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A reasoned response?

November 22, 2013

My wife and I are in the midst of an interesting, educational, and highly entertaining conversation with our daughter.
She'd like an iPhone for her birthday…
… and I'd like a Jaguar, I say.
Already in possession of my old BlackBerry for emergency calls, along with a new iPad mini, she's having a tough time reasoning us through this 'need.'
Everyone has one, she pleads.
Nice try, but that has no traction with us. What's more, I've determined independently that this is just not so.
And what would you use the phone for?
To talk to my friends.
Well, you have a phone for that.
But, it doesn't have any apps and there's no texting.
Well, what's that you're doing with the iPad?
That's messaging, not texting. There's a difference, Papa.
Hmmm... some day, I'll have to figure that one out.
Sometimes, our teachers ask us to Google something in class, and I can't do it on that old BlackBerry.
Isn't that what the iPad is for?
We're not allowed to have iPads in class.
Hmmm... but you're allowed to have iPhones in class?
… and the wifi at school is no good.
… apparently, it's just fine, according to my independent sources.
But… [and here's the big one… ]but I 'want' one.
Right! And how much does it cost? And the monthly plan? And what if we gave you a thousand dollars for your birthday, and left you to spend it over the next year – an iPhone, the monthly plan, clothes, and those not infrequent trips to Tim Hortons with your friends?
[we can see the numbers tumbling around in her head, and not arriving at a very happy place]
But everyone has one.
Sorry, been there, done that. Wrong number.
Well, Mama, you've got one.
And a job to pay for it, too.
But I want one……………
I think you can see where this conversation is heading. The joys of parenting never stop.
Scientific Management, or Taylorism of the late 1800s and early 1900s, reduced worker inputs to a level of no reasonable distinction with raw materials or equipment. Time and motion studies turned workers into machinery, creating an entirely new field of medicine for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. A century ago, logic and accounting and re-engineering of production lines ruled the day – and created an environment ripe for the rise of labour unions. Adherence to Taylorism attained mythological status, and lives on today in the minds of many without any regard to its inherent structural flaws.
In 1982, I read a book by Bill Ouchi, called Theory Z. This was a book that must have created innumerable nightmares for the bean counters among us. Spring boarding from prior work by Deming, Ouchi turned the world of industrial management on its ear. Visions of participatory management, trust in workers, and quality circles danced in our heads as fresh young business students. Of particular interest to me was the notion that factories could sustain maximum efficiency only up to a maximum of 500 employees. Beyond that point, traditional thinking and economies of scale broke down. Why? Well, factories were like communities, like families if they were small enough. To a point, everyone knows everyone. Empathy for one another holds the community intact, and productivity is thereby supported and sustained. The theory (Theory Z, that is) held that, beyond 500 employees, empathy and community are lost, and productivity displays a negative return. When such soft concepts as empathy and community are introduced, a lot of people, even today, become very uncomfortable. Simplicity, logic, and reason still dominate, but often are not enough to carry the day. As someone who makes his living by measuring things with numbers and reason, including many so-called 'soft' things thought by most to be immeasurable, I am acutely aware of the inherent limitations of numbers and reason.
This is not to dismiss reason as an important support for decisions. Far from it.
A long time ago, a colleague shared a very useful tool with me. This is a tool I use every day, and have found particularly helpful as I wade through a vast and growing collection of fact and fiction.
This tool is called "the knowledge quadrants." It helps to understand this concept if you first take a blank piece of paper and draw a cross on it to create four quadrants. In the bottom left quadrant, write "DK and DK." Top left is "DK but K." Top right is "K but DK." Finally, write "K and K" in the bottom right quadrant.
Whenever we face dilemmas and decisions, or are charged with making important judgments, we operate in one of these quadrants. Our task, then, is first to understand which quadrant we're in as these events arise, and then to respond accordingly.
The first quadrant is a very dangerous place, as it represents those occasions when we "Don't Know and we Don't even Know that we Don't Know." I call this the territory of the teenager. Those of you who have had teenagers will know what I mean. This is a time when we are blinded by our dreaming, our false sense of invincibility, and our uncontrollable desires for something just beyond our reach, like an iPhone. Reason is nowhere to be found.
The second quadrant is one in which, I must confess, I find myself more often than not. It includes those occasions when we "Don't Know, but we Know that we Don't Know." It represents that healthy, productive transition from total ignorance to 'enlightened' ignorance. If you can prevent yourself from being totally paralyzed by the recognition of your ignorance, this is a relatively safe place to be. The response to enlightened ignorance, of course, is to seek out more information.
Seeking new knowledge, new facts, and new wisdom is clearly the best path to pursue at all times. Unfortunately, perfect information is elusive, and in turn, so is the perfect decision. The best we can hope for is that, at the end of the day, we will have made more correct decisions than incorrect decisions. This said, we must still make decisions: pro-act, react, or do nothing. Paralysis by analysis results in too many missed opportunities. The world keeps spinning, and those of us left searching for the perfect decision will be left behind and find ourselves spinning right off the playing field.
The third quadrant, as I'm sure you've deduced, represents those times when we "Know, but Don't really Know that we Know." We've made the transition from ignorance to enlightenment (maybe that's too strong a word, but let's leave it alone for now), yet are not fully confident in our understanding.
Of course, the fourth and final quadrant represents those times when we "Know and we Know that we Know." Notwithstanding the claims of many pundits and so-called experts, this quadrant is very sparsely populated. Those who know won’t say and those who say, generally, don’t know.
Of guarantees, there are none. We all struggle and stumble to get from A to B. I vary daily in my assessment of which quadrant I'm operating in, depending on the subject matter at hand. Most of the time, I would guess I'm operating in the second quadrant, but I can't really say that I know that to be true. Hmmm…
As valuable as reason is, it occupies far too great a share of consideration when it leads us to oversimplify. When we calculate and carve out a very well defined and very rigid path from A to B, we may, in doing so, sacrifice immense opportunities otherwise available to us. I know where I'd like to go on this vacation, but remain open to being surprised. By opening the channel more widely, we embrace the very great potential of the uncertain or the yet unknown. We sacrifice control, that's true, but by remaining open to new possibilities, the journey becomes a dynamic work in progress, open to amendment. The mission is clear. The strategy, however, is an experience of continual refinement.
Our craving for certainty emanates from fear of failure and a need to control. Most of our energies in life are spent desperately trying to tie ourselves off to the solid trunk of that old oak tree, in fear of falling over the precipice. The truth, however, is that we are most alive when hanging by our toenails from the edge of a cliff. No risk… no gain.
Fear and control do not make for healthy personal relationships. Fear and control do not make for a healthy society or economy. Fear and control do not make for a healthy international landscape.
Certainty is a rare commodity in any aspect of life, most rarely in the arena of relationships. When we find ourselves craving certainty in our relations with other people, we are wise to take a time-out, asking what we're afraid of. When we find ourselves seeking positions of control over others in our personal lives, we've already declared failure. There is absolutely no victory in sight.
Until and unless we embrace uncertainty and thereby open ourselves to unfamiliar territory and uncomfortable dialogue with 'the other' – in the home, in the community, and in the world – our place will be one of certain discomfort.
Simplistic, reasoned thinking, based on experience, can lead to great success in decision making. Lessons learned can readily be applied without further study to new but similar situations as may confront us. Unfortunately, when inappropriately applied to enough new or enough changed situations, this type of thinking can lead to very different outcomes. Monolithic reasoned response to rapidly changing landscapes, markets, or relationships, when based on an over-simplified model, offers great potential for disastrous consequences. This is sometimes the high price paid for simplicity.
This same rigidity in thinking leaves us confused in how we see and value life experience. Regularly, I meet people who mistake standard of living with quality of life. Others don't see the difference between creation of wealth and the accumulation of wealth. Others still are consumed by consumption.
We carry with us many well seasoned, and even well reasoned myths, created by us in our craving for simplicity and certainty, and created for us by others who stand to gain by sustaining these myths. Reasoned myths are still myths.

Kevin Graham

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