Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Delusion and Diversity

@VenessaMiemis asks "If most people are self delusional, what's the point of qualitative research?" @CoCreatr retorts "What if we are all self-delusional and need proof by qualitative research to become more accepting of it?"

Of course organizations are self-delusional - some more than others. The interesting challenge here is to distinguish between evidence-based policy (which forms policy based on the evidence) and policy-based evidence (which collects evidence to support a given policy).

"Yes", says @CoCreatr, "organizationally the difference between fundamentalism and curiosity". He points to a presentation by Seth Godin on Curiosity.

Without curiosity, people in organizations tend to use research (both qualitative and quantitative) to try and promote their own delusions and/or undermine the delusions of others. So there is a dual purpose for research.

This is why diversity helps. If there is a broad variety of delusion, then there is at least the possibility of enough evidence emerging to create sufficient cognitive dissonance for cherished delusions to be questioned. Whereas if everyone shares the same delusions (commonly known as "groupthink"), then cognitive dissonance seems much less likely to occur.

By the way, the "diversity" agenda usually focuses on achieving a fair distribution of age, gender, race, class background, etc., as well as avoiding various forms of unfair discrimination. Sometimes this is justified not only on ethical grounds, but also because it is thought to increase the likelihood of cognitive diversity - different attitudes, personality styles and belief systems.

But the correlation between externally visible diversity and cognitive diversity looks more tenuous nowadays than it might have done in the past. If you assume attitude, personality style and belief system depends solely on the colour of your skin and the number of X chromosomes, then you might exaggerate the differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. (As the popular song goes, I wonder who's Kissinger now? See my post Relationships Based on Self-Interest from January 2009).

Talking of presidents and would-be presidents ... In his 1967 book on Organizational Intelligence, Harold Wilensky praised President Roosevelt for maintaining a state of creative tension in the US administration. Wilensky reckoned that this enabled FDR to get a more accurate and rounded account of what was going on, and gave him some protection against the self-delusion of each department. Roosevelt could still get a degree of cognitive diversity from a bunch of white men with similar education. Think what he could achieve today.

Related Blogs

Relationships built on self-interest (January 2009)
What is the Purpose of Diversity? (January 2010)
Organizational Intelligence and Gender (October 2010)
Delusion and Diversity (October 2010)
More on the Purpose of Diversity (December 2014)

Links added 12 December 2014

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