Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving In Over Our Heads: Living and Learning in the Cave

In Over Our Heads: Living and Learning in the Cave

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Experts must come to grips with the judgmental challenges of bias and noise. Where are they most vulnerable. They can offer consistent perspectives and advocate for consistent practices; however, in doing so they are open to profound biases, and they could do damage to those listening to their opinions and following their advice. Conversely, they could be open to new information and provide diverse perspectives and offer multiple bits of advice. As “noisy” experts they are likely to lose credibility and find few people willing to follow their suggestions. We find this challenge of inconsistency and diversity of opinion to be operating about those who offer “expert” advice regarding viruses, wars on poverty and drugs, and the preservation of democracy. Put simply, “noisy” experts are in trouble—even though they might have the best hold on contemporary reality. This is a very difficult condition embedded in the level one distinction to be drawn between BIAS and NOISE.

Level Two: Examining self-reinforcing and self-sealing assumptions.

A view of this second level comes from the work of two psychologists, Chris Argyris and Don Schon (1974). During more than twenty years of remarkable collaborative work, Argyris and Schon provided a detailed analysis of the way in which we, as leaders, members of a work group, or someone treating psychopathology, operate with two distinctive theories about human behavior and particularly about our own behavior. On the one hand, we have an Espoused Theory. This is the theory we offer to other people when asked why we do what we do:

“Why do I confront this person who works for me by offering examples of his misconduct? I do this because, he needs to know what he is doing in order to improve his performance.”

“As a leader, it is important for me to treat all of my employees in a fair and equitable manner. That is the modern way to be a leader.”

Our espoused theories often come from the books or articles we have read or the training session we attended last week (if we can still remember what was contained on the power points). At some level, we even believe that we operate in a manner that is aligned with this theory—though we are usually aware that there are “exceptions” – such as when my subordinate has ignored my previous feedback, or when the organization I lead is “in crisis.”

This moves us to the second type of theory identified by Argyris and Schon. This is the Theory-In-Use—a theory that guides the way in which we actually operate. This is the theory that would be identified by someone who is being objective and perhaps naïve (the proverbial “person from Mars”) when observing our behavior. Many years ago, I was conducting a summer program that involved learners of all ages. My two children were attending this program. One day, I asked one of my young children what she had observed. My child indicated that there seemed to be a lot of time spent sitting on uncomfortable chairs just talking about stuff. “Dad, why do people spend all of their time sitting on their butts? Don’t they want to start doing something?” My child seems to have captured my pedagogical theory-in-use: people learn and somehow remain engaged when they are just sitting around and talking to one another.

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