Relating to Anomalies

Reading responses to threads on various websites, I get a kick out of how attached we humans can get to our own viewpoints—which often have us in a kind of death grip when challenged! (Some respondents sound like they’re having temper tantrums rather than exploring different points of view.) But a quality of leadership I admire and encourage is the willingness to reexamine one’s belief in systems and mental models. To me an effective leader (or human being for that matter) is one who can deal with the cognitive dissonance that arises from confronting data that’s inconsistent with cherished beliefs. This ability, so useful in a time of instability and disruption, seems underrated these days. Yet a leader’s curiosity and interest with respect to ANOMALIES says a lot about the wisdom and maturity of that individual.

Thomas Kuhn, in his 1962 classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, speaks of anomalies as “violations of expectation” that can escalate to “crises,” precipitating violence to our “paradigms.” When we can’t make anomalies conform to our current mindset, they can lead us to the “reconstruction of prior theory,” an intrinsically revolutionary process.” Hmmm. Sounds EXACTLY like what’s needed in business in these crazy times. So how do you respond to data that don’t fit your theories—perhaps the feedback you’re getting from the market, your customers, your organization? How do you—and your company’s leaders—deal with anomalies?

John OLeary posted this on August 1, 2005, in Strategies.
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