I used to have a paranoiac patient who tried to explain to me all the time her very special powers. When she was on the bus, and a traffic light became red, she mentally and quietly told the bus to stop. And the bus stopped every single time. No kidding.
And because the bus stopped every single time, she was constantly reinforced in her beliefs. Not a single failure in her will for years. Now, try to undue that logic. Well, don’t. No clinical psychiatrist has ever done it. So I didn’t either.
In small scale, we all do a bit of this. We attribute ourselves powers in causality that do not belong to us. Positive effects in the organization after our interventions gives us a sense of power and control, regardless the origin of those positive feelings. The new CEO is in place for the last 3 months, the share price goes up, and this is attributed to ‘the market’ feeling positive about CEO. The sales training precedes an increase of market share, so the training was very good. The employee survey’s score on work-life balance went up 5 points since last survey, so we are doing something good for the life of employees.
Those are all examples of magical thinking, the same type of thinking of my paranoiac patient stopping buses on red lights.
A cousin of that thinking is exploited by ISIS when it says that the London terrorist was under orders of the Caliphate. If I were in charge of the Caliphate, I would wait for any lone wolf and any wild act of isolated terrorism to claim ownership, even if there was no connection with those people. It is an incredible cost effective way to claim power.
Magical thinking is not the prerogative of madness. We all, sane people, I hope, do a bit of that all the time.
The reality is that it is hard to claim true causality in the organizational world. That is why most organizational ROIs are flawed. Since critical thinking is a habit of the mind, developing a healthy scepticism and some passion for curiosity and inquiry, are the only guarantee of preventing the Red Traffic Light Logic.
We have created an entire Organizational Theory based on Post Hoc fallacies, such as the ones on the CEO extraordinary market powers, or our own sales training leading to fantastic sales.
Magical thinking is embedded in corporate life. We have shamans everywhere. Little ones, big ones. The Red Traffic Light Logic is actually not that unusual.