This is a book excerpt from The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions by Larry J. Bloom. Printed with permission by publisher Xmente. ©2012
Bugs don't just inhabit our computers and software – they exist in human beings as well. Mind-bugs are a pervasive part of human nature. They are hard-wired in our brain and highly resistant to feedback. Many problems of corporations today are not the result of factors that occur outside our thinking, but rather they are "self-inflicted" as a result of mind-bugs – bugs in the critical internal processes that occur in the five inches between our ears.
Today's business environment is conducive to mind-bugs. Think about it. In most organizations, demand on employees exceeds capacity. People are busier today than they have ever been. And technology has created an environment where multi-tasking is the norm both at home and at work. Companies are investing to improve individual productivity, to accomplish more with fewer people. The paradox is that the success of any organization is a function of the quality of the thinking done within it. Employees are being paid specifically for their thinking, and yet corporations are doing little to improve the quality of their thinking. While many companies invest in training, it is my observation and experience that far too little (if any) goes to improving thinking processes.
How Mind-Bugs Create Problems
We all have thoughts. But few of us think about our thoughts. Mind-bugs can emerge when we don't take time to assess our thoughts. It's that simple. Only when we become aware of the impact of our thoughts, feelings, desires, and influences can we make impartial decisions. Otherwise, we may get lucky but we will be unaware of true cause and effect. If we don't practice mind-bug detection, the mind-bug thought patterns may sneak up and bite us. Then we will make decisions that cause harm to ourselves and others or destroy value in our company and never even know why.
How We Behave at Work When Mind-Bugs are Lurking
The behaviours listed below are evidence of buggy thinking that leads to corporate stupidity. These are pervasive thoughts and behaviours that can be found in nearly every corporate decline and failure. Perhaps you have noticed them at work in your own company.
• We believe we have figured out the way things are – regardless of evidence to the contrary – and don't grasp the contradictions between our view and reality.
• We justify conclusions that serve our interests and develop skills of selective evidence-finding and debate.
• We do not see the limitations in our point of view and want to win arguments without examining whether there are problems with our own thoughts.
• We place blame anywhere but with our own thinking and look back after the fact and defend our decisions with platitudes like: "I wish I knew then what I know now," or "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
• We develop complex, defensive, and inflexible habits which are not discussable. Worse, to consider discussing them is not discussable.
• We are blind to our own limitations and blind to the fact that we are blind.
Why Haven't Mind-Bugs Already Been Eradicated?
You would think that after many decades and volumes upon volumes of writing about business, managers and executives would avoid the costly errors that can sink a company. But that's not how it works.
First of all, change is hard; it is easier said than done. That's because the very mind-bugs that are the problem cause us to resist change. Change the way we think? Our mind-bugs tell us there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way we think.
Secondly, we need a fresh approach to minimize the impact of mind-bugs. And, the truth is, everyone is stretched so thin with the requirements of their job (or frequently, more than one) that they are often not open to learning a new way of thinking about business. They simply don't have the time, energy, or motivation.
Third, this new way might be considered warm and fuzzy. No one in the corporate world seems to have time for warm and fuzzy. This is because companies like the hard stuff and have a built-in bias against the soft stuff. In my experience, problems in corporations rarely stem from a shortfall in technical or professional expertise, but rather from a shortcoming in the "soft" skills of social interaction, communication, and self-management behaviours. To solve the problem of poor decision making, mind-bugs must be addressed. That's an internal fix. Many will consider it soft.
And, one more constraint: All change comes ultimately from the human brain. Understanding the brain and mind spans the very different disciplines of biology, physics, chemistry, neuroscience, critical thinking, psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, and spirituality. The complexity of connecting these worlds with a common language suitable for business use is vexing. That is the challenge I am undertaking.
The Solution: Take Command of Our Thinking
The solution to preventing mind-bugs sounds simple. It's all about learning to take command of our thinking. The problem is that our thoughts get in the way. You will soon find out that we take command of our thinking in the mental space between stimulus and response.
Mental Breakpoint and Debugging
In the technology world, software programmers insert a breakpoint to suspend execution of a program at certain points in order to look for bugs in the oftentimes millions of lines of code. To take command of our thinking, we need to do the same by inserting a mental breakpoint to debug our thoughts. It requires developing a personal awareness of problems in our thinking. If we don't make a mindful assessment of our thinking quality, any response may be plagued with mind-bugs. With a mental breakpoint we become aware of problems in two areas:
• Flaws in what input we use to make decisions.
• Flaws in how we make decisions.
These errors are caused by the unknown presence of mind-bugs. Learning about these will lead to detection and avoidance.
Detecting and avoiding mind-bugs is not a new process to add to an already overburdened staff. It is a low risk, low cost way to go about what we already do. This book will describe how to use this knowledge to practice mind-bug detection as part of our daily routines. Somehow in today's world we have acquired the idea that the mind works best when it runs at top speed. Yet, operating all-out at maximum speed is not healthy, nor is it conducive to making the highest quality decisions. A mind that is always racing lacks time even to complete a thought, let alone to check on the quality of its own thinking. It just coughs up whatever thoughts it can; the more the better. And the faster it cranks, the more likely it is to overheat, misfire, jam, and even shut down. This provides a fertile environment for the growth of mind-bugs.