Keeping an open mind.

Welcome to the first weekly Motivation Matters blog!

This weeks article is from the September 2006 edition of Perform, our newsletter. It may be an older article but I find it still holds true!

Einstein spent the last twenty years of his life in the professional doldrums. He appeared fixated by his own successes and refused to accept the usefulness of quantum mechanics theory. His mind was closed to the idea.

I suppose we all tend to suffer the same way. What worked well for us in the past must work well in the future. We all tend to bring the same solutions to problems – ask a consultant!

Of course, things change, the world turns, new possibilities arise and situations that look the same may be, in fact, quite different.

There is a story that nicely illustrates this, from the Suez crisis. President Nasser of Egypt had nationalised the Suez Canal, owned chiefly by French and British interests. For various reasons, strategic interest and political grandstanding among them, France and England invaded the Canal Zone with Israeli support.

The Egyptians, calculating that the French and British would accept the nationalisation, were completely outgunned. Soviet influence was very strong in the Middle East at the time and the story relates advice from a Military Attaché. The Attaché told Nasser to withdraw his troops to the centre of the country and wait for winter. This good advice had brought victory for Russia against Napoleon and Hitler after all! We like to stick to what we know worked once before.

Finally, I would like to introduce the term “groupthink”, originally coined in 1952 by William H. Whyte, an American writer on organisations.

Groupthink describes the process where a group of people all agree and are unable to voice dissent. We become over-confident in our invulnerability, in our correctness and decision-making.

The classic example of Groupthink usually cited regards the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (sic) in 1941.

The US had received many indications of the Japanese attack. They disbelieved clear statements from both the Peruvian ambassador and a British double agent.

The US had broken Japanese ciphers. They intercepted a message to the Japanese agent on Honolulu asking about war ship disposition and another to Japanese diplomats in Washington instructing them to destroy confidential information immediately, this just four days before the attack. Finally, they picked up signals from the Japanese Carrier fleet just an hour before the attack.
None of this information fitted their analysis that the Japanese would attack Southeast Asia, although they recognised an attack was certain after the breakdown of talks.

One thing is for certain, if you are over-confident and do not have an open mind then you will miss new ideas.

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