Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Monday Musings 308 :Cognitive futility

Monday Musings:Cognitive futility
Some concepts reveal themselves to us as epiphany while some others remain at a cognitive level. We often mistake cognitive appreciation as the final frontier of capability. Things must come alive to really make a difference in our minds and for our lives.
The chasm between what should be and what is tragic and ironic at the same time – and when it’s neither, it is funny. May be a decade back the lack of research into this subject kept thinkers awake at night – now the gap itself should cause insomnia. The subjects of Leadership, Social Change, Cultural Progress et al are all subjects that suffer from this chasm.
My hypothesis is as follows. Cognitive appreciation of concepts may be a necessary condition for awakening but it’s not a sufficient condition. Some may argue that cognitive appreciation is actually not needed at all. Recently I listened to a speaker who was making a case for humility for leaders – and every word he spoke and manner of his elucidation betrayed arrogance. One could not argue with his cognitive erudition but the audience knew instinctively that he was an unlikely practitioner.
Ironically the methodology of leadership education is dominated by cognitive appreciation. Even when it is about the ‘essence’ it is dealt like a concept.
So what makes the penny drop for the rare few for whom it does? Frankly it’s difficult to predict. For some its life threatening circumstances for others an epiphany – either ways it’s a game of chance. If deliberate pursuit of awareness did indeed cause a heightened self awareness, most of us would be saints. Talking about awareness is not the same thing as being aware.
The merchants responsible for ushering in leadership change are equally at sea because no one knows for sure what really works. Everyone has a favourite methodology - and once the favourite is established then that becomes the only methodology. (To the hammer, the world looks like a nail)
We must definitely create spaces for each methodology but not depend on them to create true change of behaviour. Shifts in thinking, behaviour and mindsets have a mind of its own. No one ever changed because the world wanted them to change – we changed when we wanted to change. The same applies to others – particularly those whom we have the onerous task of leading. Believing otherwise is intellectual arrogance.
The deluge of behaviour change literature would want to make us believe that all around us much behaviour changes because it must – either because of inputs given, development process or if everything else fails then a walk with the boss! A casual observation would also reveal that there is more talk about behaviour change than real change – and in worst cases the promoters of such changes are themselves the most unwilling (or incapable?) to change. I would like to believe that such dichotomy is not because of a lack of intent. Everyone wakes up in the morning wanting to be a better version of them. Somewhere along life takes over.
I am gradually veering towards the following conclusions – a)that we have overestimated our ability to understand human change; that no one has any clue why people change and why they don’t; b)that we have arrogantly started to believe that human change is a DIY toolkit that anyone can work with; c)that just because we can describe human change also means that we can control it and influence it; d) that erudition of the subject of human change is not the same thing as the ability to usher it; e)that we must spend time in finding out who in our respective systems are really enabling change rather than those who are only talking about it intelligently – or else we deserve those we have.
(first published in People Matters, April 2018) ||

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