you imagine a future failure and then explain the cause. This technique, also called prospective hindsight, helps you identify potential problems that ordinary foresight won’t bring to mind.”
  • Take an outside view. Here, “You need to complement this perspective with an outside view—one that considers what’s happened with similar ventures and what advice you’d give someone else if you weren’t involved in the endeavor.”

Thinking About Objectives

The authors believe that too often, “people unwittingly limit themselves by allowing only a subset of worthy goals to guide them, simply because they’re unaware of the full range of possibilities.” You should generate objectives and you can work to sort through them as you progress because by “Articulating, documenting, and organizing your goals helps you see those paths clearly so that you can choose the one that makes the most sense in light of probable outcomes.”

The authors suggest two steps that will help to ensure that you are “reaching high – and far – enough with your objectives.” First is that you should seek the advice of others, however, you should “Outline objectives on your  own before seeking advice so that you don’t get “anchored” by what others say. And don’t anchor your advisers by leading with what you already believe… If you are making a decision jointly with others, have people list their goals independently and then combine the lists.” Second, you should cycle through your objectives by tackling them one at a time because by “looking at objectives one by one rather than all at once helps people come up with more alternatives. Seeking a solution that checks off every single box is too difficult—it paralyzes the decision maker.”

Thinking About Options

The authors also believe that corporate groupthink tends to avoid a loss rather than reaching for a win. To overcome this, they suggest two techniques. First you should perform a joint evaluation because evaluating options in isolation does not ensure the best outcomes. They write, “A proven way to snap into joint evaluation mode is to consider what you’ll be missing if you make a certain choice. That forces you to search for other possibilities… That simple shift to joint evaluation highlights what economists call the opportunity cost—what you give up when you pursue something else.” Second, they propose you should use the “vanishing-option test” which requires you to “Assume you can’t choose any of the options you’re weighing and ask, “What else could I do?” This question will trigger an exploration of alternatives… That might prompt you to consider investing in another region instead, making improvements in your current location, or giving the online store a major upgrade. If more than one idea looked promising, you might split the difference.”

Why is all this important for the CCO or compliance practitioner? It is because we are presented with options that appear to be simply Go/No Go or even one-off decisions. A fully operationalized compliance program should invite a variety of responses. Just as all risks are different, the management of risks can be handled differently. As a CCO or compliance practitioner you cannot be Dr. No living in the Land of No; you must be proactive to come up with solutions to help your business unit folks to not only do business in compliance with the relevant laws but to actually do business. Through your compliance program, you should be able come up with solutions to the compliance issues that you face.

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 © Thomas R. Fox, 2018