Is “Understanding” your Enemy

October 29, 2013 Affective LeadershipEmotional Intelligence


The last several years I have been hooked on the “Dans” – Pink, Kahneman and Ariely.  They all seem to come around to something Malcom Gladwell shared in an interview for The Costco Connection.  He said “my last three books in particular have made me suspicious of the way that all of us as human beings react to the world.”  He went on to say “The assumptions we carry around in our heads aren’t very good.  Our first impressions of things can sometimes be really terrible.”  His new book, David and Goliath is basically about how we look at situations and misread them.  “The more I write these books, the less convinced I am of my own inherent wisdom.  I’ve convinced myself that I’m pretty bad at making sense of the world and need a lot of help.” 

How many leaders do you know would say they are pretty bad at anything much less making sense out of the world?  Yet here you have four highly skilled, internationally recognized , intellectual giants who have devoted years of study to the human powers of perception and all in their own way came up with the same results.  When grading our ability to define “reality” and reason well as a species, we earn an F.  The only thing that makes our intellectual understanding any less effective is when we do it in groups.  Our ability to “Group Think” ourselves into the most ridiculous conclusions is beyond comprehension.

“The greatest obstacle to understanding clearly is holding our “knowing” dearly.” 


Board X just hired a new CEO Y that was described as a social media “Guru”.  In our first day of “go-to-meetings” training he asked about the “Pictures” at the bottom of the screen.  When a team member responded they were icons for our most commonly used apps he asked what an icon was.  I think we may not share the same definition of guru.

We are wired to try and make sense of our world.  To understand the correlations between cause and effect.  The problem is that as soon as we believe in a cause we stop looking for others.  Not only do we stop looking but we defend, ignore, deny and disparage anyone who presents an alternative view.  I am not speaking only of congress but every top down coercive system on the planet.  Any place where unquestioned authority is derived purely from positional power.  If I have offended anyone reading this you are missing the point entirely.  This is not a people problem, this is a process problem.

Do you have policies, processes and people who KNOW their purpose is to question everything?   I can just see those who have spent their lives working for that corner office reaching for the delete button right now.  Resist the temptation to be right.   Every leader, every parent, every teacher, every expert of any kind can easily bring to mind those people whose only purpose in life it seems is to muck things up.   There are people whose mere presence casts a pall but is it possible that they did not start this way?   They did not come out of the they come out of the womb willfully warlike.  They were taught to be this way until it became a habit.  You may not have created the habit but you can either change that specific habit in that specific person or change the person.  Instead most create policies that dissuade disagreement discouraging debate and derailing innovation.  

Start by not knowing

And wonder just why

Is there a reason

Or are they just shy


If you notice a pattern

And expect you’ll see more

You’ll soon find your right

Because you see how you score


If you look for what’s wrong

There is plenty to find

It is not that it is real

But it is in your mind


Our brain is quite lazy

It looks for a reason

Soon as it finds one

Then looking’s off season


So pretend you don’t know

Though you’re sure that you do

You may learn something new

And even find it in you.

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