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Eliminating "doublethink;" or, how to overcome terminal inertia.

Eliminating "Doublethink;" Or, How to Overcome Terminal Inertia

How many times have you heard the phrase "Nothing ever changes?" Unfortunately, while most managers in business and industry have never been busier or involved in more projects, most employees will tell you "Nothing ever seems to get done." What causes this lack of progress in the midst of chaos? The answer is quite simple. Management is suffering from terminal inertia caused by "doublethink."

Simply stated, this situation arises whenever a person or group of people accepts, as valid, two opposite and mutually exclusive premises, thereby rendering himself incapable of a positive response to either.

In "doublethink," the first or initial concept perceived as "truth" is the thesis.

A second but contradictory "truth" is the antithesis.

The synthesis, or resultant, of these two contradictory ideas creates a state of cognitive dissonance, or mental opposition, resulting in neutrality or inertia similar to a "tug-of-war" in which both sides are equally strong.

A classic example of this phenomena would occur if you attempted to train a puppy to sit but rewarded different behaviors each time.

Thesis - Push the puppy's bottom down on the ground as you command him to "Sit."

Antithesis - Force the puppy to lie down on the ground as you give the same command to "Sit."

Synthesis - Eventually, your little puppy will accept both "truths" as correct but will not know which is expected of him and will, therefore, perform neither behavior when commanded to "Sit." He is effectively neutralized.

The degree of risk one is willing to take as a result of inaction is often in direct correlation to the amount of time or money invested in either the thesis or the antithesis.

For example:

Thesis - You discover that your house, on a cliff overlooking the beach in California, straddles a visible earthquake fault. It really is not a very safe location and you should move.

Antithesis - But you paid $1.5 million for this house.

Synthesis - You stay in the house and concoct various rationalizations for doing so.

This same thing occurs each time managers buy into a program or piece of equipment which later proves inefficient. Instead of getting rid of the defective item, it is kept, even to the detriment of the overall company, because "We paid "X" dollars for it."

Probably even more pervasive in business and industry today, however, is the "It's really a great idea, ... We'll evaluate it" form of "double think."

Thesis - It's really a great idea. "Movers & Shakers" are distinguished by their willingness to act even if they make mistakes. If an idea is great, it should be acted on.

Antithesis - We'll evaluate it. The term "great" is an evaluative determination therefore further evaluation is obviously contradictory.

Synthesis - We end up "Doing nothing at all." The status quo continues and we are all kept busy evaluating "great" ideas.

There are literally hundreds of daily examples of ways in which we avoid implementing "great" ideas. A few of these progress stoppers are:

Its a Great Idea, But - Our company is unique. That's beyond our responsibility. That's not my job. Where will all the money come from? I'm too busy to decide now. We do all right now. Why can't we do it another way? It will be too hard to administer. It's not in the budget. I'm not convinced. We'll have to sell it to the boss. We don't have all the facts. It's too complicated. We'll look foolish if it doesn't work.

What is the solution? How can we avoid the inertia of "double-think?"

We can begin by being aware of the many ways in which this type of thinking permeates our jobs. When we make someone a supervisor without giving them the authority or budget to make decisions or changes in the area they supervise, we neutralize their efforts.

When we become involved in a "program" to improve any aspect of our operations and we spend more time evaluating "options" than we do identifying and fixing problems, we have been neutralized. When we encourage procrastination by punishing people for making mistakes in their efforts to make improvements, we create a stagnant environment.

Let's dare to do something - anything - and if what we do turns out to be a mistake, let's dare to fix it.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:organizational change
Author:Bostrom, Vickie
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:712
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