Bring out the worst

David Huggins

What it is that brings out the worst in our self or in others has always been a fascinating question and I’m not sure that I’ve ever found a convincing explanation - until recently. There have been times and occasions in my past when I’ve acted directly contrary to what I feel is my true nature. I’ve also watched, with both concern and curiousity when I’ve observed this same behaviour in others; it really is disturbing and perplexing when you know someone is ‘off their tracks’.


The tragedy is that it seems almost impossible to stop it as it happens. Often there’s ample time to consider the consequences and even to debate the merits (or otherwise!) of particular actions, but nothing seems to deter people from sabotaging themselves on occasions. In most cases we relate to others because experience and exposure over time has convinced us that they are ‘good people’, safe to be around and invariably well-intentioned. Then something happens that sends them sideways and they behave so out-of-character that we’re forced to question almost everything we believe about them.


However, recent research, by Chen-Bo Zhong, who conducted a series of psychological experiments at the University of Toronto, reveals that nearly 70% of people who were in a deliberative mindset were willing to lie for their own gain, compared with just 36% of those who were thinking intuitively. He suggests, based on these findings, that thoughtful deliberation or rational consideration could pose a danger to the quality of moral judgement. Likely we should be questioning whether traditional business approaches, which emphasize deliberative, rational decision making, are actually contributing value to our business.


So, what does this mean for the way we operate our businesses?


I’ve noted for many years that many entrepreneurs, while being somewhat black & white on issues, generally appear to be more comfortable with their decisions and I’ve wondered why. Perhaps it’s because they tend to rely more heavily on their intuitive mind rather than always taking the more rational approach which is prevalent in larger organizations. Another observation is that major disasters usually emanate from comparatively small and simple initial decisions while complex issues move with more deliberation yet with higher integrity. Maybe this is because we tend to apply rational processes to smaller, simpler decisions, where this is easier due to fewer variables, whereas we’ll rely more on our ‘gut’ feelings when dealing with complex issues.


It can be argued too that, for many teams, intuitive responses appear to be more spontaneous and perhaps genuine than rational (contrived?) answers so team members may trust them more readily. After all, some careful and thoughtful team leaders have been accused of being ‘calculating’ on occasions. Teams may be more comfortable when there’s evident emotion in the proceedings. What it tells me, as an individual, is that I should always be sure to consider my first, intuitive impression - particularly on matters of morality; it also suggests that investing a lot of rational thought on these same issues isn’t necessarily going to improve them.


What do you think?  


About the author: David Huggins MASc, FIoD, CMS is an experienced behavioral scientist and executive coach who’s dedicated to bringing out the best in individuals and groups. His insights and direct contributions have taken business leaders to elevated dimensions in performance. He can be reached through his websites at www.andros.org and www.polarisprogram.com


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