making people uncomfortable intellectually in business

intellectualism-napkin-words

 

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“Intellectual advance consists of the displacement of one paradigm which has become increasingly incapable of explaining new or newly discovered facts, by a new paradigm that accounts for all those facts in a more satisfactory fashion.”

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Ok.

 

The whole concept of ‘thinking’ in business has been commoditisized.

 

Everyone can think.

 

Any idea is worth pursuing.

 

We make doers thinkers and thinkers do.

thinkers lotsAnd, yes, that makes thinking a commodity.

So, when thinking becomes a commodity ‘intellectual advancement’ almost becomes the pursuit of fools or just ‘wasted time’ or “over complication <let’s use common sense>.

 

 

Thinking becomes so shallow it doesn’t even come close to any true intellectual advancement instead it veers closer to “let’s think through all the details we need to think about to do what we just thought of.”

 

Which leads me to the important part of the quote I opened with:

 

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“To be accepted as a paradigm, a theory need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be confronted, it only must seem better than its competition.”

 –

 

The structure of Scientific Revolutions: Thomas Kuhn

 

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Well.

 

In business ‘paradigm’ is one of those words that imply bigness. Even suggest a paradigm shift and people … well … start shifting in their seats <I almost wrote ‘shitting in their seats’>.

“Big” has  nasty habit of making people feel uncomfortable.

 

Ok.

 

They like it.

And hate it.

 

Both at exactly the same time.

 

What that typically means is that everyone gets excited initially by the bigness of the idea and as time goes on the idea gets chewed up by all the ants who are scrambling around hating it.

 

So.

 

Before you start killing the next idea that sounds like a really really good idea by slicing it up with a thousand small cuts under the guise of “but what abouts?” remember this:thinker cap

 

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“When people think seriously, they think abstractly; they conjure up simplified pictures of reality called concepts, theories, models, paradigms.”

 

 

Samuel Huntington

 

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Maybe Sam reminds me why I dislike the term ‘big idea.’ I don’t care if it is big, medium or small <or even venti or grande> … I care that it is a serious thought.

 

Oh.

And most serious thoughts in business demand some intellectual investment <sorry to tell everyone that>.

 

It is not a flippant shallow thought but an intellectually well thought out abstract thought.

 

And, let’s be completely honest, a well thought out abstract thought … let’s call it some paradigm shift in this case, is rarely truly simple. At best the articulator has simply conjured up a nice neat simplistic package which makes it seem even more appealing.

 

But, simplistically? Let’s get serious. That ain’t gonna happen if it is truly a paradigm shift.

 

And in that we would need to accept that it is abstract … that not all the facts are explained.

 

Unfortunately, for some reason, the business world seems to struggle with that last thought.

 

We love the idea.

 

old killing youngWe kill it in detail.

 

It’s unfortunate.

 

For paradigm shifts … which are important in terms of shifting behavior and attitudes … are concepts. Therefore when we kill them in detail we miss huge opportunity for shifts in attitudes & behaviors.

 

Nuff said.

 

That last sentence alone says it all. That sums up how most opportunities get killed in business.

 

I would argue that our unhealthy relationship with detail is driven by a desire to avoid intellectual discomfort.

 

Intellectually driven discussions and conclusions, initiatives, demand some faith. And while a business cannot solely be run on faith there are certain situations which demand some faith. Some people may argue with my word choice, faith, and suggest I actually mean ‘believe.’

I don’t.

 

All business will have moments in which we have a choice … to make a leap of faith or to not make a leap of faith. I think we can all agree you don’t want a shitload of these. But any good business will have them on occasion.

 

That is where intellectual debate & discussion is imperative <because there is nothing worse than a non-intellectual rationale leap of faith> and that is where people will be uncomfortable.

 

Look.

 

I am not suggesting detail doesn’t matter because it does. Without detail the impossible remains impossible … with detail the impossible has the possibility of being possible.

 

But that’s the thing with ‘impossible’ shit <paradigm shifts> … you will never know all the details if you decide to make the leap of faith.

 

tinker faith pixie dust trustSure.

You can work your ass off to define all the details you want … but part of ‘faith’ is that there will be an incredibly uncomfortable space occupied by “some shit we have no clue about until we actually do it.”

 

What made this come to mind was I had a couple of conversations with some new business people and a sales director of an international company.

 

I found myself telling all of them they were in the ‘leap of faith’ business — it is just a matter of context and degrees.

You are trying to convince someone to get from where they are to where they want to be <or go> and while almost all of us invest gobs of energy and time telling them excruciating detail by excruciating detail how they will be safe with us <and they will have some added value in the end> we will never show enough detail to completely eliminate the fact they will inevitably have to make a leap of faith.

And in that it is up to us to offer enough intellectual stuff to show them there is a path to ‘what is possible.’

 

For some of them you will offer a true paradigm shift and to others it will just be a paradigm shift in that it will be something new to them. I would point out here that a paradigm is a paradigm in the eyes of a beholder so trying to contextualize a paradigm is a waste of time.

 

Anyway.

 

I imagine my real point is that even if you are in the doing business <and pretty much everyone is> you are still in the intellectual thinking business.

 

You have to be.group-communication-skills-listen-hear-align-mess

You cannot explain everything. You cannot offer up all the facts. You cannot conjure up enough simplified reality to enable someone to comfortably overlook what is most often complex.

 

What you can do is offer the details you can and, intellectually, advance the concept of where everyone should ‘go’ so that … well … we can make the leap of faith. Because the leaps are where true progress occurs.

It is an uncomfortable place this ‘intellectual advancement’ thing … but paradigms, shifts or perceived shifts, are uncomfortable places … so they are a match made in heaven.

 

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Written by Bruce