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50 Shades of Organizational Love

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Alright, alright. I did not read the book or watch the movie and actually have no intention to do so. Sorry.

But, what I was drawn to this Valentine weekend was a research paper that is once again in the news. “The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings” (Aron, A. et. al., 1997, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 4, 363-377). In this remarkable work the authors conduct an experiment where couples, screened by a preliminary questionnaire for compatibility, but who previously did not know each other, ask 36 increasingly personal questions over a 45 minute period and then stare into each other’s eye for 4 minutes. The current popularity of the piece is due to an essay written by Mandy Len Catron, “To Fall in Love with Anyone Do This” . Eight million readers viewed her piece, some tried the questions out for themselves, and the resultant stories of ensuing marriages are noteworthy. The 36 questions are nothing all that unusual, just a set of questions that create a mutual sense of increasing intimacy and vulnerability between the two people answering them to each other.

The 36:

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
  9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  11. Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible
  12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
  14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  16. What do you value most in a friendship?
  17. What is your most treasured memory?
  18. What is your most terrible memory?
  19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  20. What does friendship mean to you?
  21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of 5 items.
  23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
  24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
  25. Make 3 true “we” statements each. For instance ‘We are both in this room feeling …”
  26. Complete this sentence:  “I wish I had someone  with whom I could share …”
  27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
  32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Given my work, I could not help but wonder if it would be possible to create a sense of “love” between an organization and those who reside within it. Now of course lots of people feel pride at working at various places or being part of all sorts of organizations. That pride being generated by a combination of what the organization is accomplishing and your own personal contribution or connection to the organization, a concept that I have written about extensively elsewhere. But what if you pressed it further, can people actually “love” an organization?

The word “fan” as in a fan of a sports team, music band, etc. comes from the word “fanatic” and suggests something that is perhaps beyond pride. That may give some inkling that people can go beyond pride and feel something more for “things” that are more esoteric, such as organizations. But love? Even if you take the approach that love is nothing more than a bunch of chemicals interacting within the brain, can you duplicate those interactions and direct the emotional outcome to something like an organization?

There are organizations out there that aspire to have managers spend a significant amount of time on personnel issues. And I know of at least one organization where the aspiration is that a manager should spend about 40% of their working time interacting with their people or dealing with personnel type issues, as opposed to things like budgeting or doing the work themselves. Of course that is aspirational and most organizations come nowhere near that number. But the idea is that the role of a manager is to assist others to get their work done.

So in the spirit of increasing intimacy, of course in a manner suitable for a work environment, what would be the outcome of a manager or a group of co-workers over a period of time asking questions about the hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears, etc. of their employees/co-workers? And sharing some of their own hopes, dreams aspirations and fears?  What if the person was the CEO asking the questions of their direct reports and then unveiling a bit of themselves? Of if it was a manager asking the questions of a shop floor worker? Or a senior manager reaching down into the organization to better understand the workforce? Too much to ask? Would it increase workforce happiness?

Here is a reworking of the 36 for the work environment.

The Organization/Work 36:

  1. Given the choice of anyone in this organization, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be known as a mover and shaker in this organization? Someone who can really make things happen?
  3. Before making a telephone call to a co-worker, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” workday for you?
  5. Do you sing to yourself at work? Even if someone else can hear?
  6. If you were able to work to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or energy of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your career, which would you want?
  7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will leave the organization?
  8. Name three things you and three things which the organization values that are in common.
  9. For what in your work life or career do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you work, what would it be?
  11. Take 4 minutes and tell your career story in as much detail as possible.
  12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability that would help you do your job better, what would it be?
  13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about how you are perceived at work, what would you want to know?
  14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing work or career-wise for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  15. What has been the greatest accomplishment of work life so far?
  16. What do you value most in a working relationship with co-workers?
  17. What is your most treasured work memory?
  18. What is your most terrible work memory?
  19. If you knew that in one year you would retire, would you change anything about the way you are working now? Why?
  20. What does having a good working relationship with fellow employees mean to you?
  21. What role does work and career play in your life? Is it central to how you define yourself?
  22. Share something you consider a positive characteristic of your work organization. Share a total of 5 items.
  23. How close and warm are the relationships among that staff at your organization? Do you feel your organization is filled with happier people than most other’s?
  24. How do you feel about your relationship with your boss/subordinate?
  25. Make 3 true “we” statements each. For instance ‘We are both in this room feeling …”
  26. Complete this sentence:  “I wish I had someone  at work with whom I could share …”
  27. If you were going to become a close friend with a co-worker, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  28. Tell your boss/subordinate what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  29. Share with your co-workers an embarrassing moment in your life.
  30. When did you last cry at work? By yourself?
  31. Tell your boss/subordinate something that you like about them already.
  32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told your co-workers? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  34. Your office building/plant catches fire. After saving all your co-workers, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  35. Of all the people in your organization, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  36. Share a personal problem and ask your boss/subordinate/co-worker’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your boss/subordinate/co-worker to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Just a thought….

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 15, 2015 at 10:48 am

The Language of Business

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One hobby I have (which I have to admit I have not had much time to engage in recently) is browsing through New York book stores looking for books with old Jewish folk tales or stories of Jewish life from the “old country”. While these old folk tales may seem out of place or out of time in our modern world, I find that sometimes they have enduring kernels of wisdom. I occasionally take these old folk tales and translate them into modern organizational terms which I can use in my day-to-day work.

For instance, there is an old folktale that begins with two travelers, strangers, walking down a long dusty road.  As they walked, one of the strangers asked the other “What say you, shall I carry you or shall you carry me?” The second traveler ignored the statement for he was not about to carry the other.

Later on the traveler asked a second question as they passed a field of barley, “Has this barley been eaten or not?” Once again the second traveler ignored the first for it was obvious for all to see that the barley was still growing in the field.

Then they passed a funeral procession and the one stranger said to the other “What do you think, is the person in the coffin alive or dead?” The second traveler could no longer contain himself and asked the first why he was asking such ridiculous questions.

The first one said, “When I asked if I should carry you or if you should carry me, what I meant was shall I tell you a story or shall you tell me one to make this long journey easier for us.”

“When I asked about the barley, what I meant was has the growing barley already been sold to a buyer, for if it has already been sold, it is as though it is already eaten for the farmer and his family cannot eat it themselves.”

“And when I asked about the person in the coffin, being alive or dead, what I meant was, do you think the person had descendants, for if they had descendants who will carry on their legacy it is as though they are alive. But if they passed away with no one to remember them and carry on their work they are truly dead.”

Communications between two people, between groups of people, or between organizations who do not know each other well is often very difficult and can be subject to vast misunderstandings, even when they are speaking the same language. And with those misunderstandings sometimes comes suspicion and fear. It is as though the two groups who are communicating, whether they be black and white, Jew or Arab, Israeli or Palestinian, police vs. those being policed, are actually having two completely different conversations with neither group able to translate what the other is saying or have an understanding of their actions.

Even when the communication is clear there can be issues of saliency, the importance given to the words used in the communication between the two parties which causes misunderstandings and what can be interpreted as behavioral anomalies.

One story, that is not quite a folk tale but illustrates the point regarding saliency, is about a method that Jews used to obtain passports to escape the horrors of WWII.  Some families, who could not get legitimate documents struggled to obtain fake passports in their attempts to flee. One such story takes place in Poland in the late 1930’s and describes how documents were forged by studying old passports from different countries. Their style and format were then copied, creating new fake passports for those trying to escape.

One day a man, who was part of the Jewish underground, set out to collect old passports through whatever method he could. He was extremely successful and by the end of the day he had collected a large number.

On the way back from his activities he was stopped by the Polish police, was asked for his papers, and then confronted when they discovered the large number of passports he was carrying.

He was sure that they would take him to the police station, torture and then kill him as they tried to learn about the activities of the underground organization collecting the passports.

The man thought about how troubled his family would be if they never saw him again without any explanation. But, it was near the end of the day and the police told the man to go home and then come to the station in the morning for questioning. The man was terrified. The police knew who he was and if he stayed home and did not show up the next day or if he tried to flee that night, they would simply go to his house and kill his family.

If he showed up the next day at the police station he was certain they would torture him to obtain information and then kill him anyway. He did not know what to do. After much deliberation and consultations with his family and Rabbi, he went to the police station the next morning and approached the policeman who had stopped him.

The policeman asked him what he wanted and appeared not to remember the previous day’s incident. The man indicated that he had been stopped and a packet of passports had been taken from him and he was here to collect it. The policeman handed the man the packet of passports and told him to be on his way.

Saliency is a psychological concept which deals with how central an event, object, fact or perception is to you or another person. The amount of saliency an event or communication has is a combination of emotional, motivational and cognitive factors.

To the man with the passports in the story, being stopped by the police was extremely central to his very existence, for it was quite literally life or death. To the policeman, the man was one of hundreds of people that he had stopped and questioned that day.

The man who was stopped and questioned described the incident as a miracle, that his life and those of his family were spared. And from his perspective it certainly was, but what was the underlying mechanism of human perception that allowed that miracle to occur? Saliency.  To the policeman the incident was not nearly as salient, not nearly as memorable as it was to the passport procurer.

I have to admit something to you. Not being all that concerned about fashion, I buy irregular jeans. I grew up wearing jeans (one pair to wear while the other pair was being washed) and even today I am most comfortable pulling on a pair. I like to wear jeans. But I don’t like what jeans cost these days. So I go to a manufacturer’s outlet mall near me and I buy irregular blue jeans.

As I pull each pair off the shelf and examine them I am usually hard pressed to determine why they are called irregular. I look for the obvious, for instance, does it have 3 legs? (Well I could always use a spare, in case I get a hole in one knee). And I usually just can’t find anything wrong with them.

When I wear them, at least at first, I wonder if what is not obvious to me, the irregularities, are likely very obvious to those around me. I am sure I can hear people pointing at me and laughing as I walk by. But maybe it is not the pair of jeans that brings on the laughter.

But the reality is no one is looking at my jeans, let alone looking for the defect in my irregulars. I just think they are, at least for a moment, because the issue is more salient to me, until I forget about it.

When a manager makes an off-hand comment to a worker about that worker’s performance or future, what may be perceived by the manager as a minor topic or issue, just above the threshold of consciousness, may be perceived quite differently by the employee.

To the employee that comment might be indicative of whether or not they have a future with the organization, central to their very existence, while the manager might not even remember the comment the next day.

How many cases of miscommunication in the workplace, in politics, in negotiations, or in our everyday lives, are derived from a comment that has very different levels of saliency to the various people who might be listening to it? Managers may use what they perceive as throw away lines, about “future opportunities” or “earnings potential” not really thinking about just how closely the employee is listening or just how salient those message might be to the listener.

And now another aspect of communication that can impact decision-making has been shown to be whether the language you are speaking is your native tongue (Costa, Your Morals Depend on Language, 2014).

A very common problem used to illustrate ethics as it relates to decision-making, is to ask a listener to imagine themselves on a bridge over-looking a trolley car track. There is a trolley car heading down the track that will shortly run into and kill five people, unless a heavy object is placed in its path. What can you do?

There is a very heavy man standing next to you. You are asked to consider pushing the heavy man onto the tracks to save the lives of five people. Sacrifice the one to save the five? Would you do it?  Not surprising to those of you whose native tongue is English, is that the vast majority of you would not push the heavy man in front of the trolley. That is reactionary thinking, or in the words of Daniel Kahneman, System 1 thinking.

But if the person you are asking is listening in English, and English is not their native tongue, you get a very different answer. Many would say that they would sacrifice the one to save the five. They need to apply some extra effort, which slows down their thinking and allows System 2 decision-making to kick in, which is not reactionary and allows people to consider more slowly, “is it worth sacrificing one to save five?”

Now take the scenario of having a group of managers in a global corporation sitting around making decisions about the operations of a company. The conversation is happening in English, but about half of the participants are not native English speakers. The two groups sitting around the table, the native vs. non-native English speakers may be coming to different conclusions, due to different decision-making systems that are kicking in as they consider organizational choices.

Language and the ability to use it properly is a critical aspect of good business performance. Yet as you dig into the use of language in business, whether it be definitional issues, saliency, or if you are speaking in your native tongue, the challenges of effective language use in today’s large, complex, global corporations are immense.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm

2013 in review

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 31, 2013 at 6:47 am


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“Time is an illusion.” – Albert Einstein

The US Postal Service just announced that in the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas it would immediately begin delivering Amazon packages on Sundays (New York Times 11/11/13). The announcement, a recognition that American’s shopping patterns have been forever altered by Amazon, and coming at the start of the 2013 holiday shopping period, may give the post office a much needed boost to its profitable package delivery service. Sunday delivery of packages will be, for the moment, a clear differentiator for the post office, since no one else offers that service and for consumers it gives them a way to receive their purchases even faster. It is likely to be especially useful to Amazon Prime customers who get 2-day delivery included in their membership and those who have no one at home during the Monday-Friday work week.

Amazon and the Postal Service are making a pretty safe assumption that when someone purchases an item online they desire to receive their purchases as quickly as possible. It is in Amazon’s best interest to get the package to the consumer, as it helps to eliminate a competitive advantage of bricks and mortar stores and it is in the consumer’s best interest in that they don’t have to delay receipt of the goods they have purchased. Their respective timelines are operating in a congruent fashion and because of that it seems a safe bet that the offering will be very popular. And until Amazon can download your purchases directly into your home 3-D printer, Sunday delivery of packages may be the best way to shorten delivery timelines.

Timelines, however, don’t always line up between two people or entities in a congruent fashion, and in fact non-congruent timelines are the source of much conflict between people, organizations, investors and countries around the world. When timelines between two efforts or events don’t line up there is an increased potential for failure of whatever those efforts or events are, with the corresponding finger pointing of whom and what organization or country is to blame. Timeline incongruences are often overlooked as a potential risk factor that can derail an effort or event.

Think of a school system for instance. It may look at gradually improving test scores as a long-term trend that their policies and practices are on the right track. However, to parents, a long-term view of the trend of test scores is irrelevant to what they want as consumers of educational services for their children. They want the system to be at its best for their child, enrolled in the school right now. Not some future promises that things will get better for other “unknown” students. They want their child to do well in life, to be prepared to succeed, even though intellectually the parents know that change is often a gradual thing in organizations, including school systems. Their timelines of what they want can be fundamentally in disagreement with the school systems timelines and a source of conflict.

The teachers themselves may look at their course material as a gradually evolving, ever improving body of information, but the student typically only goes through the course once and that incongruence has at it source a fundamental difference between the timelines that a teacher is operating under (a teaching career that could span 30 or 40 years) and the student (taking the course once for 12 weeks).

There are endless stories of timeline incongruence between Wall Street’s quarterly-driven expectations for publicly traded companies and what those companies feel that have to do in order to build a robust, lasting enterprise. Sometimes public companies will be taken private when the timeline incongruence, along with other factors reaches a breaking point. Other times companies that could go public choose to remain private in order to operate with a longer-term view.

At an individual level, when you try to compress what you can get done within a shorter timeline, the potential for error or worse increases dramatically. At one extreme people are “multi-tasking” trying to fit more and more into an abbreviated period of time. Incongruence in the timeline exists between what it actually takes to do a good job on something, how much time and attention you should devote, and the expectations that you can do more and more activities within a compressed period of time. Many managers today feel that they must “multi-task” to be viewed as capable in their jobs. But ask yourself, how would you feel if a cardiac surgeon was multi-tasking while operating on your heart? Perhaps banging out a tweet while looking for that bleeder? Or what would your comfort level be in a combat situation walking behind the multi-tasking person responsible for spotting landmines? Does managing a group deserve the same level of focused attention? Or when talking to an individual, what does a singularity of focus, all of your attention on that person, in that moment in time, what does that buy you? Plenty.

While it is not uncommon for despair to take the form of immediate suffering and pain, ultimate despair seems to be driven when no positive potential future is seen for oneself or one’s children. And while people who can see a path forward to a better future are often very positive, even in trying circumstances, if you can’t see that better future, attitudes and behaviors can quickly turn in a very negative direction. It doesn’t matter if you are living in poverty in the rural south of the United States, within an inner city urban center, barely hanging on in a refugee camp, trying to survive a natural disaster or being controlled by a “benevolent” government. If you can’t see a bright future on your timeline, not the timeline of an organization, society or government, negativity will flourish.

Incongruent timelines may also be having a large and perhaps largely ignored impact on various peace negotiations around the world between countries. Americans tend to be fairly impatient, wanting to see progress on an issue within a fairly short period of time. Our maximum timeframe of focus is usually about one election cycle. But what if you are in negotiations with someone who has a very different timeline view than you? What if you are negotiating with someone who is thinking in hundreds or thousands of years and not driven by a 4-year election cycle? Their goal is not necessarily to achieve “immediate” progress on an issue or to resolve a conflict and put it behind them. With a long-term timeline view, the goal may be to simply do what it takes to pass time until more favorable conditions present themselves, 10, 50 or 100 years from now. And when you are dealing with multiple countries, each of which who view their ultimate success as being guaranteed by a higher power, the chances of a successful negotiation with immediate improvements in conditions is diminished.

Albert Einstein may be right about time being an illusion from a physicist’s view point, but from the view point of countries, people and individuals, all of whom live on a timeline, incongruence on respective timeline intervals and scales can at best cause miscommunications and at worst complete failure of the event or efforts underway.

© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 12, 2013 at 9:30 am

Physical Diplomacy and Leadership

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“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”  Albert Einstein

I was on a flight home, returning from a business trip to Israel. The flight was full and in the row in front of me were three seats. In the window and aisle seats were two young women who were clearly returning from a summer holiday. The middle seat between them was open until just before the door of the airplane closed. Then a Haredi man, an ultra-orthodox Jew with beard, traditional black hat with a wide brim, white shirt and black coat sat down between them. He became agitated right away and started yelling at the flight attendants that there was no way he could sit between these two young women. (Presumably, 1. he found being close to two young women objectionable as the Haredi practice a fair amount of segregation of the sexes and 2. the young women were in tank tops and shorts which likely he found to be immodest). The flight attendants and finally the cabin manager worked to find him an alternative seat where he could feel comfortable. They apparently did not work fast enough for him and he continued to carry on, yelling loudly that he would never fly the airline again. (I had an urge to tell him which airline he could fly that practices gender segregation). The cabin crew really gave it their best effort and eventually they found him an alternative seat.

I had a sense though that something was amiss. The airline worked to resolve this man’s difficulty with his seat location as he carried on. Meanwhile no attention was paid to the two young women who were seated on either side of him. I could not help thinking about who the victims of this situation were. The young women had done nothing wrong. They were traveling on a public airline, open to all. And yet they were subjected to the ranting of a person who considered them to be objectionable. In my eyes of course, they were not objectionable, they were normal. No one apologized to them for being subjected to this behavior. No one asked them if they were OK, either during or after the incident. It was as though the airline would cater only to the whims of the noisy fringe, to make sure they were not offended, but did not consider that the mainstream young women were also victims in this case, being subjected to exceeding rude behavior. Who was right? Who was wrong?

And that got me thinking about points of view.

In any war, do you think there is an army, or a leader that doesn’t think they are on the “right” side? And that their enemy is not only wrong, but generally thought of or defined for the general population as evil? We look at a conflict situation and tend to be drawn to thinking about it simplistically as “good” vs. “evil”. Which side is good, which side bad? Often it is just not that simple. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of truly evil people out there. In a war it is possible that one truly evil group is warring against another truly evil group, and the true victims are the civilian innocents. There could be two groups warring against each other, with each side being equally unpalatable to another third group, a group which is wondering which side to support. Or there could be two groups warring against each other, both with legitimate points of view, with both sides being factually correct on certain points, and once again civilian innocents suffer the most.

In general, war is nothing more than physical politics. If I cannot convince you to come around to my point of view verbally, perhaps I can do it with physical force. When diplomacy falls short and doesn’t reach a workable compromise for the aggrieved parties, then war becomes an alternative to dialog with bullets, missiles, fighter jets, armies and aircraft carriers replacing dialog as persuasive forces. War isn’t the failure of politics; it is just a different form of politics.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sun Tzu

There has been an ongoing debate in the American military about what military leaders should be trained upon. What should be emphasized and what can be skimmed over given a limited time budget. Thomas Ricks, in The Generals, contrasts military education vs. military training. Military training is often focused on tactics. For instance, how you should deploy your troops, the effective use of artillery in support of your ground forces, keeping supply lines open, etc. Military training is often focused on the short to medium term – how to win the battles and the war. Military education is often focused on strategy. What are we trying to achieve? Who is the enemy? What are they trying to achieve? What are the best methods we can deploy to achieve our objectives? You could say that military education is focused upon how to win the peace. Ricks blasts the USA’s political and military leaders for knowing for instance, how to win the war in Iraq but then having no plan or idea what to do to stabilize the country afterwards – how to create and win the peace. He partly blames the emphasis on tactical training and the lack of emphasis on strategic education.

“It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” Aristotle

This kind of dichotomy, education vs. training, strategy vs. tactics, and the debate about what to emphasize is not all that different from an area that private sector organizations struggle with as well. Organization Vitality is when organizations strike the necessary balances that allow them to thrive in varied, often turbulent environments. In the private sector, organization vitality comes about when organizations strike the right balance between maximizing current performance (winning the battles with the right tactics) and maximizing future performance (winning the long-term peace with the right strategy). In addition, it has been shown that agility, being able to accomplish things quickly and to modify policy and practice quickly as needed, as well as resiliency, being able to consistently rise to the challenges that every organization continually faces are critical to achieving organization vitality.

There has been much research focused on the methods that an organization can employ to maximize its current performance and future potential. For instance, those sitting at the top of the house need to relentlessly focus on both topics simultaneously, while those lower down should apply their efforts to one or the other, but will often fail if they attempt to do both. You don’t ask the manager of an automobile manufacturing plant to design next year’s model. You ask that person to maximize production efficiency and quality on the current model being assembled on the production line.

Sitting across the aisle from me on the plane were two others, apparently brothers, also Haredi, dressed in their traditional garb which dates to the mid-1800’s. They seemed somewhat embarrassed by the behavior of the rude man. In talking to each other they needed to rationalize why he would act the way he did. “Perhaps he is exceedingly religious”, one of them commented. Their conversation continued and turned to discussing the flight attendants. (I was not intentionally listening, they were just talking loudly). “Why do you suppose a person would continually travel around the world, and spend so little time at home”, one asked the other. “I don’t know”, said the other, “some people are just weird”.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  Dwight Eisenhower

© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman.  All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Is Your Organization Rated R or PG-13?

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I was driving my pre-teen daughter to school this morning when it occurred to me to ask her to collect some data for me. I was wondering about how her friends would characterize their lives. Would they say that they live a G, PG, PG-13, or R rated lives? Given the circle of friends my daughter hangs out with I was expecting a G or PG rating to emerge. What I got instead was a rolling of the eyes and a “oh…dad”, telling me that I was not going to get any data at all.

I did start to think about organizations that I have knowledge of and came to the realization that various organizations could be given a rating in terms of the degree of civility and tone of their discourse and how they handle discussion leading to decision-making.

Now let me begin by saying that while organizations may vary by degree of formality of conversation, most are very civil places that encourage professional discussions to occur and disagreements to be aired, but there is some wiggle room in that civility. And some of that wiggle room may lead to higher organizational performance. I am of the mind that organizations should shoot for a PG-13 rating in their discussions to maximize a good airing of the issues and hopefully lead to higher performance. If organizational discussions hover around G you would have to wonder if any real disagreements are aired, and if aired whether any real degree of emotional sentiment on the part of those who disagree with someone else would be expressed. A PG-13 rating would seem to lend itself to a good degree of decorum and civility but also to some bluntly honest conversation and disagreements without being abusive.

We all have heard of R rated organizations where people regularly go around saying #$&^@S! that, or !!&##@), and while I have to honestly say that I don’t care about the swearing, in fact I mostly don’t really even notice it, I know that others do. When I do notice it, my immediate thought is that I am listening to someone with an impoverished ability to express themselves and therefore they must resort to simple swearing to convey their emotions or depth of feeling about an issue. I can remember a meeting I was attending where the CEO of an organization decided to make a point by using some swearing, he sounded silly to me perhaps impoverished linguistically, but his senior managers who were also in the room were all atwitter at the chosen language. Ok, it was the mid-west, but still you would think that the management team would not be so reactive to a few chosen words.

I am going to try again, I am looking for some data. How would you characterize the discourse and discussions around decision-making in your organization? Would you give it a G, PG-13, or R rating?


© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

March 14, 2012 at 11:59 am

Desperately Seeking Answers

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“Questions seeking well thought out answers. Must be optimistic, relevant, definitive, in-line with my preconceived notions, not too onerous to implement, and guaranteed to show results within an unrealistically short period of time. Silver or magic bullets welcomed. Simple clichés allowed. Historically tried and true methods or responses requiring hard work and sacrifice will be returned.”

When the National Weather Service puts out warm weather advisories and tells the elderly that they should stay indoors with air-conditioners or go to cooling centers a very large percentage of those who are older than 70-75 ignore the advice. Why? When those who are then stricken with heat related illnesses are questioned, many of them state that the advice was for the elderly and they did not consider themselves to be “elderly”.

In the NY Times this morning there was an article about some, who are critical of societal safety nets, making increasing use of those safety nets. One part of the article described a man who stated that too many taxpayers are not living within their means and are relying on federal handouts to get by. This person signs his children up for a federal free-meals-at-school program (breakfast and lunch), and receives an earned-income tax credit of several thousand dollars, which is a federal subsidy for lower income households.  In his mind the assistance he received was not a safety net, but the kind of assistance others receive is.

It reminded me of the angry crowds during the health debate attending town halls meetings holding up signs that stated, “Keep the federal government out of my Medicare”, an oxymoron as Medicare is a federal government program. The protestors clearly did not see the connection between their well thought of federal program, called Medicare, and other federal programs.

These disconnects are startling and do not seem all that rare, and one has to wonder if in our work organizations such disconnects happen as routinely. I am afraid they do. Sometimes the disconnects happen due to poor communications, sometimes due to comments having differing saliency between the speaker and listener, sometimes they happen because people want to hear what they want to hear, and sometimes they happen because of a willingness on the part of some to mislead others by leaving out relevant information or through outright deception.

I was speaking to a manager at a fairly large organization, whose manager had told him that his performance was outstanding and within a year he would be a director if his performance continued. Well a year went by and nothing happened. He went to his boss and gave notice that he was leaving. His boss asked him why he was quitting; he seemed to enjoy his work, his colleagues and was even recently given a raise. He reminded his boss about the promised director position, a statement that the boss could not even recall. He was going to become a director as predicted he stated, as he had accepted just such a position; it was going to be at another company however. The boss used a throwaway line, at least to the boss, in a poorly thought through attempt to motivate performance. The subordinate waited in vain for the promised promotion to come through. This communication had widely different saliency for the speaker and listener, and caused the organization to lose a valuable contributor.

I went to a lecture last Thursday given by the head of a philanthropy organization. It was a great speech about the challenges facing the community in today’s environment and what the organization was doing to help meet those challenges. At the end of the lecture time was left to answer any questions those of us in the audience might have. While the speech was fairly broad ranging due to the speakers depth of knowledge, in no way did the speech cover the topics asked about in the questions. Each question took the speaker further and further afield on topics that while important to the crowd, were clearly outside of the philanthropic organization’s ability to influence. I was waiting for someone in the crowd to ask what the speaker was going to do to achieve world peace! Those in the crowd were desperately seeking answers.

What many of these instances share is that the people involved were seeking answers to issues of import to them. What does the future hold? What actions should I take? How can we improve our situation? But beyond that it seems that many of those posing questions or having points of view, whether they are holding up signs about Medicare or are wondering how the world situation can be improved, are somewhat scared. They are scared about uncertainty, that events are out of their control and they are looking for someone, anyone, to provide some assurance that events can be brought under control.

Organization have an obligation to be as transparent as possible, to provide assurance where they can, but organizations also need  to say so when there are no answers, or at least easy answers, and that we as a group will work through this together and find solutions. At the same time however, those kinds of responses will leave some people feeling very uneasy and they will need additional support and communications, open honest communications, to deal with their uncertainty.


© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

The Conscious Organization

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[tweetmeme source=”jeffreysaltzman”]Is your organization conscious or does it stumble along in a state of semi- or perhaps unconsciousness? I will argue that there are distinct advantages to an organization if it can achieve and operate in a conscious manner. I want to define what I mean by The Conscious Organization, but first a slight diversion into the causes of human consciousness is necessary.

Some relatively recent research looks at the physiology of the brain and what happens to it during states of consciousness and unconsciousness. As you know the brain is made up of many structures. Some of the structures of the brain deal with language (Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area), some with memories, hearing and vision (temporal and occipital lobes) and some with reasoning (cerebral cortex). You may have heard of the amygdala which is associated with emotions, or the brain stem, the part of the brain immediately above the spinal column which controls autonomic functions such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, sweating and other homeostatic processes.

Needless to say the brain is a very complex structure with numerous sub-systems and sub-structures, each evolved to carry out specific tasks or duties, but the success of each of those systems is dependent on the other structures and systems within the brain carrying out their respective duties. For instance the centers of higher reasoning cannot interpret an image or scene if the visual cortex did not process the image. It is the Amygdala though that determines if that image is one that carries an emotional component. All of this communication, interpretation and experiential processing happen virtually instantaneously in the brain, achieving what is called “The Unity of Consciousness”. The various components of our brains work in silos, each carrying out their respective functions, but through complex interconnections each passes along information to other brain structures. Rising out of that complexity is human intelligence, consciousness or self-awareness which has been the subject of intense research for hundreds of years and philosophical debate for thousands. While the early work on the brain was philosophical and anatomical, examining and cataloguing the brain in an attempt to understand its inner workings, the more recent research has delved into real-time imaging of the brain in action.

When a person’s brain is examined as it enters an unconscious state such as sleep, the various silos of the brain, it appears, are no longer fully communicating with each other. They do not shut down, they do not function with less complexity, but they do stop sharing information across the parts of the brain as fully as they did when we are conscious or self-aware. The self-awareness or consciousness that the brain provides us is not driven simply by the complexity of the brain’s components itself, but by the ability of those complex systems to richly and virtually instantaneously communicate to other complex brain systems. The brain during periods of unconsciousness acts like many of our heavily siloed or stove piped human contrived organizations, looking inward and sharing only minimal information across the organization and sometimes even then begrudgingly. These heavily siloed organizations which cannot easily share complex and rich information are not capable of obtaining Organizational Consciousness.

Think of operations departments that are unaware of what the sales folks are promising out in the field, or engineering groups that do not include manufacturing in the development of new products. Think of customer care representatives who are unaware of the difficulties that distribution and fulfillment are having, or the salesperson who works in isolation of inventory or capacity information. Organizations that fit these descriptions are organizations stumbling along in a semi-conscious state. Information that is transparently communicated and shared across the organization in an instantaneous fashion is one key to
achieving a Conscious Organization. A conscious organization is intelligent, self-aware, more likely to successfully deal with changing environmental conditions and with the routine and enduring challenges that all organizations face.

“Human consciousness usually displays a striking unity. When one experiences a noise and, say, a pain, one is not conscious of the noise and then, separately, of the pain. One is conscious of the noise and pain together, as aspects of a single conscious experience. Since at least the time of Immanuel Kant (1781/7), this phenomenon has been called the unity of consciousness. More generally, it is consciousness not of A and, separately, of B and, separately, of C, but of A-and-B-and-C together, as the contents of a single conscious state.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007)

IBM is betting heavily on helping organizations achieve consciousness through what it is calling its “Smarter Planet” initiative. In a nutshell the Smarter Planet initiative aims to make organizational systems smarter to achieve “economic growth, near-term efficiency, sustainable development and societal progress.” Among the examples given of smarter systems include smart power and informational grids, water management systems, traffic congestion avoidance systems, and greener buildings.  According to IBM, “these systems have historically been difficult to manage because of their size and complexity. But with new ways of monitoring, connecting, and analyzing the systems, business, civic and nongovernmental leaders are developing new ways to manage these systems” (emphasis added).

Think for instance of a water supply system for a city. It could be a just a bunch of pipes with values, relying on gravity and water pressure to distribute water throughout the city (much as the Romans and Aztecs did). A smarter water system would be interconnected to say the fire department, the weather service, and the water-pipe repair service. This smarter system could divert water from one part of the city to another if a major fire were to break out, maintaining enough pressure for the fire department to effectively fight the fire. It could realize that a heat wave was happening making additional water supplies available for cooling purposes, or if it sensed a drop in pressure it could send out a repair crew to where the leak was measured. Now multiply that interconnectedness and analytic ability to all of the critical systems that run a city and you achieve what I would describe as a conscious organization, in this case a conscious city.

If an organization wanted to achieve a higher degree of intelligence and consciousness it would seem that some precursors would be necessary. Included would be:

Creating conscious organizations will not be an easy process; maybe the notion of one is just a whim on my part. It involves not only creating well-functioning business processes for each critical business function, but also interconnecting across business functions, creating complex multi-redundant communication
pathways, so that each function adapts and bases their own decisions, interpretation of the world, and actions upon what is happening elsewhere in the organization. Seems complex, but I am reminded how many complex systems, such as a flock of birds in flight, are described by relatively simple rule structures.

When you think of how many organizations operate on a “need-to-know” basis, or how, at one extreme, spy and intelligence agencies compartmentalize information to purposely keep an organization “unconscious” you can begin to get a feel for how big a challenge it might be.


Brook, Andrew and Raymont, Paul, “The Unity of Consciousness”, The  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta  (ed.), URL = <;.

Buzsáki, G., 2007, Connections The structure of Consciousness, Nature  2007, 446, 267

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm

O Robot

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0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Isaac Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics with the additional Zeroth Law

I just finished reading a science fiction book by one of my favorite writers, Greg Bear. Hull Zero Three is about a massive ship that is sent to colonize another planet in our galaxy, that colonization being the last best hope for mankind’s survival after having systematically exploited and destroyed the Earth. That makes it a fairly typical story as these things go, but when one of the colonists wakes early to find the ship badly damaged, he determines, over the course of the novel, that a civil war had occurred on the ship while he “slept”. Most of those who were to colonize the new planet were kept unaware of the methods and goals that the designers of the ship were willing to employ to assure mankind’s survival and when those goals and methods were uncovered dissention in the ranks ensued. The civil war, internal to the ship, was fought over differing visions of what the ultimate goals of the ship should be and how they should be accomplished.

So here you have a senior group, the designers/managers of the mission, who felt it was necessary to keep overall organizational goals and methods secret from those who were to carry out the mission, the “real” goals being on a “need to know basis” in order to assure success of the mission.  Sounds like fiction doesn’t it? Who could believe that senior managers of an organization would not be clear to others within the organization regarding ultimate organizational goals and methodologies? Hidden agendas, ulterior motives, political manipulations, or simply poor communications are the makings of a good story, unless of course that story unfolds in the real world in your company or organization.

The pursuit of efficiency and the corresponding breakdown of work into its subcomponents, with each subcomponent being performed by an expert in that task was one reason that people lost sight of the bigger picture, what the organization stood for, its goals and how it was going to go about accomplishing those goals. Craftsmanship can be lost when an individual’s tasks are performed in isolation of the other tasks required for ultimate organizational functioning. It then can become very easy to perform blindly, overlooking or literally not seeing ineffective or perhaps even distasteful, illegal or immoral practices occurring elsewhere within the organization. A sales group who has no idea what operations can actually deliver upon, marketing being similarly divorced from an organization’s actual capabilities are not rare occurrences. Overall operational quality can go by the wayside if the view I have of my job is to simply put bolt A into slot B and my perception is that quality will be delivered by the quality control department, or that others will be the ones to worry about things that are beyond my own task. Conversely, those in operations/engineering/service delivery may be oblivious to the need to manufacture or provide what will actually sell or to stay closely in tune with what customers want. What you begin to develop is O Robot, the organization acting in a robotic-like fashion to develop, market, sell and deliver its products and or services, with each simplistic robot/employee doing the individual element for which it was organizationally programmed or because of interest, skill, or willingness to expend effort, programs itself.

But I feel like I might be doing robots a disservice. Isaac Asimov’s fictionalized robots were much more advanced than those notions and behaved according to the laws of robotics stated above. And large advances are being made in the real world to make robots behave in a more human-like fashion. According to a paper in the journal Interaction Studies (2007) among the traits a robot will need to exhibit to be viewed as more human-like are:

  • Acting with autonomy
  • Containing intrinsic value  – being valued for simply being, not only for what it can do
  • Being held morally accountability for its actions
  • Engaging in reciprocal relationships – adjusting its expectations and desires as it interacts with others
  • Demonstrating creativity
  • Imitating other’s behaviors normatively– because of a desire to fit in socially
  • Distinguishing or identifying actions that break social conventions.

It might be considered a step up if humans operated consistently or valued others according to a similar list of what we expect from our future robots to make them seem more human.

In the 1970s, there was for a time the notion of job enrichment. It was all the rage. Organizations, it was felt, had gone too far in breaking down jobs into elemental components, and in order to achieve happier, more satisfied or engaged workers, what was necessary was to enrich their jobs to make them less robot-like. Workers therefore were given more of a “whole” piece of work to do. You don’t hear much about job enrichment today, do you? It was not carried out very well in the majority of cases and in some cases workers whose jobs were enriched were not happier, but went on strike for higher wages and/or benefits, since more was being expected of them. This occurred not because enriching jobs was wrong, but because of fundamentally poor management practices or poor implementation of the job enrichment schema. In some cases workers were given new skills and responsibilities, but were in many ways still treated and compensated as unskilled labor, destroying any sense of fairness or equity they may have had.

An organization’s ethics is a broad and somewhat nebulous definition, but can generally be stated as the values to which the organization subscribes. How it behaves from a legal perspective is only one piece of the ethics equation. Over the years I have found that each organizational member’s view of ethics can be quite varied and is very dependent on where within the organization that member sits. The definition of ethical behavior by a blue collar worker is indeed different than the definition of ethics by management and ethical definitions will differ between professionals and administrative assistants or supervisors etc. And there are often differences in understanding or saliency of communication as different groups think about what is ethical to them. Forgive me, Isaac Asimov, for taking liberties with your Laws of Robotics, but given the way some organization attempt to operate in a robot-like fashion, I could not help but adapt the Robotic Laws into Organizational Laws that might just form a basic foundation for big-picture ethical behavior in organizations.

Organizational Laws

  1. An organization may not harm the Earth, or, by inaction, allow the Earth to come to harm.
  2. An organization may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
  3. An organization may not harm a constituent (e.g. employee, customer, citizen, supplier, member), or through inaction allow a constituent to come to harm.
  4. An organization must follow societal laws and regulations except where such laws and regulation would conflict with the First, Second  or Third Law.
  5. An organization must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the other Laws.

One has to wonder that if these relatively simplistic Organizational Laws were widely followed would we be better off today in terms of our environment and society? Or are these notions too simplistic? How do rewards and punishment fit into the organizational role? What is the role of the organization if it decides to punish one member for harming another? And what is the role of rewarding members differentially based on merit? Etc. Possibly too simplistic, but I have to say I am intrigued by the overall framework. Thoughts?

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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“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 are often selective about which pieces we are going to view as credible, accepting some bits while seemingly randomly rejecting others.

There is an old tale coming out of the Middle East that is often spoken of in terms of conflict resolution, but seems to have more to do with information or the lack thereof. It goes something like this. There was a nomad who sensed he was nearing the end of his life, and so called his three sons together. He spoke to them, “I want to tell you how I plan on bequeathing the family’s 17 camels. To my oldest son I give half of my camels. To my middle son, I give a third of my camels and to my youngest son I give one ninth of my camels.” A week later the old nomad passed away and the 3 sons took to fighting over how to split the herd of camels between them. They went to the wise woman of the tribe, who mediated disputes and described the situation. She said to them, “I don’t know how to resolve your dispute, but here, I have one camel, take it and see if it makes you happy.” So now the three sons had 18 camels to divvy up. The oldest took half of the camels, or 9 of them. The middle son took a third of the camels or 6 of them and the youngest took one ninth of the camels or 2 of them. Well, 9 plus 6 plus 2 equals 17. So they had one camel left, which they gave back to the wise woman. It is a fun math exercise and makes you stop and think. What is the missing piece of information that helps you understand the story? The old nomad did not bequeath all of his camels in the first place, only 17/18th of them (1/2+1/3+1/9 = 9/18+6/18+2/18 = 17/18), which of course was impossible to do if you only had 17 camels to start with.

The conflict resolution part of this comes from an outside observer, the wise woman, being somewhat removed from the situation, being able to see a way forward from the impasse – how to divide up the 17 camels according to the nomads desires. The information part of this comes from the understanding that what was originally specified was not mathematically possible. But what is possible, and what needs to get done anyway is not always in alignment. We often need to think beyond what conventional wisdom says is possible and figure out ways to accomplish goals and mankind, in spite of our inherent flaws, is pretty good at that. And information helps, it can help a lot, but sometimes information, even compelling information is not only rejected but triggers a response of trying to get everyone else to reject the compelling information as well.

Some messages carry more effective information than others. Information that is unexpected or surprising tends to have more impact. Sean Carroll, a noted physicist, writes in From Eternity to Here, “If I tell you that the Sun is going to rise in the East tomorrow morning, I’m not actually conveying much information, because you already expected that was going to happen. But If I tell you the peak temperature tomorrow is going to be exactly 25 degrees Celsius, the message contains more information, because without the message you wouldn’t have known precisely what temperature to expect….Roughly speaking, then the information content of a message goes up as the probability of a given message taking that form goes down.” So out of the world of physics comes the notion that if a piece of information, a message, is unique, unexpected, or novel, it carries with it inherently more content, and more important content than often repeated, or completely expected information and messaging.

David Brooks produces a column summarizing notable social and psychological research, and in his December 7th column he wrote, “Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science, call “When in Doubt, Shout”, in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.” (NY Times, 12/07/10). This coping process was originally proposed by Festinger, the father of cognitive dissonance theory, which states that when people’s behavior and thought patterns are incongruent, I advocate one thing verbally, but actually behave not according to those beliefs, that dissonance sets in which must be resolved by changing beliefs or behavior.  So here is a notion that appears to go against the world as physicists know it. In the human mind, or at least among some of us anyway, if strongly held beliefs are challenged to the core, rather than giving up on that belief and saying, “Oh well, I now have better information, it was very meaningful since it was unexpected, going against my core beliefs and now I can make a better more informed decision”, there is a tendency to not only hang on to those core, now challenged beliefs but to actively try to get others to sign on to the belief as well, a belief that the person who is proselytizing about it may no longer fully believe him or herself. By getting others to embrace the shaky belief it shores up one’s own doubts and the dissonance that exists can be resolved.

Think of the implications of this in the business world. For instance, say I was selling lousy, junk mortgages. I am presented with information that says “if you proceed on this path you will put not only your own company at risk by the entire economy.” My reaction could be, rather than stopping my behavior, to try to get others to emulate my risk taking to resolve any dissonance that has set up within myself.

Think of the survey that was just conducted on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the US military. Each time the evidence suggests that the vast majority of those in the military feel that repeal of the legislation would have no effect on battle readiness, there are members of congress who raise additional barriers and continue to try to persuade others, to proselytize others, to their point of view. When faced with clear evidence that threatens their core beliefs, rather than accepting that evidence and changing they simply try to be more convincing to others in order to resolve potentially dissonant feelings. As an aside, I took a look at the survey itself that was used to collect the information on feelings towards Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and my professional judgment is that the survey took a very conservative approach, asking questions in such a way that would lead to the least favorable result possible. Not that the research team was trying to bias the results, on the contrary, it appeared that they were setting the bar very high so that when the data did come in the results would be uncontestable, but contested the results are regardless.

Let’s say you are working in a company where an executive has an idea regarding how the future of the company should unfold. He or she has a lot of skin in the game regarding that idea or concept. That executive is presented with incontrovertible evidence that the idea is a dud. Given what we have just reviewed what might be the executive’s course of action? And more importantly how can organizations of any type overcome the bias that might arise?

Some of the techniques that can be used in these instances to overcome the inherent bias include:

  1. Oversight – of the individual by others within the organization who can pass informed judgments on the concept or idea.
  2. Checks and balances – on the absoluteness of power. Rather than one person having the authority to send the organization off in a new direction, a board-type approach can be of benefit, especially for big decisions and especially if the board solicits from its members…
  3. Independently arrived at judgments – one method to derive better decisions from a group is to have each member of the group develop independently arrived at judgments prior to comparing notes.
  4. And, independent assessment of the concept or decision by an outside group without a special interest in the outcome. Using what is perceived as an unbiased outside party, who can pass professional judgment on the concept, can lend additional credence to the conclusions drawn.

Even with these techniques, and even with the best of intentions you will still have some people without the ability to let go of their cherished beliefs and notions even when the facts indicate that those beliefs are clearly in error. The behavior by some will be to dig in their heels and to do their upmost to convince others of the correctness of their unsubstantiated beliefs as they struggle to come to grips with the information that they have received.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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