Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 49;   December 7, 2005: Comfortable Ignorance

Comfortable Ignorance

by

When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work, our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.

There was a long silence, as everyone considered what Dave had just said. Matt spoke first. "Dave, that has to be wrong. If you're right," he said, "we've just wasted three months. And I wouldn't want to be in the room when you tell Tolman."

The Scream, by Edvard Munch

The Scream (1893), by Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard, at the National Gallery of Norway. An iconic representation of fear. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Carl was probably the most upset of all of them. "Actually, I'd like to see that myself. You're nothing but negative, Dave, and personally I'm sick of it." Then he stood up and left the conference room.

Matt and Carl are demonstrating two different responses to the bad news they've just received. Acknowledging difficulty can be so uncomfortable or frightening that we sometimes prefer the comfort of ignorance. Our discomfort can be so compelling that, like Matt or Carl, we become willing to adopt or cling to false beliefs that conform better to our wishes than does reality. And we'll stick with those illusions until we're forced to recognize our folly.

Teams and organizations have real advantages if they excel at detecting and eliminating myths and confusion. Here are some of the milestones on the path to Clarity.

Recognition
Whether we're clinging to myth or just confused, all progress depends on recognizing that there's something wrong with what we believe. Usually recognition comes to us through Messengers — a few courageous souls who are willing to withstand our objections and our sometimes-personal attacks.
Acknowledgment
Sometimes Fear and discomfort
can be so compelling
that we cling to illusions
acknowledging our error can take the form of accepting the word of the Messengers. More often, we acknowledge our error while finding some minor flaw in the assertions of the Messengers. That way we can change our views without ceding status to the Messengers.
Responsibility
To make further progress, we have to realize that we ourselves will have to create the change we need. This step can sometimes be the scariest, because we have to accept that no mysterious force will do our work for us.
Openness
By telling others that we understand that things must change and that we'll be changing them, we express commitment to finding a new path forward that departs from the one we traveled to get here.
Action
Finally, we take some concrete action that we hope will move us toward a resolution. It might not actually work at first, but as long as we keep at it, each attempt gives us new insights about the reality of the problem.

The members of groups move along this path at different paces, sometimes backtracking, and that can lead to frustration within the group. But we can manage that frustration if everyone knows about this path, and how natural it is. Then, giving each other time gets easier, and maybe fewer of us will have to get up and leave the room. Go to top Top  Next issue: Nine Project Management Fallacies: II  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing ChangeIs your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendGIibNeLEUsfPwbYner@ChacprwqVnIClggHUqeEoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Organizational Change:

Penguins look before they leapLook Before You Leap
When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts. One approach that works well is the simulation.
FeedbackHe's No Longer Here
Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves. Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we do about it?
A sea otter and pupPower, Authority, and Influence: A Systems View
Power, Authority, and Influence are often understood as personal attributes. To fully grasp how they function in organizations, we must adopt a systems view.
Demolished vehicles line Highway 80, also known as the "Highway of Death"Reactance and Micromanagement
When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden, or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain some of the dynamics of micromanagement.
A pyramidal silk teabag of spiced black teaPatching Up the Cracks
When things repeatedly "fall through the cracks," we're not doing the best we can. How can we deal with the problem of repeatedly failing to do what we need to do? How can we patch up the cracks?

See also Organizational Change, Problem Solving and Creativity and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Raquel Welch (left) and Gilda Radner (right) from a @Cite{Saturday Night Live rehearsal, April 24, 1976Coming December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
An engineer attending a meeting with 14 other engineersAnd on December 27: On Assigning Responsibility for Creating Trouble
When we assign responsibility for troubles that bedevil us, we often make mistakes. We can be misled by language, stereotypes, and the assumptions we make about others. Available here and by RSS on December 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenRmGDyNNOzaIbGplpner@ChacNMFCniMbtGFjreQboCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.