These two statements represent a form of magical thinking of the kind seen in ancient humans (clouds) and todays humans (clouds and traffic lights). Today’s humans include you and me, and also managers.
In fact, the second example (‘the traffic lights go green when I move’) is typical of a rare mental disorder called paranoia (not the same as paranoid schizophrenia), in which the patient lives a completely shielded reality with his own logic. If, or until, this reality is not in conflict with others, people with this disorder can go about normal life completely unobserved. A patient of mine, many years ago, was convinced, amongst other things, that he had invented the Italian Vespa, but his patents, and drawings, had been stolen. Over years he had came to the conclusion that it was in his benefit not to fight for his rights (I had no problem in agreeing with him. About the wisdom of not fighting, that is). He had all sorts of other collateral, strong and immovable beliefs, but, unlike in other conditions, these beliefs did not clash with anything or anybody. So we concentrated our conversation on his headaches.
‘The clouds move to follow me; the traffic lights go green when I move’, type of thinking, have remarkable similarities in some close-to-magic management, un-critical thinking. This kind of thinking gets rid of the uncomfortable and annoying issue of having to distinguish between cause and correlation. Particularly, if we want to attribute a success to ourselves, any correlation, plus a little dose of uncritical thinking, can easily be converted into causality. The so-called ‘attribution bias’ is a good example: ‘If we succeed, it’s to our credit, if we fail, it’s because they are bad’.
When we put ourselves at the centre of all (good) ‘causality’, we are very close to ‘the clouds move to follow me’. ‘Our magnificent leadership is the cause of the turnaround in sales’. Certainly not luck, or our competitors being pathetic, or the recently newly super-motivated sales force, or combinations. Of course not. The clouds move because they follow me.
Magical thinking gets unnoticed in organizations when we dress the arguments with lots of (correlation) data. Everybody wants to hear good news and everybody wants to attribute some merit to themselves. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, some things, like the invention of the Vespa, are not worth fighting.
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