In our Western understanding of how to find meaning, our philosophers over the past few centuries have gravitated to logic models, trying to apply scientific method to the complex understanding of all things. Even the names of recent Western philosophies have borne such names as Rationalism, Analytical Philosophy, and Logicism. We live in an age that celebrates and reveres logic as meaning. Data and metrics are the answer. What’s the question?
But that tendency has not always been the norm in Western culture. Earlier philosophers struggled much more mightily with the question of how much meaning could be derived from the senses vs. from deductive reasoning. The Empiricism movement (Locke/Hume) in the 17th/18th centuries was of the firm belief that knowledge, at its base, originated in the senses and experience, and the Classical philosophers of ancient times equated meaning with how humans behave in response to dilemmas, not parsing out where that knowledge came from. They emphasized ethics; logic, when used, was a tool to find the ethical path.
Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Taoism are likewise more concerned with human behaviors and less with the logic behind them, again focused on ethics and on humans’ metaphysical connections with the universe.
So what? Why does it matter to you as a leader that you live in a logic-focused cultural orientation? Consider some of the assumptions we make every day that may not serve us as we expect:
- Everyone operates on a similar understanding of how knowledge is gained, decisions are made, and behavior is judged. But many of us now work in a global context, or locally with multi-cultural teams, with people whose core philosophies may be very different from ours. How they derive meaning may feel foreign to us. Do we unwittingly put down their knowledge, experience, and opinions because of this difference? And what valuable insights may we lose as a result? Perhaps more importantly, what future contributions do we forgo because people feel undervalued?
- Data tells the truth; senses and experiences don’t. We gravitate to data and ‘facts’ to inform our decisions, and mistrust intuition and may even devalue experience. Does that always give us the fullest possible perspective when we evaluate options?
- The outcome is what matters; the process is secondary. We’re a results-oriented culture. We judge ourselves by decisions made, projects completed, money made. We think a lot less about whether the process was effective in getting us to a beneficial outcome. Did all the stakeholders have a voice in the decision? Did we have an agreed-upon decision-making model? Have we adequately accounted for risks that could occur when we implement? Did people have time to give due consideration to alternatives? Over the last 50 years, studies continually show a poor success rate (less than half) for projects and change efforts, and point unfailingly to failures in the process. The logic of the solution is good; the way it is implemented is not sound.
- Logic is strong; senses are weak. Take a critical look at the performance reviews and succession plans in your organization. Chances are that the people who exhibit the strongest logic mentalities are the most valued. In some organizations, the lawyers and accountants are the ones who are perpetually fast-tracked to the senior roles; rarely is it the communications or human resources types. Their roles are considered too fuzzy and they themselves somewhat illogical. Who is best qualified to lead in your organization is of course a complex question. But the point is that we may unconsciously limit the leadership field unnecessarily, leaving out people whose sensory skills might make them exceedingly strong leaders in such things as crisis management, change management, and other critical considerations for an organization. Limiting the diversity of the leadership pool is likely an unintended oversight in the over-emphasis on logic.
Finally, it may serve us well to remember that logic is not all that straightforward. It is imperfect and much more uncertain than its scientific patina would have us believe. Author Neil deGrasse Tyson makes that abundantly clear:
“I am convinced that the act of thinking logically cannot possibly be natural to the human mind. If it were, then mathematics would be everybody’s easiest course at school and our species would not have taken several millennia to figure out the scientific method.”
And author Julian Barnes gives warning that all of us must heed, even when trying to use logic:
“He had a better mind and a more rigorous temperament than me; he thought logically, and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: we make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense.”
Does logic suffice? Stop for a moment in your leadership responsibilities to rethink its proper place in your repertoire. Told you
Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant
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