Thursday, February 16, 2017

Merchandizing Science (and other things...?)

We cannot act on information alone; the information must first be understood, then interpreted for relevance, and finally command belief and commitment. But what if the citizen cannot assess the truth of the available information or its import for action? --- Harry S. Broudy, Truth and Credibility. The citizen's dilemma (New York: Longman, 1981) p. 13.
Information: Food or Sewage? The expression "GIGO," Garbage in, garbage out, used to have some meaning even beyond the world of IT enthusiasts. Now, even though it is more widely recognized, it becomes evermore reduced in cogency. Broudy's comment above was, in 1981, still merely a worry; it was dismissed by many who persisted in letting a smile be their umbrella.

However, Broudy's comment rings true as we see long revered, even though lip-serviced, standards of decency, civility and authority publicly, blatantly disregarded; especially, by self-proclaimed "pragmatic" leaders. The distinction between the concepts of "leader" and "usurper" has become increasingly blurred. (See Leadership as Usurpation)

Foresightfulness, consideration, tolerance, fairness, compassion and, especially, memory are — often publicly and with celebration — cast aside, as "activists" of all persuasions rush to exercise their roles as "change agents" or "disrupters" under the banners of "democracy," "liberty," "Amendment-protection," "entrepreneurship," "greatness" and "social justice."

There seems to be a bias in our culture that anything characterized as research is akin to Godly Revelation. But it's no news that RESEARCH can be badly planned, badly executed, off-target or trivial. And, increasingly, individuals from scientific, religious and governmental communities either rush to participate,or, more passively, support the scramble with contributions that result from their own self-serving miscreation, e.g. tampering with research, faking news reports, ignoring critical violations of law or producing, often dangerous, sub-standard products. (See Retraction Watch)

Why does this happen? It seems that it is because we treat failure as the greatest of disgraces. Individual persons or (usually small) enterprises are expected to take great risk with their resources to provide social benefits without a compensating safety net should they fail. Yet ridicule awaits them as "losers." This anti-failure taboo is so great that even celebrities would rather be caught publicly in a lie about their attempts, than to own up about their failures. (See Barbara Ehrenreich's (2009) Smile or Die ISBN:9781847081735)

Example: The Mysterious "Impossibility" of Multitasking. President Gerald Ford used to be characterized by some as "unable to walk and chew gum at the same time." However, considered judgment held it that the intelligent and accomplished Mr. Ford had been targeted by animadversion. He was not only able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but, like most of us, do many more complex things by multi-tasking.

But -- according to some highly-degreed pundits, we were wrong! Multi-tasking is impossible! RESEARCH proves it! So it is dangerous to multi-task because we are likely to make many more mistakes because we have to switch attention too much to be accurate while we multi-task.

When do we risk such mistakes? When we multi-task! But then, we CAN NEVER make such mistakes, because as RESEARCH shows, multi-tasking is impossible! We CAN'T DO IT! And since it is, and supposedly has ever been impossible, we COULDN'T HAVE DONE IT! So Gerald Ford's detractors, who were no doubt composing their thoughts as they were typing them up while telling them to listeners and judging their reactions were -- in other words -- multi-tasking. (Is there no longer any sensitivity to self-contradiction?!)

There Are Three Problems within this "debate." The first is that to say that we can't multitask assumes there are clear, generally accepted boundaries that distinguish one task from another. That, when humans who use the word, "task," they are invoking the same criteria of identification that researchers do. This is unconvincing because the latter's conclusions about multitasking are so different from what many intelligent practitioners in various fields think about it and DO with it. Multitasking research offers, apparently, not a correction to our language, but a redefinition. The claim that it is impossible to multitask attracts attention, it seems to be an effective marketing tool. But is essentially a bait-and-switch maneuver. (See Low Cost Interventions for a Better World: Reform by Redefinition?)

The second problem is that multitasking research appears to assume that the human brain is something like a computer with only one processor, so that parallel processing, which many computers employ, doesn't exist for humans. But, even though NPR (Think You're Multitasking? Think Again)
may doff its hat to Multi-tasking Impossibility theories, many others have made similar criticisms to the ones here. (Psychology Today (3/30/11) Myth of MultiTasking)

The third problem is that the debate really deals with paying attention to the implementation of goals. Many tasks we undertake may have become for us, to some extent, automatic. This doesn't mean that they are no longer tasks. And of course breakdown in implementation may occur if we have too many things to pay attention to. This realization, once comprehended, does not promise to have much market impact.

Does a Pluralistic Democracy Require "Sleight-of-Tongue" to Persist? Even if the ambiguities of promotional language have some desired market impacts, this in no way guarantees that we will find more people cooperating on the same page of the same agendas. Nor does it promise eventual reduction of conflict or improved leadership. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?.} It is snake oil for our societal forebodings.

Is there a future for a nation of persons who will not be concerned beyond their own individual (or familial, or tribal) interests? Are we doomed to a perpetual war of every person against each other? Many people seem to think so to judge by their willingness to put some kind of Leviathan in public office.

Nicholas Rescher in Pluralism. Against the Demand for Consensus. (Clarendon Press. 1993, p.180. ) writes
The key consideration for the conduct of interpersonal affairs is that the activities of people can harmonize without their ideas about ends and means being in agreement. (See also, page 7 on coming to terms with realities of individual difference.)
It's easy to say that we have to learn to get along with each other. But will mental analgesics, happy talk, get us to The American Dream. Or can we just work, one day at a time, at living with a lot of fussin', feuding', and fightin' as we stumble toward our Alabaster Cities, toward Making America Great? Let us be patient, think clearly and hope so.

To follow up on these ideas, see It’s Effective? Effective For What? Maintaining working relationships.

--- EGR

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Need Everyone Agree?: Changing Resisters to Supporters.

Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true. -- Familiar idiom.
You have probably heard someone say something like
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone nation could agree to live in peace? or, less hopefully,
Wouldn’t it be nice of we could all agree on the kind of country we would like to live in?; or, even,
Wouldn’t it be nice if the neighbors could agree not to play loud music after 10 PM?
Are such wishes at best vain hopes? Or are they something that with reasonable effort and careful planning can be achieved?

Here is a thought experiment to try with your friends, family or students:
a. Fill in the blank with a goal, a situation, condition or event, to complete the following sentence:
Wouldn’t it be a better world if everyone could agree on (Goal).

You could substitute other phrases for “a better world” such as “nice,” wonderful,” “a real moral improvement,” or “peachy keen” or “healthier.” Pick something you can get your group to agree on as a substitution.

b. Once you have your statement, e.g. Wouldn’t it be more environmentally sound for people to agree to ban all automobile traffic from inner city commercial areas?, ask your participants to speculate as to who would likely agree to the statement (and why) and who would likely oppose it (and why).

c. Using the chart available at Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change , (ALIC) locate your supporters and resisters and the proportions of each you estimate there are. Fill in Line A on the chart.

d. Continue using the above chart to speculate how much you would have to change the percentages of each subgroup to bring them to the likelihood of supporting the change (here, agree with the statement.) Fill in Line B on the ALIC.

e. Considering the Ways to Overcome Resistance suggested by Kotter and Schlesinger in the ALIC, fill in the grid block the likelihood, or your group’s likelihood, of finding the resources to implement these ways, e.g. education & communication, participation & involvement, … etc.

Now consider the following questions:
1. Is the goal well enough defined to be operationalized to avoid a slow shifting (creep) of the target? (See Operationalization.)

2. Consider some of the costs involved in implementing the changes needed; would they be worth the benefits hoped for? Consider who it is who would perceive the achieved goal as a benefit; and, who would think it to be a cost. (You might want to revisit step b. above at this point.)

3. Considering the costs involved in implementing the changes needed, would it be wiser to redefine the Goal so as to shrink the budget needed? (This is a very common practice in all institutions, public and private.)

4. Are the needed ratios of supporters and resisters (see Line B in the ALIC) likely to remain constant through the change process?

To examine these issues further, if you are involved with education, see POLITICS, CONSENSUS AND EDUCATIONAL REFORM

If you are involved with other kinds of organizations, or if you want a more general overview, see Employee Resistance to Organizational Change

--- EGR

Engaging Conflict: a Leadership Necessity?

War is Peace1984 -- George Orwell

I would rather have a general who was lucky than one who was good. – Napoleon Bonaparte.
Dilemmas. Leadership offers an incumbent realms of opportunity; and, also, realms of temptation. It is in the interests of the followership (and, also, of the disinterested) to hold leadership in rein. But it is natural, even necessary, for leadership to strain against it. The priorities of leadership and followership not infrequently butt heads. (See A Leader's Primary Pursuit: Incumbency)

Leadership as “Service.”
"The king is foremost the servant ... of the State.“ -- Frederic II, King of Prussia (1712 - 1786)
Incumbent candidates of all kinds support their proposal of incumbency with often not too subtle threats. A traditional approach is to claim a “servant’s” role to some widely “honored”, if fuzzy, goal or person, for example, Servant of God, Servant of The People, Servant of Justice, Servant of Peace.

As such, a Servant-Leader, the proposed incumbent promises to clarify, pursue and actualize the “Will” (or “True Meaning”} of God, People, Justice or Peace.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21

Why “God” Needs a “Devil.” It is the real or imagined threat of conflict that disciplines a “distractable” followership into supporting incumbency. The normal inclinations of people to go about their own business, giving only lip-service to the proposals of authority, tend to undermine that authority or lower its esteem.

Leaders looking to use their organization as an agency of change have to carefully distinguish between members who are marginal, those who are interested and those who are zealots. It really makes a difference. (See Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change )

So it is that “natural” priorities, e.g. attention to personal physical needs, to personal gain, to individual interests, or to ties to family, friends, or neighbors have to be demonized, if only minimally lowered in esteem, as “distractions” from pursuit of “nobler” goals, i.e. those goals “clarified” by the would-be incumbent. People must be “educated” to resist the “temptations” of such “selfish distractions.”

So it is that all over the world, Societies send out Teachers to Educate the Intellectually and Morally Underdeveloped so as to reduce Discord, Crime and Corruption.
The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. Matthew 13:41

Conflict: A Balm for Incumbents? Louis Coser identifies several important functions of conflict.
a. Conflict makes connection. It is a basic form of exchange and interaction. It is a negotiation.

b. Conflict among groups sharpens their exterior boundaries.

c. Conflict among groups revitalizes traditions and norms.

d. Information gathering, reconnaissance, is a function of conflict.

e. Conflict among groups causes their replication of each other, a balance of structure and functions which may encourage formation of similar markets and power centers.

Generally often overlooked issues are several:
1. Who, specifically, benefits from these outcomes of conflict?

2. Who, specifically, pays the costs?

3. Does the leadership and followership share benefits in some fair proportion to the costs borne by them?

4. Why do incumbents tend to resist raising such issues?

The Moral Hazards of Leadership that strives to be heroic are unavoidable. But they can be dealt with. There are enough extant conflicts in the world to provide many an incumbent with opportunities for heroic leadership. (See LEADERSHIP vs. MORALITY: AN UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT?)

The dangerous temptation is for the incumbent to create conflict merely to protect his or her own incumbency with little regard for those whom he or she leads. History has long shown this to be a not uncommon hazard. Leaders not infrequently tend to seek out, if not create, what they can present to their followers as an unavoidable conflict -- often prettified nowadays with the label, "challenge."

And inept, uninformed leaders generally end up being either just lucky, or, more frequently, losers. Much more so their followers. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?)

For examples and to examine these issues further in a widely presumed less important, less turbulent context, see The Functions of Conflict in the Context of Schooling )

--- EGR