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Monthly Archives: March 2015

A guest blogger on Scott Adams blog posed a question about what could cause you to change your mind.

She frames it as ‘most people’ picking a side and then sticking with that decision forever. Oddly she chooses sticking by a losing sports team as an analogy. That simply isn’t a compelling. She then inquires as to what, if anything, causes changing your mind to happen.

This approach accepts too much of the initial thought about picking a side and failing to ask why that is. What is the compelling reason behind picking a side and never reexamining or once was compelling to such a degree that it won out as a mechanism? Where is it shown to be the case that across a broad spectrum of decisions in context that this is a inferior mechanism and by what measurement?

Setting that all aside, the interesting thought to me is considering when if ever are we taught a competing method? I can’t think of a case in my experience. The closest I can think of is being exposed to a couple thinkers who describe trying on ideas like hats and wearing them around for a bit. That is a challenging and subversive notion in that a) there are some ideas that are pretty universally condemned and b) any idea that you try on has the potential to change you. Are you really ballsy enough to take that on? Where and when do we acquire the skill to do this well?

The flip side of the ‘Failures of Imagination’ coin is magical thinking. Magical thinking is where we delude ourselves in believing something that just isn’t going to happen. I don’t mean that in all cases it is impossible that the something will happen but rather that it is just so improbable that from a pragmatic standpoint it might as well be impossible. Take for example building a house. Say it takes 3 months to build a house. That is the shortest amount of time that it would take to do all the things that are needed to build a house and it pretty much can’t be done in less time than that. Planning to have all your furniture delivered on the first day (3 months + 1) after that is magical thinking. There is no realistic way that the house is going to be available on that timeline. Being mad that you can’t get the furniture in that day kind of caps off magical thinking.

We engage in this behavior all the time in our personal lives but in no place is it worse than in the workplace. A room full of people will nod their heads at a quarterly goal that nobody believes is achievable. Nobody is going to speak up and be the bad guy that points this out. Even if they do, they will be told why they are wrong. Usually they are wrong because of some variant of ‘we have to hit this goal’. Mid way through the quarter when it is becoming clear the goal won’t be hit a great deal of anger/disappointment is expressed. Eventually there is resignation that the goal will be missed. A new quarterly plan is drafted that doesn’t change anything that caused the old plan to be missed. Everyone sits in a meeting and nods their heads.

Magical thinking. Just because you say something (or put it in a powerpoint) doesn’t make it so.