Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Get your untested management assumptions here!

People don’t like to think they’ve been made fools of. So they don’t think they’ve been made fools of, even when they have. And especially if they made fools of themselves

It’s called cognitive dissonance . Wait! Come back! It’s more fun than it sounds.
You are faced with something that contradicts a belief you hold, so something must give. Either you rationalise it away or you change your belief, either way holding two contradictory thoughts in your head hurts, so one must go.

Imagine you’ve sat next to me for the last few years. In that time I’ve bitched mercilessly about our corporate performance management system. I think I can talk credibly about it as I run a large chunk of it, I’m at the centre of it all. It’s not just me who thinks this. Nobody really thinks it works as they see it not working, right in front of them, once every 3 months. It’s not a controversial position to hold.

But then I say:

It’s not just this one that doesn’t work.
It’s not just all the ones before that that didn’t work.
It’s doing this at all that doesn’t work.

I then get performance management people in a room and put a timeline on a wall, I pin up examples of each previous failed performance management system, showing over almost 10 years, the previous attempts at doing the same thing over and over again, and failing each time. Each time I pin up an example there is a knowing nod and a smirk from people in the room. It is ok now to laugh at them, as it was in a different country, and besides the wench is dead. There is agreement amongst the people there that some of these things seem silly now. I show how each time we get rid of a widely disliked system, we set about creating another one, sure as Hell that…

this time it will work, because this time…it’s different!


Except it isn’t. It is basically the same thing, with a different name.

I sit back.

I wait for people to bang their heads with their hands and stand up energised, shouting “Goddamit! We should just stop! It’s the only answer!”

Except nobody does.

Nobody wants to feel cheated.

Doing the wrong thing, willingly, for years, would make you feel like you’ve been had. Or even thinking that there is a possibility that it COULD be stopped, that would make you think that it could have been stopped years ago. Or thinking that what you do, for a job, has no actual effect, or even that it is worthwhile thinking at all whether your job has an effect rather than just nose down getting on with it, what happens if thinking about the value you have been adding shows NO actual value?….

Nobody wants to feel cheated.

Let alone me. So if these people can’t see the facts staring them in the face they are cattle, bleating sheep who can’t think for themselves!

Except they are not, and here’s the kicker, because who ELSE in that room is doing the same thing again and again, expecting something different? Me!

I am trying to get someone to realise something by me explaining to them rationally what cannot be explained rationally. I am trying to change an essential belief in these people’s heads by just pinning things up on a wall and asking them questions. AGAIN! And when my attempt fails again, I think they’re idiots! This way I preserve my rightness at my approach, as it isn’t the approach that has failed, or by extension ME that has failed, rather it is them.

The systems thinking lesson

God there’s loads.

  • everyone is prey to cognitive biases, that includes you especially. Not me though.
  • logically giving a rational explanation will not change anybody’s mind if it challenges a fundamental need to believe.
  • don’t bother with trying to change performance/policy officers. What’s the point, they are not in charge of anything and I’d just be making more versions of me.
  • people can only learn in the work, faced with reality. Not in a meeting room faced with flipchart sheets on a wall.
  • “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
    To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 
    ― Richard Buckminster Fuller  So stop banging on about how rubbish the current set up is, and do something better elsewhere instead. If it works, then the old stuff will shrivel away unused and drop off, like putting an elastic band around a lambs testicles. No need for a direct attack, it will die of neglect when people start doing something better elsewhere.
  • & above all…

Keep systems thinking and have a lovely day!

This entry was posted in change, learning, me doing it, public sector, systems thinking, thinking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

  1. craigwbrown says:

    “to change something build something better…”

    So how does one remove a system that is not required, like the one in your example?


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I’m hoping that it’ll wither away when people do something more interesting/useful instead. If not then I don’t really care, my priority is getting the right thing done, done right. That’s what’s needed to be focussed on. Not the silly things that already exist but the good things that don’t yet. All a guess though.


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