Global warming is arguably one of the most controversial and emotionally charged issues on the planet. To some, human beings are literally destroying the world as we know it, and driving it to an apocalyptic end, at an alarmingly fast rate. To the sceptics, we are just experiencing the inevitable peaks and troughs of weather patterns that fit within the normal statistical probability distribution, if measured over a long enough period of time. The issue is not whether a coal fired power station emits carbon into the atmosphere, or even whether carbon does indeed effect the atmosphere - the real issue is whether this is actually causing global warming.
I am reading a very interesting book called “The Invisible Gorilla” by Christopher Charis and Daniel Simons. They were the originators of the famous gorilla experiment that proves the limitations of our multi-tasking abilities. For those who haven’t seen it I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say when concentrating on something else we can literally look at a gorilla and not see it. The book discusses various illusions of our cognitive abilities, and especially addresses some myths in the way we think about the way our mind works. Of particular interest is our poor ability in seeing the limitations in the linkage between cause and effect. In my experience this is especially true at work.
I recall in past operational management roles, that when the financial results were good, I was seen as an excellent manager doing all the right things, yet without changing anything that I was doing, if the results were poor, I was criticised for doing everything wrong. This is an example of not understanding cause-effect. Management’s true impact (cause) is often only seen in the long term, yet in this instant results culture, we measure success (effects) quarterly, or even monthly.
I am researching some examples to use in my upcoming “Managing Up’ seminar and it is interesting to look at a well-known character – Steve Jobs. Given his phenomenal success in turning Apple around – twice – pundits have begun to look for cause of that great effect. It is hard to speak ill of the deceased, but it turns out that Steve had a black side to his personality that made him an awful manager at times. He shouted at people, threw tantrums in the office, humiliated employees and even used his management status to park his Mercedes in the company’s disabled parking bays. Unless we heed the warning of Charis and Simons – that our intuitive judgement on cause-effect is poor - it would be easy to justify those terrible management behaviours as a necessary consequence of getting great results.
So what’s the bottom line? Is global warming real, when we are also experiencing the coldest weather in 100 years? Whatever side of the debate you are on, surely protecting our planet from further harm is the primary issue. A natural tsunami may cause more devastation to the Great Ocean Barrier Reef than 50 man-made mines, but is that truly a good justification to destroy it further?
In the same way, justifying your own poor management behaviours by quoting someone who had great business results with the same weaknesses, is falling into the trap of the illusion of cause-effect.