Holding up a mirror to your soul

January 29, 2007

There is an interesting dialogue in Seed Magazine on the subject of deceit between two controversial figures, namely Chomsky and Trivers. Politically its position is not disguised in that it is fundamentally hostile to the current US administration. Now despite my own political views, even I can see that while criticising people for selective use of evidence, they are guilty of a similar sin. However one phrase from Trivers caught my eye:

We find repeatedly now—in wasps, in birds and in monkeys—that when organisms realize they’re being deceived, they get pissed off. And they often attack the deceiver. Especially if the deceiver is over-representing him or herself. If you’re under-representing and showing yourself as having less dominance than you really have, you’re not attacked

The implication is that we would find similar behavior in human systems.

The answer would appear to be yes, but then lets think about. Often we want to be deceived, it’s a way of avoiding uncomfortable realities. There is an old cliche that we get the politicians that we deserve. We like the myths they weave, it is only when the disconnect between the myth and reality starts to produce major dissonance that we acknowledge the issue, and sacrifice the politician on the altar of our new found knowledge to truth. To challenge early is one difficulty; to challenge early and be heard is a major difficulty; to challenge early and have someone change as a result appears to be impossible.

One of the areas I am thinking about at the moment is how do we find a way to get leaders to see themselves and their environment as others see them without threat. One technique that appears to work (and which I need to write up for the methods page) is a simple one. You get a group of leaders (this assumes you have got to work with them) to line themselves up against a wall (no this is not a firing squad) and arrange themselves in order of power. This can be done in different scenarios to great effect, or simply as an overall question. You then take a picture of the result. After that you bring in other people from the firm – the security guard, a middle manager etc. You allow them via a microphone (they stay hidden) to direct you as a facilitator to reposition the leaders from their perspective and then you take a photograph. After you have done this several times with different people you allow the executives to discuss the photographs and what they mean.

There are other techniques using SenseMaker™ where you gather stories about the leader from their staff without attribution. You then get leaders to index stories of good and bad leaders from history using the same structure as their staff used for them..When the leaders search the database they find their own stories, those of their colleagues and those of Hitler, Ghandi etc etc all intertwined in specific contexts.

Both of these approaches are designed allow leaders to see themselves from other perspectives. Something that is more likely to achieve change than being lectured by academics or subject to psychological assessment. We call this descriptive self awareness, seeing yourself as you are seen, but in a space where you can absorb the learning.

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