Reinforcing feedback in our FOP model

Fundamentals and Great Leadership – Part II

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

In a previous post, I laid out the basic model for understanding the deep underlying knowledge that drives our lives which I’ve called our “Fundamental Organizing Principles.” These FOPs form the foundation for not only what we hold to be true, but also how we see the world around us and interpret what we think we see. Recent work in the area of understanding the human brain and outlined in several books reviewed on this site (Brain Rules and The Believing Brain) give credence to the proposed model.

At the end of the previous post, I mentioned the fact that we need to add the concept of “feedback” into the model. The tricky thing about all this feedback is that we are masters at seeing only what we

believe. So if we believe we “know what is so,” or “how the world really works,” or “what the truth really is,” we will see those things in the data we review. In other words, we are great at denying reality if it conflicts with our view of reality.

If we look at the results of our actions; that is we look at the data from our measurements, and if that data appears to be what we expected, then we will conclude that our beliefs and values are correct and that the “real world” responded to our actions as planned. But here’s the rub. We often do not see the data for what it is. We see what we believe, so we are often blinded to the fact that the data is suggesting that we did not see the world as it really is, but as we wish it to be.

Rest assured that (a) you aren’t the only one who falls prey to this all too human trait or that (b) highly educated people are not susceptible to this same human trait. All our science based studies show that you are definitely not alone and that even highly educated scientists who rigorously follow the scientific method fall prey to the way our brains discern and filter patterns.

We frequently do not see the negative feedback.

Negative Feedback

What happens when the information we receive back from our actions does not meet the expected results? Unfortunately, the more common response is to assume an anomaly – a “one off” result. We automatically assume that our process, our thinking, our beliefs and our values must be sound, so nature threw us a curve on this one! Yet we now know that our brains are pattern-recognizing and meaning-making machines. We make up meaning and we see patterns that do not exist or have no significance in the “real world.” We often do not see things that are so, but see things as we wish them to be.

This tendency creates real difficulties in all aspects of our lives including in business. But great leaders will more readily see that the data is suggesting that their view is wrong or incomplete in some fashion. They are willing to admit that they do not know what they do not know. Gian Carlo Menotti said, “A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance.” Yet we do not easily see or admit to the fact that there has to be far more that we don’t know than we do know about the universe and how it works.

The successful leader helps her team to see that the data points in a certain direction regardless of what the conventional wisdom claims is so. Hypotheses are tested in depth to be sure of their veracity. The effective leader agrees that “what gets measured gets done,” and is willing to make sure that not only is the measurement the correct measurement for the process but that the resulting data is actually seen clearly – not filtered through preconceived world views.

Thus a critical component of the proposed FOP model is not only that the leader do the hard work of getting right down to the very basic Fundamental Organizing Principles, but that s/he also makes sure that they recognize that they have filters and try to find ways to mitigate the effects of how the human brain works. At present, I see no way to remove the filters other than to remove the human. Perhaps that is why when we leave some things to the computers, the outcome is better and improvements are made. But at least if we are aware that we only have part of the whole truth, that we are each like one of the blind men exploring the elephant (I’m sure you’ve heard the fable of the Blind Men and The Elephant by now). It is the human condition that because of how our brains evolved, we are all blind men and women when it comes to the whole story about what is actually so. Great leaders “get” that and so they seek to truly understand. Then they steadfastly pursue the goals UNLESS accurate data dictates otherwise. When a change in strategy is dictated by reality, the great leader is the one who admits to the necessity of change, rallies the team and enrolls them in the new direction. She (you) can only do this if you recognize the limitations of that “computer” between your ears and are willing to compensate for the buggy program!

Here’s a Bit More on the FOPs