Opinions vary about which forms are the most common and many of those opinions offer excellent examples of dumb thinking. The opinions I now share are those of several thinkers whom I personally admire. They include Plato, Aristotle, St. Paul, Marcus Aurelius, Isaac Newton, John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, William James, Albert Einstein, and Richard Feynman. If you have any complaints, take it up with them.
1. Zero-Sum: Movies or radio, radio or television, bound volumes or electronic reading devices, profitability or community service…you get the idea. With rare exception (e.g. a moral crisis), it is not a matter of either/or; rather, both…but with (perhaps) different proportionality.
2. “They say….”: This involves relying on a source (or sources) that cannot be verified. It is especially common among those who have little (if any) faith in their own opinions and/or launch the opinion of an unidentified source as a trial balloon and/or never express an opinion about anything until after they have obtained a near-unanimous consensus among several sources, such as a shared assumption that “The earth is definitely flat.”
3. “If you build it, they will come.” That may have been true of a cornfield in Iowa but most of the time, thinking and doing anything within an information vacuum will result in serious errors of judgment. There are countless examples but here are two in retailing: websites that are created at great cost and “go live” online and retail stores located in high-traffic malls (leased, staffed, and stocked at great cost) that fail to attract more than a few dozen visitors each day, if that. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “Build what people really want even if they don’t know it yet, build it better than anyone else does, and people will buy it.”
4. Doing something the same way again and again, then expecting different results: This is Einstein’s definition of insanity. James O’Toole characterizes it as evidence of “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Charles Duhigg has much of value to say about repetitive thinking and behavior in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. However, I think more than habit is involved. Denial, for example, and delusion. Perhaps some narcissism. This form of dumb thinking — probably more than any other — helps to explain why most human wounds are self-inflicted.
What to do? One good starting point would be to check out Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management in which Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton propose six specific strategies for producing, evaluating, selling, and applying business knowledge:
o Stop treating old ideas as if they were brand new.
o Be suspicious of ”breakthrough” ideas and studies.
o Celebrate and develop collective brilliance.
o Emphasize drawbacks as well as virtues.
o Use success (and failure) stories to illustrate sound practices, but not in place of valid research method.
o Adopt a neutral stance toward ideologies and theories.
Here is a brief excerpt from a brilliant article by posted by Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer. It is featured at the Thinkers50 website. To read the complete article and check out the wealth of resources, please click here.
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Who is the most influential living management thinker?
That is the question that the Thinkers50, the biennial global ranking of management thinkers, seeks to answer. But does the ranking or the ideas it celebrates really matter?
It’s a fair question. In an age of awards overkill, it is tempting to see the ranking as just another example of hubris in the business world. All the more galling when many businesses are struggling.
But, celebrating the very best new thinking in management matters for three reasons.
First, ideas are important. They have the power to change the world. Think of Copernicus, Socrates, Aristotle, Newton, Galileo, or Einstein. Think of Charles Darwin, the ultimate disruptive innovator. Ideas define our humanity. They shape the way we think and see our place in the universe.
Equally, in the business world, too, ideas matter — from Steve Jobs to Tim Berners-Lee; and Google to Facebook — new thinkers and new ideas challenge and redefine how we work and live. An idea can change an entire industry and ideas, from kaizen to the balanced scorecard, continually transform the way we work and lead our businesses.
Second, management matters. It has become fashionable in some places to mock management. Ask someone in the UK what is wrong with the National Health Service, for example, and you are likely to be told that there are too many managers and management consultants and not enough doctors and nurses. Managers are the fall guys, the scapegoats for organizational excesses, failures and inefficiencies.
Yet, the reality is that management gets things done. The moment you move beyond one or two people working together then some form of management is required. There is nothing new in this. From Alexander the Great to the modern day, the elements of management – from organizational behavior to supply chain management — have made the difference between success and failure.
Just because management has always been with us, it is easy, too, to dismiss the progress that has been made in the last century. Management is often seen as a poor man’s science. (Not so long ago economics suffered a similar fate.) Critics lampoon the latest management buzzwords, labeling them as pretentious and shallow. In truth, though, management has made big strides.
A hundred years ago, we were in the thrall of scientific management. Had there been a Thinkers50 in the early twentieth century, it would have been dominated by one name — Frederick Winslow Taylor. We have moved on since then. One of the achievements of management in the last 20 years is the recognition that management is a fundamentally human activity. It is as much an art as a science.
It is easy to underestimate the influence of management ideas in that process. Notions such as empowerment, championed in the 1980s, and emotional intelligence in the 1990s seem self-evident now. But we have come a long way from Scientific Management and using a stopwatch to manage performance. Ideas like Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory laid the foundations for that.
Or consider the influence of Clayton Christensen, who tops the Thinkers50 ranking. Christensen’s influence on the business world has been profound. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, he looked at why companies struggle to deal with radical innovation in their markets. The book introduced the idea of disruptive technologies and disruptive innovation to a generation of managers.
Some ideas make us reappraise what we thought we already knew. Until very recently, for example, most managers were (and many still are) convinced that fear and greed were the two primary levers for motivating people. But Dan Pink’s recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us tackles the perennial subject of motivation, and argues that we need to abandon the ineffectual carrot and stick approach, and the importance of doing something we love for a career.
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Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer ( http://www.crainerdearlove.com/) are the founders and directors of the Thinkers50. They are adjunct professors at IE Business School. Stuart is editor of Business Strategy Review. Des is an associate fellow of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.