After fifty-two posts on this blog, I thought a summary, with an attempt to provide some synthesis, is in order.
From my notes, I quickly found one fundamental attitude that seems to accompany, and perhaps account for, many of the ills in management issues: the either/or dichotomy that splits people and issues, e.g., management vs. employees being one prominent split. In this culture, we seem to prefer adversarial stances in people, especially ones who attempt to coalesce leadership roles around themselves, as opposed to those who embrace a more inclusive approach. We-vs-them is scarcity mode thinking, aka deficit thinking, which at best results in a win-lose outcome, and just as often ends in lose-lose, but never win-win. Yet we keep doing it.
I understand that the world seems to be spinning ever faster and people at work don’t have time to breathe normally, let alone take the time to reflect. But I fear that we push on at our own peril if we don’t slow down a bit, take some time to think, and note the many shades of everything developing around us.
Organizations are about relationships, per Kenwyn Smith’s definition, and without relationships (and all the associated tendrils) no amount of capital, equipment, fancy buildings, etc. can generate sustainable products, be they goods, intellectual property, and/or services. So, how can we view relationships in either/or frame? We don’t turn a relationship on or off. Of course, the majority of us don’t usually think nor operate that way toward fellow human beings, but when we are under stress, or in a crisis, we seem to jump into that frame by default.
I just started a new book, Thinking, Fast And Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, who received the Nobel prize in economics, particularly remarkable because his background is in psychology. He and his colleague Amos Tversky (now deceased) made some ground-breaking challenges to economics by demonstrating that people are not rational all the time, and most of the time their decisions are made with built-in biases. In this latest book, he created two “agencies” to illustrate what goes on in our brains, calling these agencies System 1 and System 2. System 1 is in control of our automatic responses, immediate reactions, quick judgments or “intuitive” perceptions, such as when we put on our clothes, buckle our shoes, avoid an incoming car when crossing the street. System 2 gets suggestions from system 1 and goes into more deliberate effort to analyze, process, synthesize for more complicated tasks, such as parallel-parking in a narrow space or controlling our irritation or temper when conversing with someone with whom you can’t afford to cut the tie.
So, either/or thinking lives in System 1. Even though what constitutes “complicated” or “simple” tasks varies from individual to individual – what is natural to a chess master would cause grey hairs on most of us – we are all capable of educating ourselves to make the content in System 1 more sophisticated, and to seek System 2 more often. When we overly rely on System 1, we exert less effort in making distinctions, and let us (for example) confuse “authority” with “authenticity” as when managers or leaders say things loud enough or often enough believing this will make what they say become true. Or, someone who is good at making provoking statements becomes viewed as complicated or smart. Or, managers who tend to be contentious let themselves assume they are effective.
Another example, which we commit frequently, is not distinguishing between winning and succeeding, and this gets into the competitive frame, which is based on deficit mode. I am not saying that competition is necessarily bad (see “Acting on Knowledge” for more nuanced analysis) but we overdo it. In a competition, most lose and morale suffers, except for that one winner, from “employee of the month” (how lame!) to “making the biggest bonus of the year.” As if those who have worked diligently and intelligently (but did not quite produce the “top” outcome) just aren’t worthy of mention? Just look at the Olympics; true amateurs no longer have any place in the game, and silver medalists look dejected?!
This brings me to the topic of “goals.” In the entry of “Play & Reason,” I discussed how we treat all goals equally. We don’t take the time to contemplate how goals come about, which goals are more worthy than others, and – even more important — we don’t allow goals to evolve. If a goal is set for a long horizon — even “a year” in these days maybe regarded as long-term — we need to allow circumstances to result in alterations, as well as consideration of new data, information, technologies, and many other unexpected development to modify our original goal(s). Why are we so uncomfortable with “I changed my mind?” Especially managers? By definition, learning is about changing or evolving. Of course, this isn’t symmetric; in other words, changing one’s mind for no good reason doesn’t mean one has learned! What I am saying is that I am suspicious of those who claim to never change their minds, or who value consistency over versatility and accomplishment.
But of course, changeis a very complicated topic to which I devoted two entries and cannot possibly summarize in the short space here. Which is to say, please go and read the earlier entries!
To ask others to change or to ask ourselves to change seems a big deal; it usually evokes discomfort because it inevitably involves discordance, between what has been and what will be. Any kind of difference requires System 2 to process, and according to Kahneman, part of System 2’s nature is laziness. If System 1 can handle it – we don’t like changes – why bother engaging System 2 for reflections? Yet, the same System 1 often complains that we need change. Internal conflict is bad enough; conflicts with others are really beastly. Yet another area that we often fail to distinguish: Differences don’t immediately translate into conflicts. One can work with differences, but most of us avoid conflicts because they are so trying. But once differences become hardened into actual conflicts, chances are that what we see and experience as “conflicts” may have originated elsewhere. This “parallel process” is one of my favorite topics. We need to practice seeing and resolving conflicts by not focusing on where the conflicts are presently manifested, but rather on where they originated.
Two physical examples help illustrate the above point. When my massage therapist was working on my lower back pain, instead of targeting point A where it really hurt, she was working on point B, the opposite area. And I didn’t even realize that I was hurting there too, albeit different sensation! Her point is that to compensate target A’s hurt, my muscles in target B were overworked. Sure enough, by working on target B, the A’s pain did ease up. The other example concerns the Andromeda galaxy. In order to see (by eye) the galaxy at night, you can’t try to focus on where it is located. Only by looking around it, using “averted vision,” will you be able to see this galaxy. Neat!
So it is with most of human beings’ conflicts, or problem areas. Not only because the true conflicts may lie elsewhere, but also when the focus is laser-like on a few individuals, they become defensive, and trying to change their behavior, let alone their minds, becomes much more difficult.
This post has largely been about my pet peeves, and I feel my energy is rather diffused as a result. In the next entry, I will bring into focus perspectives that can bring us more positive energy. A much better way to end the year, isn’t?! Till then,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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