A few years old, but more relevant than ever! Jeff
“From the children’s point of view it was hard to tell a neighbor from a relative. She is like a sister to me was said in all sincerity. Door-to-door living over long periods of time made these people true kin to each other. The only difference between neighbors and relatives was that the neighbors went home to sleep; the relatives could climb into bed with you.” (Sam Levenson, Everything but Money).
The fact that neighbors went home to sleep and relatives could climb into your bed was information that helped a small child differentiate relatives from neighborhood friends in a crowded, confusing world encompassing the tenements of East Harlem in the early 1900s. Information, we are always searching for more in order to help us make sense of our world, to help us interpret the events by which we are surrounded, to help us make better decisions, but then we…
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“Neurotics build castles in the sky, psychotics live in them.” My professor for a course called abnormal psychology made that statement as a way of remembering the difference between these two classes of mental illness. While the thinking around many aspects of mental illness has shifted and continues to evolve since that statement was made, that stark difference between people with neurosis who fantasize, sometimes as an escape from reality, and psychotics who can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality remains.
While people talk about mental illness as some sort of all-encompassing disease the term mental illness is not at all precise, nor is it very useful. From the Mayo Clinic: “Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental…
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What organization has not tried to present itself in as favorable a light as possible through their marketing and promotional efforts? A question for deliberation is, how far can they go before the…
Source: Selling Falsehood
Can you remember when you were young, on a long hot summer day, school was out, and a sibling or friend would ask, “whatcha doing?” Your response of “nothing” could only mean that there must have been something good going on and that the sibling or friend was being left out. Humans have a very hard time thinking that nothing is really just that, nothing, and the implications are somewhat staggering.
Let’s start with the esoteric. Michael Shermer, writing in Scientific American (February 2017, pp. 73), starts off by asking “Imagine nothing. Go ahead. What do you see?” In this case he is really asking you to imagine nothing, no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no energy, no space, no time, not even darkness. Nothing. Go ahead, give it a try. People can’t do it. If everything started with nothing, we would not be here, for what can arise from truly nothing? He goes on to argue that nothing is not stable, and not the natural state of things, citing findings in classical and quantum physics.
Fast forwarding a bit from the origins of the universe, as humans developed counting systems, nothing was again a difficult concept to grasp. John Matson writing in Scientific American on the origins of zero (August 21, 2009), describes its origins as somewhat murky. But here is something you can try. Try writing zero in Roman numerals. Can’t be done. Zero is nothing, the absence of a quantity, formally depicted by the Arabic numeral 0. (Each Arabic number was represented by the number of angles in the number so the representation of the number 1, had one angle hence its value. Zero was depicted as 0, a symbol that had no angles.) The concept of zero arrived in the west by way of North Africa approximately in the year 1200 CE, when a mathematician named Fibonacci figured out how to incorporate it into his work. In addition to the later Arabic refinement of zero, earlier work on the concept happened in both India (circa 500 CE) and among the Mayans (circa 100-200 CE). But the point is that the notion of zero did not always exist, for nothing was a difficult concept for humans to grasp and the Romans built a whole mathematical system that excluded it. We are simply not built to think of nothing very well.
Janis Joplin in the lyrics to her song, Me &Bobby McGee, states that “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”. So if you truly have nothing, you have freedom (according to Janis), but the reality is that as long as we are clinging to even a shred of hope or a shred of life we all have something and humans with their natural tendency to resiliency tend to have hope of one sort or another, especially if they are given some assistance in generating that hope. (Ok, I am pushing it here a bit). But the song struck a chord and was very powerful in its time of turmoil and protest, and has been used by people willing to stand up and fight for what they believe, for when everything has been taken away, well, what do you have to lose?
In this last election there were many people who felt that prosperity had slipped past them and they had nothing to lose, so they were free to take a risk. Trump himself in trying to promote that idea and get votes in the black community said, “What have you got to lose?” He was attempting to make them feel like they had nothing.
There is tremendous strength in a community that can band together to solve problems. The notion is that you are not alone, with nothing, with no one to help, but that there is hope, there is help, and there are options. And with the generation of hope, resiliency springs forth and all things suddenly become possible. The tendency to band together for mutual benefit was stated eloquently by Martin Luther King Jr. as “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Anyway, the point is that humans grapple with the concept of nothing and don’t always do it very well. How does our inability to deal with nothing play out in organizations?
It is quite clear that when there is a lack of information or opaqueness on a topic, say a change in leadership, a reorganization, an acquisition or a downsizing, etc. that people will fill in the missing information for themselves. And in the absence of actual information, people are quite willing to just make things up. In fact they can’t help it, we are programmed to fill in the blanks, not to leave things at zero or at nothing. And what they make up is generally more negative, often much more negative than reality.
As you can imagined, and as we have all recently experienced, people are more than willing to use this human foible to achieve their own ends. When James Comey of the FBI publically announced that a new email investigation was underway on Hillary Clinton, and then provided no details, people, especially swing voters began to fill in the missing details for themselves. And just like in other organizations the stuff they made up was much worse than reality. It is human nature. You would expect that someone in Mr. Comey’s position would know that would happen.
Are we all really that different? A friend of mine in India, Shuba, sent me a link to an advertisement on Danish TV. The ad showed a large group of people who are segregated into separate boxes drawn out on a large floor. They were placed into these different boxes by certain characteristics. The educated go into a certain box. People struggling to get by went into another box. Wealthy people into another box. People with somewhat scary characteristics went into another and so on. They all stood there in their separate boxes looking at each other somewhat distrustfully. Then the moderator enters and said he was going to ask them some questions. Some of which may be somewhat personal, but he would appreciate it if they answered honestly, and if the question applied to you, to walk together into the middle of the room. The first question, “Who in this room was the class clown?” The second question, “Who in this room are stepparents?” As people from all the different and separate boxes come together they realize that they have more in common than they thought. What is the underlying commonality here? Their humanity and the normal things that happen in each and every one of our lives that make us all human. It was a very powerful message and can be seen here: https://www.onedayonly.co.za/blog/?post=this-danish-tv-ad-is-literally-the-best-weve-ever-seen-300.
You see, here is the bottom line, if we want to search for differences those differences can be found. If we want to look for the things that we all have in common, we will find that as well. The choice is ours. If we approach life as a win/loss equation, that in order for one person to win, somewhat else has to lose we will constantly be at each other’s throats. If we approach life as a win/win, all parties can find mutual benefit. Will we let people drive us apart? Using the fears that we all harbor to achieve power and position for themselves? Or will we celebrate what we all have in common together? Our Humanity. Celebrating our humanity together is a path to common prosperity. From nothing we can create something, together.
This weekend has ended up being one of great turmoil for our nation. Our new president has signed a series of executive orders and has imposed other rules which are very questionable from a legal, moral, and scientific standpoint.
Gag orders have been imposed on organizations like the EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency, charged with protecting our environment not only for ourselves, but for future generations, the CDC – The Centers for Disease Control, The National Park Service as well as a host of others. What this gag order does is prevent the dissemination of peer reviewed scientific research without vetting from the White House on its political implications. This strikes at the very foundations of the scientific process and at a cornerstone of what has made this nation a leader in research and innovation, but it also begins the process of degrading the notion of data sanctity. Over the years I have had conversations with some clients who wanted me to present results in a certain “light”, whether it is one that was more favorable to them or one that made a specific point. At one client I was fired by the board after I would not create a story that was critical of the CEO (they wanted to get rid of him) – a story that the data did not support. I will not violate the sanctity of our data at any time. This attempt to undermine the scientific process has the potential to do great harm to the nation and to our futures and I will join other researchers and scientists as we resist this attempt. The nation’s Park Rangers, have begun an information dissemination program that is independent of the government and pushing out facts on climate change. See for instance: https://qz.com/894622/its-no-surprise-the-national-park-service-is-defying-trump-it-is-deathly-serious-about-climate-change/. I expect many other efforts to provide unvarnished scientific truth to emerge.
The new president also issued an executive order barring refugees and other immigrants from certain Muslim nations. The second part of what has made America great, beyond our science has been the flow of immigrants that has powered many of our most innovative organizations over the years. Who among us can go back more than a few generations and not find immigrants in our ancestry? We are a nation of immigrants and that, unquestionably, has made us stronger. Many technology companies, have already expressed alarm at this order. Google has recalled any employees traveling on business, telling them to return to the USA. Microsoft, Apple, & Facebook have expressed their opposition to the order. Many others have voiced similar concerns.
As some of you may know, my daughter was accepted at MIT. She is scheduled to start there this fall. There are a number of her high school peers from other nations who will now be banned from entering the country to attend MIT with her. She is in communication with them. They are distraught as they see lifelong dreams and their futures going up in smoke because of pandering to a political base. MIT is trying to figure out how to get these kids here so they can study, but right now the door is closed. This order is affecting real people in disastrous ways.
And of course the science behind a ban like this in an attempt to prevent terrorism is non-existent. And those of us who have worked in selection know how weak this approach, painting a class of people with a broad brush, really is. Not to mention that punishing a class of people for the actions of a few is considered a war crime under the Geneva Convention and a religious test is a direct violation of the constitution.
I have signed an academic petition (based on my teaching in the MBA program at Binghamton University) in opposition to this order, along with thousands of other academics, including some of the most accomplished in the world. I am proud to be able to add my name to the list. https://notoimmigrationban.com/. Last night in support of the efforts to resist this order I also joined the ACLU – the American Civil Liberties Union, who are challenging it in court. They also won a short-term victory, getting a stay issued for those people who were being held at the nation’s airports, preventing them from being deported. There is of course much more that needs to be done.
In terms of how this new president’s approach of wall building will affect us, I wrote a blog piece describing how it will imperil innovation at companies and in the nation in general. Read it here: https://jeffreysaltzman.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/the-big-lie-walls-and-innovation/.
For those of you, within OV, who feel personal uncertainty, for yourself or for family, please know that we will support you and help you through this turbulent time.
If I was consulting at a company and the CEO told me that they were going to wall themselves off from the rest of the world, to prevent unwanted impacts from occurring to the organization, I would pretty forcefully make the argument that what they were doing was going to increase the amount of unwanted impacts, exactly the opposite of what was hoped.
Organizations which isolate themselves in an attempt to insulate themselves will not be challenged by or have access to better ideas, processes or products from elsewhere. Ideas, processes and products that others will have access to. Are those challenges uncomfortable, pushing the organization into new and potential untried directions? Yes. But those very challenges help them to progress as an organization and it helps them progress on making better, higher quality products. Isolated organizations stagnate, as the world passes them by, making them obsolete and ripe for failure or collapse. It is only a matter of time.
Organizations that embrace the outside world, find that they have to constantly update themselves, including their products and process, as well as the skill sets of their people. It makes success more difficult to achieve, but it also strengthens the organization so it can compete more effectively in the long-term.
One key element in measuring whether an organization is functioning as a highly innovative organization is to determine if the organization can make use of the best ideas from within the organization regardless of where they come from. Is the source of new ideas and concepts limited only to those whose responsibility or job title has something about research or innovation in it? If so, you can be pretty sure that you are looking at an organization that is not all that innovative. If innovations come from all over the organization, and the organization can incorporate the best of those ideas into the way they operate, you are likely dealing with a much more successful, innovative company. Another aspect of innovation is whether the company can find the best ideas and concepts externally and can they incorporate those novelties into their existing products and operations.
Innovation comes in at least two “flavors”. Big “I” and little “i” innovation. As Scott Brooks and I describe in our new book, Creating the Vital Organization, little “i” innovation is when existing processes, products and policies are improved. A daycare center which changes their hours of operation to better accommodate parents is doing little “i” innovation. Big “I” innovation is when brand new explorations are taking place, new products are thought of, new markets explored, and completely new business processes are being tried out. A daycare center that adds eldercare, which likely requires new and different equipment and/or facilities, new activities, different and/or additional staff and care standards, new marketing, etc. is doing big “I” innovation. Both of these types of innovation are critical for long-term organizational success.
A daycare center which, by walling itself off from its environment, continues doing only childcare, while all of its competitors are also offering eldercare, will fall behind competitively, for as the environment changes (with an aging population), they fail to adapt. Can they survive? Perhaps. But if everyone who needs childcare, suddenly finds themselves needing eldercare as well, this daycare is ill-prepared to deal with the market and the changing external environment. The organization which does not change will not thrive as they fail to fulfill their potential.
As the pace of change quickens, partly driven by rapidly changing technology and global economic conditions, keeping pace with change is all that more difficult and painful. But that difficulty will not change the ultimate outcome for an entity that Walls itself off.
An aspect of personality has been shown to be tied to innovation, changes and Walls. Neophobics, are people who tend to fear new things, they are traditional, wanting to maintain existing social orders, the things they have done in the past that work “just fine”, they want to build walls, both socially, policy-wise and physical. And they have been shown to have a more easily triggered sense of disgust. (Jonathan Haidt, the noted sociologist, has also found that they tend to be Republican). When something is new or different, or perceived as a threat their reaction can be one of disgust. They may talk about how “disgusting” an event, a person, or a change is to them. Neophobia is not a binary, either/or condition. It is anchored at the other end of the scale with neophillia, or a tendency to engage in new activities or to like new things. People at this end of the scale tend to embrace change and find it invigorating. The vast majority of us are not at one extreme or the other, but tend towards the middle of the scale. And depending on the situation, or environment a person who is neophillic just might act in a neophobic way and vice versa. Those at the more extreme ends of the scale exhibit somewhat predictable behaviors.
There are many forms that Walls can take. A physical wall between the USA and Mexico is very obvious, aimed at keeping a “problem” outside. Presenting your opinion as being based on “alternative facts” is simply a Wall that prevents the truth from entering, allowing those who base their actions on alternative facts (lies), to ignore reality. (People who cannot tell fantasy from reality are technically psychotic, a very serious mental illness.) A trade agreement is a way of overcoming Walls while tariffs on goods is a way of creating Walls. Eventually these Walls will increase the undesired impacts on the nation rather than reducing them.
Having peered reviewed scientific research run through a political vetting process as has been stated as a new policy for Federal Agencies as the new administration begins a lock down on information at such places as the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency is nothing more than a Wall. You don’t want to let scientific truths impact your political talking points, so you must Wall off the truth. As both a scientist and a CEO, I find that deeply troubling, as there is only one way that can end if implemented, and it is not good for science, for business or for the USA. Fantasy worlds tend to collapse over time as they are nothing more than a house of cards. Scientific facts simply do not care what you believe. The ice is melting, the climate is changing, whether you personally believe it or not.
The USA is a very large organization. At this moment in time, there are elements that are aiming to build all sorts of Walls around it and even within it. These Walls will weaken the nation, will reduce the standard of living, and put all of us in peril. It is time to tear down Walls, not build them.