THE ELEPHANT IN THE BRAIN

A book published at the beginning of the year about our hidden motives, The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson, collects lots of examples of our deep self-rewarding purposes (embedded, pretty unchangeable – sorry) that we deceive ourselves into believing are not there.

We claim to others and to ourselves more ‘acceptable motives’.  This self-deception may begin to explain behavioural inconsistencies that can nag at the happy functioning of teams and groups.

A new club opens. Beautiful furnishings, hip ambience, desirable in every way.
But at reception, the beautiful people fumble, don’t hear, don’t know what is going on, and fail to ‘welcome’ the smart new members.  Everything can be put right logically, the rest of the experience can be top notch, but as sure as a sure thing, those members will no longer feel loyal to the club.

The overt and claimed purpose of joining will be the luxurious convenience, the company, the sense of occasion imparted to any convened meeting or party.  What Mr Hanson and Mr Simler suggest to us about the true purpose of this sort of activity, which would never be acknowledged, is this: the members are going to the club to feel that they are receiving the love and care they deserve – and to be seen to be receiving that love and care.

No reference will be made to this true need.

Yet if that need isn’t met – sayonara.

In many apparently contractual and rational exchanges, the logical and quantifiable evaluation is not only less important than, but positively dependent on, the experience.  Less what was delivered, more how was it delivered.

In BBC Radio 4 series ‘Thought Cages’, Rory Sutherland explores many of the unquestioned ‘right and logical way to do things’ that can constrain us and can be….wrong.

Just as the club might have done better to swap the investment in designer furniture with staff beautifully accomplished in the art of welcome, teams and groups may want to pay more attention to the social and cultural ways of acknowledging status and value of team members.

The pay-off is a loyalty and willingness to participate that an email just doesn’t quite create.

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