To Think or Not To Think

Lance Accountability, Ideas, Leadership Leave a Comment

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From Simon Sinek’s latest book, Leaders Eat Last:

 It is strange indeed how traditional, top-down organizational management aims to train people to follow procedures and not think for themselves even as the quest for computer AI (artificial intelligence) strives to teach machines to do the opposite – think for itself and not follow scripted programming.

People can’t be accountable for the decisions they didn’t make. When everyone is simply “following orders,” no one is responsible for the consequences of those orders being followed … until they are.

Once upon a time, information was scarce and travelled slowly. The only people in an organization who could get access to enough of it to make sound decisions were those at the top. But we don’t live in that world anymore. Because information is now ubiquitous and instantaneous, no CEO, VP, or Director can hope to know as much as fast as the people who populate the organization beneath them.

Instead of consolidating authority, decision-making should be dispersed down and as close to the real knowledge of what’s going on as possible. Instead of unifying decision making authority as a means for keeping everyone moving in the same direction, the modern leader uses a unifying vision and consistent culture. Instead of robotic people and thinking machines, this new age demands thinking people … and maybe some thinking machines too.

Believing Is Seeing

Lance Ideas, Leadership Leave a Comment

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Flying high in the sky, looking out the window reveals patterns:


What do you see? The answer to that can come from a number of levels of detailed observation, abstraction and deductive reasoning:

  • The ground
  • Circles, squares, and rectangles
  • Geometry
  • Farming
  • Civilization
  • Human life

Imagine turning on the news and seeing images like that being sent back from a probe circling Mars? Because perfectly symmetrical circles and squares don’t naturally occur in Nature, seeing them on Mars would conclusively answer the question of the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Our belief about the unnaturalness of seeing well-defined shapes in natural environments overrides our belief that Mars is uninhabited, and so the data becomes proof of what was previously deemed not so because “someone put those circles there.”

(This same dynamic underlies how people who see patterns in Nature can see them as prima facie evidence of a Designer … or not.)

Leaders and organizations are not immune to this same phenomenon. If you believe it is your people that make the difference, your data (whether positive or negative) will tend to support that. If you believe it is strategy that matters, the answers will tend to come from there.

The danger for leaders isn’t in being unable to see that data without looking through the lenses of your own deep-seated beliefs. The danger is in believing you already have accomplished that feat.