Magical thinking

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.


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