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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

archive for June, 2009

A CLEAR AND PRESENT FAILURE

by ~ June 30, 2009

I’ve been worried for a while what happens to identity data when firms downsize or go out of business. But it didn’t occur to me that Clear would actually be one of them—even though the identity provider’s business model was suspect from the beginning, Clear seemed to governmental to fail. But it did!

Would love to hear others’ thoughts on this one!

“ON BEING CERTAIN” REVISITED: THE MYTH OF THE AUTONOMOUS RATIONAL MIND

by ~ June 6, 2009

In an earlier post, I highly recommended Robert A. Burton’s book, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not. But the book is important enough that I always meant to write a follow-on post. This is that post.

The book’s main assertion is that biology, not self-will, determines a person’s certainty and beliefs. The difficulty is that our conscious minds aren’t adapted to perceiving the source of our sense of certainty. In the following passage, Burton draws on another book from Timothy Wilson to make this point:

In his book Strangers to Ourselves, Timothy Wilson, a professor of psychology at the university of Virginia, presents a superb overview of the reasons why the unconscious mind is inaccessible to self-analysis: “the bad news is that it is difficult to know ourselves because there is no direct access to the adaptive unconscious, no matter how hard we try…. Because our minds have evolved to operate largely outside of consciousness, it may not be possible to gain direct access to unconscious processing.” ….

If he’s correct, the impasse between the necessity for self-awareness and the limits of our self-assessment abilities can’t be overcome through more brute thought. In agreeing with Wilson, we are challenging the commonsense and folk psychology understanding of ourselves, including knowing the degree to which we are consciously responsible for our thoughts and actions. Indeed , Wilson opened his book with the salvo, “It usually seems that we consciously will our voluntary actions, but this is an illusion.” The important point for our discussion … is that any attempt at self-awareness must accept this limitation. (146)

I’ve had a few debates with managers, educators, and spiritual leaders over the limits of self-examination, so it was gratifying to come across this snippet:

A very difficult question facing interpreters of modern neurobiology is how to juggle the need for self-examination with the knowledge that an unspecified percentage of such assessments will be flawed, sometimes with serious consequences. No one seriously doubts Socrates’ maxim: The unexamined life isn’t worth living. … Yes, we should engage in ruthless self-reflection and harsh scrutiny, but we should simultaneously acknowledge that such introspection will, at best, only result in a partial view of our minds at work. Complete objectivity is not an option. (159)

Burton’s take-down of neo-atheism is classic. Would love to have written this:

[Richard] Dawkins both believes in his powers of introspection and self-assessment and that he is mentally capable of understanding why the world and we exist—the myth of the autonomous rational mind. … It is an extraordinary proposition to believe that an intellectual understanding of physical properties can reveal subjective metaphysical truths. … Dawkins conveniently illustrates the rationalist’s dilemma: How do you articulate a personal sense of purpose when you intellectually have concluded that the world is pointless? What is the purpose of pointing out pointlessness? What does it mean to find purpose in understanding purposelessness? (181-182)

Burton later goes on to say:

The science-religion controversy cannot go away; it is rooted in biology. If we were to ban all discussions of religion, burn all religious books, even strip all words related to religion and faith from the dictionary, we would not eliminate religious feelings. … We talk of religion, afterlife, soul, higher powers, muses, purpose, reason, objectivity, pointlessness, and randomness. We cannot help ourselves.
If, for most of us, science either is too complicated or cannot provide the heartfelt joy and meaning of religion, it is only natural that we look elsewhere. (188)

Burton offers the following suggestion on how to proceed, in view of our intellectual limitations:

To retreat from claims of absolute “knowing” and certainty, popular psychology needs to explore how mental sensations play a fundamental role in generating and shaping our thoughts. We can’t afford to continue with the outdated claims of a perfectly rational unconscious or knowing when we can trust gut feelings. We need to rethink the very nature of a thought, including the recognition of how various perceptual limitations are inevitable.

At the same time, if the goal of science is to gradually overcome deeply embedded superstition, it must be seen as a more attractive and comforting alternative, not as inflammatory exhortation and confrontation with a none-too-subtle whiff of condescension. (220-221)

Amen.

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW CALLS FOR A FOCUS ON “REBUILDING TRUST”

by ~ June 3, 2009

The cover of this month’s issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) calls for sweeping changes in how to handle trust in business, government, and organizations. And to contribute to the discussion, HBR provides more than 20 pages of material covering important aspects of trust. I was so excited to see this, I actually paid the $16.95 cover price to get a copy. Well worth it!

The “From the Editor” section has this to say about trust:

The public’s trust in business leaders has never been weaker. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, released in January, trust in U.S. business dropped from 58% to 38% in one year…. If companies can’t address this problem, an economic turnaround may be delayed indefinitely: Banks won’t lend money; innovation will slow to a crawl; trade across borders will fall even more rapidly; governments will overregulate the private sector; unemployment numbers will continue to rise; and consumers won’t open their wallets for anything they consider nonessential. A complex modern economy simply can’t function unless people believe that its institutions are fundamentally sound.

I highly recommend reading the article “Rethinking Trust” by Roderick M. Kramer. While other articles in this issue offer platitudinous suggestions (i.e., “organizations should be more transparent” and support a “culture of candor”), Mr. Kramer roots his analysis in the biological realities of brain chemistry and human instinct. This perspective makes the author’s subsequent rules for “tempering trust” more valuable and actionable. In fact, Mr. Kramer’s 7 rules bear a lot of (uncorroborated) similarity to my “Laws of Relation.” My only caution with Mr. Kramer’s rules of trust in this article is that they are meant for interpersonal forms of trust, and not always applicable to institutional trust.

I’m hoping the Harvard Business Review’s “Spotlight on Trust” can generate a lot more discussion on this important issue.