Welcome to the first article in our Night Vision series, where we explore the drivers behind human behaviour to help explain what goes on in organizations. Let us begin with the grounding principles underlying this journey:
- Rationality is an illusion.
- Much of what happens to us (and drives us) is beyond our conscious awareness.
- The past is the lens through which we can understand the present and
shape the future.
- We all have blind spots.
Bold statements indeed, so let’s explore each in turn.
Rationality is an illusion.
We like to think we’re rational, logical people, but are we really? Oxford Dictionaries defines rationality as: “The quality of being based on or in accordance with reason or logic; able to think sensibly or logically; endowed with the capacity to reason”. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll see that many of the choices we make are based on emotional drivers that have no basis in logic and sometimes even no basis in reality. Indeed, it’s not hard for any one of us to remember at least one recent event where our response to a situation was anything but rational e.g. we reprimand a colleague for something we ourselves did a week ago; we take a dislike to someone based on the way they look, we buy something we can’t afford when we’re in debt and worried about money; etc. Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky famously provided powerful examples of this with their Prospect Theory, first published in 1979. Among other things, they showed how we make different decisions about the same risks based solely on how the question was asked. Irrational, indeed.
Much of what happens to us is beyond our conscious awareness.
We have 11 million unconscious impulses per second, and comparatively only 40 (yes, forty) conscious impulses per second. As such, how can we say that the conscious mind is running the show? The power of the unconscious is widely documented, and can be easily illustrated by examining actions that we have trouble explaining the motivation for.
The past is the lens through which we can understand the present and
shape the future.
Kierkegaard’s quote “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards” says it all. Essentially, what the great philosopher was saying is that we must examine our past in order to understand why we do what we do in the present, which will then enable us to make different choices in the future.
We all have blind spots.
We can sometimes glimpse one of our blind spots, but there will always be parts of us that are hidden from view. Generally, our blind spots operate without conscious knowledge, and can run the show without us knowing it. It is only through reflection, feedback, and effort ‒ through the lens of ‘night vision goggles’ ‒ that it becomes possible to move those hidden aspects of ourselves into the light. With this new awareness we can launch the journey of making new choices.
Next month we will begin to leverage the above premises in ways that will empower us…that will help us create a better awareness of ourselves so we can enhance personal satisfaction and professional excellence.
I’m delighted you are taking this “night vision” initiative. It is so greatly needed! If we are not aware of our unconscious it rules our life and we think we’re being rational. That ‘rationality’ truly is an illusion. I’ve been working on connecting to the unconscious for over twenty years. You may recall putting an article of mine on the subject on your website a few years ago. it’s hard work.
I look forward to reading further instalments of your writing on this vital topic. If you think I could help, let me know.
Dear Joe, thank you so much for your comment and I really apologize for taking SO long to reply to you. There is a problem with our notification system and we are not receiving notice when comments are made.
Yes, I remember your article well, and I still have it. It was drawing on Carl Jung’s excellent work about the unconscious, including our shadow personality etc. Indeed, the journey of gaining insight into our unconscious processes is a lifelong endeavour, but it is one worth taking, as you would know better than I would.
I see you made another comment in April. I will reply to that separately. Very nice to hear from you and warm regards.
Thanks you for your newsletters. They are very interesting and make me thinking. Sometimes I am sharing some ideas with my colleagues.
You are most welcome Milos. I am glad they make you think, and thank you for sharing the ideas with colleagues.