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: Part II  Next Issue

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