system two

system two
start-up thinking in the enterprise

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Mind changing...

Interesting piece on Stephen Fry's blog here - which, amongst other issues, tackles changing one's mind.

Fry worries his inconsistent deliberations may prejudice a cause with which he is involved. In a separate section he ponders the power of the collective – and particularly in recent times - its manifestation in the phenomena of social media.

What he doesn’t appear to consider is the possibility of the 2 concepts being complimentary and intimately linked. (and to my mind, inversely correlated).

To put it another way, the stronger the group dynamic, the more important it is, that we as individuals, are allowed to vacillate….

As separate entities within the group, our predisposition to procrastinate, is the logic which shapes an overall trend. The swarm shifts in a direction when a balance of views "tips" a particular way. Procrastination is the mechanism which ensures a new direction is continuously challenged. As the balance of views change, the direction of the swarm is amended. The collective doesn’t merely “allow” individuals to vacillate – it is the basis of its success.

More importantly, as the pace of the decline of individualism increases, and the group once again emerges as the dominant societal form, this power of procrastination is likely to be more important than ever. The individual who, for 500 years or more has arguably been conditioned artificially, to stick to a position regardless, must rediscover her right to change her mind change.

This smoothing of averages through freedom of thought, is the foundation of collective intelligence. Nature, communities, groups – all living organisms - have learned to rely on the individual is to court disaster. When we see Autumn colours – this is averages. The chemical messaging system within plants which ultimately causes the fall, doesn’t get turned on over night. The risk of disaster triggered by a cold snap in the middle of summer is too great. Slowly, over a matter of weeks, the relevant hormone builds in the leaves. Only when a critical threshold is reached – do leaves fall. Wildebeest move in herds, ants work as a colony, ships in the Great war moved in convoys. Nature has learned to hedge. There is a reason one of the most powerful groups of financial institutions in the world use that word in their name. This thinking permeates every aspect of our lives. Look around us and we see decisions made through the massed, blind “intelligence” of the group. It is the simple average, based on individuals changing their minds, which has got us to this point in our evolutionary development - not the will or insight of the individual.

There is no evidence in history to suggest we humans are anything other than contradictory, impulsive inconsistent creatures. The real issue, I suspect is, as newly individualistic humans (see 20,000 year bubble here) because it doesn’t prize the individual, we have become skeptical of the power of the group. The single member is, in the final analysis, expendable, and we as individuals ourselves, quite understandably, don’t like to acknowledge this. Lloyd George took months to convince the admiralty to try the convoy system in 1917.

One might even go further and construct an argument that it is precisely this fear of vacillation that informs modern psychotherapy. Certainly our less than linear decision making process is at the heart of the humanist psychotherapy movement. Carl Rogers’ one of its founding fathers, in his book “A Way of being” tries to help his reader understand and accept their conflicting feelings. Ignoring them he argues is the root of psychological dysfunction.

Ironically then, once again Stephen Fry appears to be leading the pack. By honestly confronting his concerns over deliberation and delay, he has stumbled upon a hugely emotive issue. One we are all likely to be wrestling with for decades to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment