Politics makes you stupid – the proof is in
Over at the Huffington Post, Prof Marty Kaplan, Director, Norman Lear Center and Professor at the USC Annenberg School discusses the findings of a research study entitled: Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government. Kaplan believes a better title might be: Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math. He says, inter alia:
People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of non-farm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs. They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same. Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.
But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy. If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.
I have a better title: Politics Makes You Stupid. Howlett’s idea of humor aside, Kaplan comments:
Maybe climate change denial isn’t the right term; it implies a psychological disorder. Denial is business-as-usual for our brains…When there’s a conflict between partisan beliefs and plain evidence, it’s the beliefs that win. The power of emotion over reason isn’t a bug in our human operating systems, it’s a feature.
That’s depressing but explains something I’ve been wrestling with in the last few consulting engagements and for which, until now, I’ve had no good answer.
Belief systems in action
Many businesses are wrestling with structural change. It doesn’t matter where the source of the pressure comes from, the result is the same. Deep held beliefs about the way business is done are challenged. The problem is that beliefs can – and often do – fool us into denial. This from a Twitter exchange with Simon Wardley over the ongoing topic of IT commoditization as a disruptive force:
… I wouldn’t mind if someone would actually provide a scrap of data that ubiquitous and well defined IT activities won’t commoditise …
— swardley (@swardley) October 5, 2013
Denial, when viewed from the outside, creates the impression that otherwise rational people are utterly irrational. At best, it is a puzzling phenomenon. Add in the fact that most enterprises self organize around power centers and you can quickly see how Kaplan’s discussion of the impact of belief systems on political positions can be applied to business situations.
The only question left is to establish how organizations break past the impasse. If my experience in these situations is anything to go by then the answer is very simple: obvious or imminent economic pain. But given what the research is showing, perhaps we now have the genesis for figuring out how to avoid that pain. Stating the facts is clearly not enough.
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I've always felt that one of the curses of immensely intelligent people is their almost inexhaustible capacity to come up with rational justifications for their irrational beliefs.
@simon_g An interesting observation isn't it?
@fscavo Our job is to be rational....even if our clients are - less so ;)
@dahowlett and so true. A radio debate this a.m. on black economic empowerment policy, opposing sides couldnt get past emotional positions
@simon_g @dahowlett Same in business as well in certain circumstances