Miss Universe and who’s to blame

Miss Colombia was crowned Miss Universe 2015!


And THEN a few minutes later, the tiara was removed from her head, the sash from her shoulders and put on Miss Philippines.

Miss Philippines was now Miss Universe instead of poor Miss Colombia.

Turns out that the host of the competition had accidently switched around second place and winner, so once the mistake was realised…


The only thing for it was to dethrone the newly crowned Miss of the Universe….


And put it onto Miss Phillipines head instead.

An awkward terrible period of booing and mortification ensued for all on stage.

The host of the show has been widely blamed for switching first and second place and annoucing the wrong winner. But look at the piece of paper he was given to read out from.


Ever seen a more badly designed and confusing layout for conveying essential information?

The people who came 2nd and 3rd are referred to as 2nd runner up and 1st runner up. Not 2nd and 3rd place, but moved up one position so the person in second place is now the first runner-up. Hurray for winning the runners-up!

Then have a good hunt around for the most important word on the page….


There it is there. Smallest font on the card in the least obvious place to find it without any hints that THIS part of the card (handily circled in red with big red arrow by us here at ThinkPurpose) is the bit to look at and read out from.

So, what’s this got to do with systems thinking then?

Miss Universe will rule the Universe for a year with her beau, Mr Universe, so it’s important that all of time and matter are ruled by the right people.
Imagine if any old Miss could rule it without being scored corectly on their ability to wear an evening gown? Galaxies and nebulae deserve a Miss who can wear a bikini with aplomb. Or the current Mr Universe pictured here with guns like this…Capture

So everybody blamed the host for “reading out the wrong name”, here’s two reasons why they were wrong.

Why it’s the system

The man who read out the card wasn’t at fault. It wasn’t him to “blame”. He was an essential feature of the system playing a role in it. His role depended on him being given the correct inputs to carry out that role. He’s “part” of a machine, a machine for deciding and communicating the winners. It’s the whole that either works or doesn’t. Not one single part. The whole failed when it didn’t achieve it’s purpose of communicating the winner.
Systems are interconnected parts, it’s the interconnection that matters, how they work together. In this case the “deciding” part didn’t connect properly with the “communicating” bit, using a useless confusing piece of paper, and chaos ensued.
You could only see where it broke down, when the presenter read it out, which leads on to the second You’re why people were wrong to blame the presenter…

Why people prefer to blame the person

You’re probably sitting there, cool as you like, thinking that your mind is some gleaming efficiency machine, all rational and that. It’s not. It’s the ragged confusing mess of millions of years of evolution not design. It bears the scars of evolving in small family groupings as gatherer-hunters in some ancestral environment that looks nothing like your office or the finals of Miss World. Like putting a tiger in a suit and making him go to work in an office, you’ve taken the tiger out of the jungle but you can’t take the tiger out of the tiger.


“Should i eat Shona from Accounts for lunch, or that live goat tethered over there?…”

So there’s a right mess of old and not entirely appropriate ways of thinking rattling around up there.
This includes something called…[drum roll as he finally gets round to it] the fundamental attribution error.
This is the built in feature in human thinking where we place an undue emphasis on somebody’s personality when explaining why they did something, rather than the situation in which they find themselves.
So, you see somebody drop something they’re carrying, then you think they’re a clutz. Rather than they’re trying to carry something tricky to handle. It’s blaming an event on some inbuilt permanent feature of the actors personality, being unable to see the temporary features of the environment that made them behave that way.
So, the presenter is an idiot, rather than the presenter was given an incomprehensible and easily misread card to understand the contents of in a high pressure situation being televised live across the world.

The role of the interconnectedness of parts on the proper functioning of a system, and not noticing the fundamental attribution bias when judging a situation, these combine all the time in organisations to blind people to the true causes of errors and under performance.
Trying to get out of the habit of easy blame patterns is tricky but not impossible. Apply simple rules of thumb like “It’s always the system until proven otherwise” as a conscious and effortful thinking heuristic rather than relying on your unconscious and effortless hardwired assumptions about people’s behaviour.

Miss Universe is crass sexist stupidity of course and I’m amazed it’s still around given you know, reality and that, but whilst it is still around it behoves us to use it for something useful at least, like learning features of systemic behaviour and hardwired thinking patterns.
Yes, behoves, I said it.

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