May 192014

leadershipSo to follow-up from the last post

…what I really wanted to say was that this was a stunning example of how quickly and easily humans are hacked. Because this exercise was simply “count the Fs” to teach us an attention-to-detail lesson. After we counted the Fs, a Teacher drew numbers on whiteboards across the room, from 1 to 9. As he drew each one he said “Everyone who thinks the statement had x F’s, come stand by x.” Therefore everyone in the classroom publically committed to a number, and was joined in brotherhood with others who agreed with that number.

Afterwards, everyone was given another 15 seconds to read the sentence and re-count. Then every group was approached, and everyone within it asked “Would you like to change what group you’re in? If so, please do so now.” This led to either renunciation of prior membership and joining a new group, or reaffirmation of loyalty to your original group. This happened to every group in turn, in a public ritual.

By the time they were done, we were no longer just some people who’d counted some letters on a paper. We were coalitions. Being a 6Fer or a 9Fer was part of your identity. It was a defining trait, and a bond.

That’s what really stunned me. Fellow accountants, very detail-oriented people, had been sorted into the 6F group (the supposedly non-detail-oriented group) due to a grammatical trick. In any legitimate test they would have been sorted into 9F. And they attacked 9Fers as being nerdy, short-sighted, nose-in-the-books types simply because they were the “other” group. This was an amazing example of how to use identity politics to get people to attack their own interests.  An incredibly simple trick to form groups and manipulate them.

This matched nicely with one of the first lessons of the first day. We were told that after we’ve explained the current situation to the group we’re leading, (direct quote) “then it’s important to create dissatisfaction with that current reality.” Which looks to be good advice, and reminds me of the old story of a boss spurring on employees who had been happy working just 10 hours/week by mailing all of them a Sears catalog.

And they used this technique not even for any high and noble purpose. Simply for a demonstration of what could be done. The manipulation of minds as an object lesson of how easy it is to manipulate minds.

The lesson that stuck most after the first leadership training session was that Corporate Leadership (and maybe all leadership?) is Dark Arts. You have a job to get done, and the mental integrity of the tools you use to get it done is not a priority. Why should it be?

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