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When Logic Falls on Deaf Ears

What gets my goat every time is when people rather keep doing the same thing over-and-over again when they know full well from experience that they will not like the outcome. Especially, when you provide logically correct evidence that supports the adoption of an alternative course of action. All that I hope for is for them to show me an initial willingness to explore the possibility that this new line of thinking might lead to the results that they have been hoping for.

Unfortunately, when you start talking, they look up from whatever they were doing, and I can see their eyes glaze over before they resume whatever it was they were doing before. What on earth has happened to their curiosity for new ideas? Why don’t they challenge the presented facts? Why don’t they question the appropriateness of the solution to their problems? Where’s the fire in their bellies?

Then, looking at some of the discussions held on LinkedIn Groups, I see people passionately debate and question the obvious. For example, someone posed the question: “Is vision essential for leadership? Is it not possible to show leadership otherwise?” The level of creativity in their contributions and the display of nuance for ever smaller details and different viewpoints is a gift. Nonetheless, without a vision, without knowing where you want to go, you might as well stay where you are. This requires only someone to watch the store; hardly worth any mentioning of leadership, unless you intent to re-write the dictionary to make it fit your purpose.

So, although there’s an appetite for passionate dialogue and debate, the favorite topics tend to be rather mundane or pedestrian; little demonstration of true breakthrough thinking. It seems like participants are more comfortable on the details of highly specialized deep domain expertise than any form of big picture thinking; the relationships between means & ends and cause & effect.

Why would highly educated people reject spending their time and energy on logic in favor of opinions; personal beliefs or judgments that are not founded in proof or certainty?

I was reminded of a story by Joseph Campbell that he told in the great documentary “The Power of Myth”. Campbell relates how Pygmies live in dense forest where they literary cannot see the forest for the trees. Being totally immersed in the details, without any experience with great vistas over vast expanses of land or sea, they developed a different perspective. When Campbell took a Pygmy to a mountain top to show him the bigger picture perspective, he was wondering why the people in the valley where the size of ants, because he had never experienced how distant people or objects look smaller than they are.

We do not see with our eyes but with our brain and therefore we can only see what our brain can project. Where we see “people in the distance”, the Pygmy sees “very small people”. It’s a matter of how our brains are wired; the mental programming of our brains a.k.a. habit.

In conclusion, I believe that our education system’s infatuation with highly specialized areas of expertise and our business world’s deep respect and valuation of deep domain expertise has deprived us of experiences of big-picture perspectives. When we see it, we don’t believe our eyes; our brain cannot project the correct scenes of what our eyes observe- we are perplexed!

In turn, I’m perplexed about their perplexity. Now I understand that I need to take their noses off the grind stone and break them away from the familiarity and false comfort of their old habits. I need to show them that there’s a whole world out there outside their cubicle.

I need to teach them a new level of thinking and break their habit of interpreting everything in terms of their narrow areas of expertise. That’s exactly what Albert Einstein meant when he said: “The significant problems that we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

Did you know that it was only recently that Galileo Galilee was rehabilitated by the Church of Rome, who excommunicated him for spreading his heretic theories about the Earth revolving around the Sun? Eventually, we changed our level of thinking but how long will it take our business leaders to see the bigger picture?

2 Comments

  1. Posted August 18, 2010 at 06:49 | Permalink

    Hans, I had to chuckle a bit when I read your post as I spent years in the midst of the same frustration and then I came to understand…

    People always, always, always do exactly what makes the most amount of sense to them in the context of the moment based on their current understanding. While numerous people have have debated this statement with me to date no one has found the one white crow.

    To completely understand the behavior of another is next to impossible, though if I strive to understand you then am I not making a step in the right direction to understand your behavior?

    be well,
    Gene

  2. Posted August 23, 2010 at 10:52 | Permalink

    “What gets my goat every time is when people rather keep doing the same thing over-and-over again when they know full well from experience that they will not like the outcome”

    Isn’t one definition of insanity something similar to… when a person does the same thing over and over and expects a different result? 🙂

    I definitely understand what you mean and yes it is utterly annoying.

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