Create several different teams consisting of several members. Have each team solve a problem and collect their answers for “grading”. Now, randomly tell half the groups that they did well and the other half that they did poorly and ask them to discuss how their team worked well or didn’t work well.
Researchers conducted this experiment both with strangers and with teams of people who knew each other. The result is that teams that found out they did well had positive things to say about how their team worked and teams that found out they did poorly, had negative things to say. In other words, they narrated their experience backwards from the results they had.
Let’s see how this works: a group that was dynamic and disagreeing throughout the exercise states they were open and they really worked hard to find the best solution if they did well. If they did poorly though, they believe they had too much conflict and not enough cohesion. A group that was very in line and there was little conflict narrates their success with the synergy that they all felt and worked well together and their failure with there not being enough conflict or difference of opinion.
We have a hard time accepting phenomenon without a narration to tell us how we got there. This is why CNN can’t resist explaining why the stock market went up or down. It’s not that they have any idea, it’s that we want a reason, any reason, that allows us to complete the gap in our story.
Think about the legend of Fedex that at one point the CEO took the remaining $5000 in the company and gambled it up to $32,000 in Las Vegas. Given the result of Fedex, this seems like a brave brilliant move. Had he lost the remaining money, how would we see the story. It also means that when we read books about business that describe the best practices, they are likely to be significantly affected by the results the company is currently experiencing.
We crave rules and stories to help simplify our lives, but sometimes life is just not that simple and we simply can’t explain exactly what or why something happened.
[Hat tip to The Halo Effect – which is a damning critique of most business management books]
Photo Credit: Nic McPhee