Shooting ourselves in the foot?

There I was sitting, with eleven esteemed HR consultants, all sporting Masters Degrees in Psychology and we tackled the definition of ‘Leadership.’ The result? It was much like discovering that the Zulu language has literally hundreds of names for a cow; the inputs were inconclusive and subjective. No truth or fact emerged.

Let’s be frank, Psychology is not a truly scientific discipline a lot of the time. We struggle, for example to succinctly and coherently explain what culture is, how the mind and brain interact (if at all). We have multiple perspective and views on Motivation and Personality traits. I could go on. We talk a lot about a lot, and often end up shooting in the dark for answers. It seems though that we are still obsessed with certainty and scientific place, and thus may not encourage the scientific paradigm that compels us to challenge and attempt to disprove everything that we believe (or would like to believe) is the truth. We don’t have a disciplinary wide focus that tries to poke holes into all and every theory, idea and so called ‘truth’. So we simply don’t do that, and end up having more theories. We thus talk a lot, about a lot, more of the time.

A Professor of Mathematics made this typically blunt judgement;

‘the problem with psychology is that you are not trying to work your way towards a universal theory, as a result you are breaking it down into further smaller theories.’

The process of science is to eliminate the weak theories and in psychology, it’s evident, we may be doing the exact opposite. Ever noticed how many ideas proliferate with different words and frameworks, and yet essentially are saying the same thing?

Here is the question we might all want to consider as we attempt to find a legitimate place in industry. For every piece of data or fact that we consume and use to enhance our credibility, do we go back to the original study? To the target group? To the time and context? Do we understand the assumptions that were made at the time of that research? Have we looked at the source of it all?

I am sure, because of my own experience that we generally don’t. As a result we trust the author, or article or highlights package and invariable share this as the gospel truth with our stakeholders. So does Culture really eat strategy for breakfast? Find me the evidence!

It seems that in order to move our body of knowledge forward we might need to move away from a dogmatic acceptance of everything we read and hear and want to believe, and  should rather apply a healthy scientific scepticism.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. David eccles says:

    This is a very interesting discussion, and the question of does Culture chow Strat for breakfast is a good one. Given my current assignment i would go with the conventinal wisdom, Strat gets noshed. So to the evidence, how often do we hear, ‘We had great stratergies BUT nothing was done’? I am of the opinion that often Strat does not take off and deliver because people are crushed or distracted by disfunctional relationships, fear, and tyrans mascarading as leaders / managers. At another client the GM gets the people aspects and really leads. Mood or culture is improving and strat is being realised. There is a great short vid, called, ‘The smell of the place’ a world economic forum session which really captures how culture will trump or is required before Strat. J Colins with his, the right bums on the right seats speaks to this too. Pls forgive my G7 spelling…

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    1. Thanks David. I really want to wholeheartedly agree with you. I would love to believe it, but to adopt a healthy scientific skepticism is useful too. i have worked in many organisations where the culture was antagonistic, aggressive and seemingly unsustainable, some would say more efficient than effective. Yet they were shooting the lights out strategically. Equally I have seen culturally sound businesses fail and close. So the question may be more, how and when and under what conditions does culture support and enhance excellent strategy?

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  2. Dave Vaughan says:

    I think a challenge could be that you have a lot of knowledge in the room and the truth is a lot of knowledge in the area of the human mind and soul is still very little knowing. In a conversation this morning with friends of mine we remembered the quote from Aristotle – that ‘ Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all ” – Which then led us to ask in our progressive society have we really made progress ? Spirituality ( not religion ) is a subject that is vast and cannot be dissected and controlled by our cognitive deduction, yet remains the space that challenges and asks for our deepest consideration in what it is to be human. With such complex emotion, connection and capacity for good and evil we have to dance with and gently consider that we are much less aware and in control than we may THINK! Maybe the joy of this journey is about unpacking and discovery and yet not necessarily ever getting that we got it. We may have learnt and grown but around the next corner we learn again and again and again.

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    1. thanks Dave. Agreed. It seems that many people, individuals, teams and organisations continue to ignore and bypass humanity in their daily work. In organisations and complex systems, most people are simply trying to fit in, to conform and survive. At times they are given little choice but to suppress their fullest selves, and even pretend that they know everything that needs to be known. When we bring humanity back into our organisations, we begin to acknowledge the fullness of what it means to be human. That said, the more we can persevere in helping others understand this with sound thinking and even research, the easier our quest may become.

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  3. Lauren Davis says:

    My feeling is that psychology turned to science in order to try and ‘legitimise’ itself in an ever increasing world that was relying on science and facts. So to gain credibility, scientific rigour was applied to theories and experiences of human behaviour. As a result, we have created a body of 2 dimensional, linear models that do not capture the complexity of the human condition. My experience has been more and more to rely on what is present in the organisation, what the relationship dynamics are and how engaged people feel and work with the ‘greyness’ of what it means to be human – which cannot fit nicely into a model, statistic or scientific fact that can be universally applied. To be effective as a consultant to an organisation, we need to trust our ‘gut’ more and encourage people to move out of their heads and into their hearts…. Not very scientific or academic I know but I truly believe this is where the transformation
    on how we treat each other will come from…..

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  4. Culture eats strategy for breakfast… Mmmm. This will ALWAYS be true if we are talking about culture in a certain way: If the use of the term “culture” of the organisation always includes it’s habits/relationship toward strategy implementation, as well as the health or toxicity of the culture relating to other aspects of the workplace and relationships. Tricky stuff. So perhaps the culture of the organisation towards strategy implementation will always eat the strategy initiative towards it culture of strategy implementation for breakfast as well…. 🙂

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    1. Thanks William. Its tricky for sure, and tongue twisting too it seems. I wonder what it means to ‘eat strategy for breakfast’, does that mean strategy offers sustenance, and if so, what does culture eat for lunch? I think the point I ponder most over is the qualitative judgement that is often made that a culture that eats strategy for breakfast is a culture that is ‘good and healthy and values people’. My bias shines through here and anecdotally I know it to be true. Equally I know of many toxic cultures that execute strategy towards success equally effectively. It feels intuitively right that culture, as the guide to all behaviours, either supports or detracts from a strategy, and what I think is sometimes missing is a deeper understanding of what that means specific to each and every organisation we work with. I am looking forward to diving into this as an area of study…

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