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Be Open to Outcome—The Leaderly Approach

May 23, 2021

A baseball bat and a baseball cost $1.10

The bat costs one dollar more than the baseball.

How much does the baseball cost?

According to Professor of Psychology Emeritus (Princeton), Daniel Kahneman, most people (including smarty pants Ivy League students) state that the baseball costs 10 cents.


The baseball costs five cents.

Think about it for a moment if you replied 10 cents.

In his best-selling book Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman takes the reader on a fascinating journey in understanding how humans think. Thinking fast is our immediate response to our environment. He calls this System One. An example is when we’re driving a car and see a red light. We don’t go through an analytical assessment of what steps to do to brake. We just do it.

The converse to System One is System Two, Thinking slow. You’re at a work meeting and wish to present a counter argument to a colleague’s comment on a controversial issue. Taking a System One approach is probably not the best route, especially if you’re emotionally charged up. Taking a System Two—logical—approach would be the preferred option.

Some of System One’s characteristics include:

— creates feelings, impressions and inclinations; when affirmed by System Two, beliefs and attitudes emerge,
— functions automatically and quickly without much voluntary effort,
— forms a clear pattern of ideas in memory,
— ignores ambiguity and suppresses doubt,
— frames decisions narrowly in isolation from one another.

That many of us have a tendency to shoot from the hip—especially extroverts—presents a leadership challenge when it comes to how we conduct ourselves at work, home and in the community. Thinking fast has its place in leadership, but thinking slow is where a leader’s true value to organizations and society occurs.

Kahneman’s work links directly to how we process and adapt to change. Two fairly recent examples come to mind: the June 23, 2016, referendum where the UK voted for what became labelled as Brexit, and the November, 2016, election of Donald J. Trump.

On Brexit, the media, political “experts” and anyone with a set of vocal chords went wild. The sky will fall chimed those in the Remain camp. And following the referendum’s surprising result, naysayers went into overdrive. It became a pessimist’s orgy of gloom and doom.

Much of the pre and post-referendum commentary was, in effect, Thinking Fast. People became too emotionally invested in their preferred outcome for the UK. As they would say across the Pond: “That’s a pity.”

And then there was the political spectacle of the century. With some parallel similarities to the Brexit outcome, Donald Trump’s election should not have really been a surprise. If one had been paying close attention to what been evolving in the United States, Great Britain, and Western Europe, in regard to angry citizens, being more open to a political upset would not have rocked as many mainstream journalists, academics and pollsters.

What’s unfortunate is that instead of those highly educated and publicly respected individuals (regularly interviewed in the media) taking a Thinking Slow approach when discussing a Trump administration, a Chicken Little route was typically taken. Thinking Fast and becoming emotional with often wild speculation has added nothing to the political debate in the United States over the years. At a crucial time of political transition, intelligent discussion and analysis—Thinking Slow—is badly needed.

Rather than moaning about how evil Donald Trump is—whether when president or now as a private citizen— and how he’ll damage America, the intelligentsia needs to determine where and how they can contribute to their country’s future. The visceral display of contempt towards Donald Trump by the country’s elite thinkers is characteristic of a Thinking Fast mentality, where attachment to outcome has blinded self-perceived smart people. It serves no one (except their egos), especially the United States, a nation that is undergoing gyrating uncertainty.

As a long-time student of leadership for three decades, I’ve accumulated a wide variety of experiences relating to leadership development (including designing and delivering training), team building, organizational downsizing and re-structuring, public speaking, and customer service. Throughout this process, one particular thing helped me to adapt to numerous change events. It’s what the late leadership practitioner Angeles Arrien called “Be open to outcome, not attached to it.”

Arrien, who died suddenly in April 2014, wrote the phenomenal book The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary. It’s undoubtedly the leadership book that had the greatest positive impact on me as an evolving leader.

As I read Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, I made the link to The Fourfold Way. Thinking Fast doesn’t cut it in a rapidly changing geo-political-economic environment. Sure there are times when you need to think fast. However, if you’re in a leadership position, regardless of hierarchy in an organization or your community, Thinking Slow is the route to take when making decisions for the longer-term. They’ll be of much higher quality, you’ll piss off fewer people (instead of making rash decisions), and you’ll contribute more constructively to your organization, community or family. And in that process, you’ll be much better positioned to adapt to change by being open to outcome and not attached to it.

It’s become abundantly clear that the self-perceived experts, from whatever field, are often either poorly informed on an issue or have taken the lazy Thinking Fast approach when asked to comment on what are often very important economic and social issues. In short, they’re attached to outcome.

Your leadership challenge is to engage in the appropriate thinking mode when faced with a problem. JT

Four Rules For Life: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.
— Angeles Arrien

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

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