Case 4: I’m the boss, so I am right!


This post is the fourth in my series looking at cases where it seems that “believing we are right” has led to bad outcomes, sometimes even spectacularly bad results, for leaders, teams and organizations.

For my upcoming book, Big Decisions: Why we make decisions that matter so poorly. How we can make them better, I have identified and categorized nearly 350 mental traps and errors that lead us into making bad decisions. In the many high-profile current and historical situations that I have examined, indications abound that the bad outcomes have been produced by mental traps and errors. My premise is that, at the least, if we recognize and admit that we don’t know the answer, we will put more effort into looking for better decision options and limiting the risks stemming from failure when making important decisions.

Our actor in this case is an entrepreneur who ran rampant while the Board of Directors looked the other way.


Uber Technologies CEO Travis Kalanick believed that through confrontation he could make the firm supreme and dictate the rules for ridesharing and driverless cars.

His approach led to a boycott and great reputational damage for the company and for him personally.

Kalanick seems to be a “poster child” illustrating the ill effects of biases and traps:

  • He has relied on confrontation to get his way, to use force to shape the universe in which Uber operates. This approach is a text-book example of the “Force can do it” Trap (thinking only in terms of using power or strength to impose a solution on a situation or on other people).
  • Kalanick’s oppositional style brought out strong opinions against him, which seemed only to strengthen his confrontational approach. His response to criticism is a classic case of the Backfire Effect (when people react to evidence that disconfirms what they believe by strongly countering with what they believe is true and as a result more firmly anchoring their previous opinions.)
  • The trap of Illusory Superiority (overestimating our desirable qualities and underestimating our undesirable qualities relative to other people, leading us to think that we can make better choices than others can) seems to be evident from Kalanick’s actions, including blaming drivers for the company’s problems.

Wisdom is recognizing that we did not create the Universe; it created us. Kalanick failed because of his singular belief that he could dictate outcomes. We are better served by the understanding that, at best, we can shape situations to lead to better outcomes.

Photo: By alextorrenegra at, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.