Monday, March 20, 2006

A Brief Look At Convictions

After skipping over the point in the last post, it seems a good time to take up the question: Where do convictions come from? And what does this have to do with business?

What Adults Know About Kids

When children are small, they usually learn what they think by being asked how they feel.

For example, you wouldn't ask a toddler for an opinion on what constitutes a satisfying meal. Instead, you'd ask if she likes tuna peanut butter, or something else. From what a toddler feels, then, an adult infers what she thinks -- in this case, what she thinks would make a good lunch.

Why Do Adults Forget? What Happens Next.

By the time kids get to high school, they are certainly capable of a kind of abstract reasoning that smaller children are not. However, to as large an extent, it's clear that their feelings still direct their behavior and choices.

Spoken to any adolescents lately?

However, at the same time that they are discovering their own points of view -- primarily through emotionally reacting to the world as well as their hormones--they are being asked to deny the force of their feelings in a way that no adult would ever ask a small child. However, it would be absurd to assert that emergence of abstract reasoning replaces emotional reactions. Culturally, however, we feel evidence of emotion makes decisions suspect.

Part of this dismissal is social and is caused by attitudes about both emotional outbursts and taking children's viewpoints seriously. The implications for adults can be dire after years of repressing what they feel in order to please.

And now we're back to the idea that there is one answer. In this case, we are not credible unless that one that comes directly from the intellect (as if that were possible). Bad for innovation once again.

We'll skip the details of this for now -- it's too big a project for one blog post although quite closely related to other topics from past discussions.

Smaller Issues: What Will a Toddler Find In School As She Grows?

By the time kids get to high school, the curriculum has replaced the question "how do you feel?" with "what do you think about" a event, person, or object. More often than not, personal essays are entirely abandoned in favor of an analytic style of communication. The feelings of an "I" are squeezed through what we isolate as "thoughts" from a supposedly objective third-person.

Why Does This Happen?

In our academic (and business) culture, third-person narrative is thought to be more sophisticated, more credible and therefore truer than speaking from a feeling state. The assumption here is that the most valuable cognition is entirely devoid of emotional impulse.

Some Historical Background

It's important to remember that emotional detachment for effective thinking is merely a trend and has not always been required for understanding and articulating truth.

In fact, if you go back to the nineteenth-century romantics (results of the preceeding sentimentalism), what it means to know is a concept that's been under discussion for more than a century. In fact, the fact that 21st Century-people come down on the side of reason does not necessarily constitute progress. It's an argument that goes back in Western culture at least as far as Plato and Aristotle. So it's worth considering alternative ways of finding the best way forward.

What This Might Mean About Us

There is a sense in our culture -- certainly in business -- that control is what we're aiming for. We value most what we measure, and we calculate in rather unimaginative ways. Of course, this goes against probably the core of good business -- risk is necessary for reward.

Our brains tell us one thing, and our emotional reactions send us running too often in the other direction.

More on what this has to do with business in the next post.

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