Springingtiger's Blog


The Language of Choice: Vanilla or Chocolate

Vanilla or Chocolate?

In the est Training there was an exercise in which a participant was asked to choose between two imaginary ice creams, one vanilla the other chocolate. Once they chose they were asked why and immediately started furnishing reasons to justify and explain their choice. As each reason was dismissed they desperately sought the right answer. Ultimately they chose whichever because that was what they chose.

I know from painful experience of quizzing that when I try to justify an answer I frequently talk myself out of it and instead replace it with an answer derived from logical reasoning only for the original answer to have been the correct one. We are unable to do anything merely because we choose to, but have to justify our every decision. It is not irresponsible to choose without an argument to support ones choice. The fabric of logical arguments for a choice are designed to avoid being responsible for our choice. In effect we are pre-defending ourselves in case something goes wrong. I remember many years ago a line manager telling me, “I don’t mind you making mistakes as long as you can justify your decision.” It occurred to me that whatever my reasoning the outcome would still be the outcome. Any result can be analysed to see how it was obtained and that can be useful for the future, however it does not change this outcome. The problem with reasoning is that it constrains our freedom to choose and completely closes down the possibility of using our intuition to guide our choice. If you screw up people will want explanations, they rarely care for the reasons when you get the right result.

Some people are happy and confident in their intuitive choices, they trust their gut feelings and they are willing to sometimes make mistakes. Some leaders have a string of failures  ̶ Steve Jobs was sacked from the company he founded, Mahatma Gandhi, Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela all spent time in gaol ̶ but they continue to trust their instincts and some change the world. Others will always play safe and weigh their decisions, they may never crash and burn, but neither will they break out of their cage and soar.

Stability in society depends on managers who always play safely within the rules. To borrow an analogy from Werner Erhard they remain in the train and ride it where the rails take it. A leader gets out in front of the train and lays track so the train goes where he sends it. The leader doesn’t make choices, the leader creates choices and because s/he is going where no one has gone before those choices may not have a scaffold of reasons based on what we all know. Sometimes a leader takes a leap of faith that the universe will honour their choice and occasionally they trip and fall. I look at people like Jerry Gillies, Richard Wilkins or Werner Erhard all of whom have gone out ahead, all of whom have fallen hard and all of whom have chosen to get up and come back stronger than ever because their choices were not based on what the world knows about failure, but the visions they created of what was possible for human beings.

The ice cream exercise is designed to open up the possibility of unreasonable choice. Reasonable always gets us more of the same. Reasonable is safe, but reasonable is rarely exciting nor inspiring. Genghis Khan was not reasonable, good or bad, he made choices that it had not occurred to anyone else were possible and conquered Asia. Christopher Columbus was ̶ in an age where the world was known to be flat ̶ unreasonable enough to choose the unacceptable theory that it was a sphere and try to sail to China by going west. Karl Marx unreasonably postulated that a worker had a sovereign right over his own labour and opened the possibility of employment rights, workers political representation, a state responsible for the care of its citizens, and a system that treated all people regardless of race and gender as equals.

You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’” (George Bernard Shaw)

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