Fourth Age Communiqué - Leadership for the rest of us

Friday, March 25, 2005

Defer This

The notion of deferring judgement is a highly underrated, extremely powerful tool in the change leader's toolkit. It is also highly underutilized.

It works something like this:
  • What if I were to refrain from censoring my own ideas long enough to inventory my options? (personal application)
  • What if I were mature enough to not need to hear my own voice in response to someone blathering inanely about things of which they clearly know nothing? (interpersonal application)

We all succumb to any number of self-inhibitors when trying to think up novel ideas. Sometimes the inhibitors are so strong, we don't even try to think; it is a struggle merely to be. the shame of it is, a nation of survivors does little to innovate, grow, or enhance the culture around us; much less cultivate our own personal mental space.

Statistics indicate most children are creative until they reach kindegarten or 1st grade. The corollary statistic says most adults are no longer creative. The ratio is something as obscene as 85:15.

The conundrum of processing judgement instantly rather than deferring it for a time is that we fear we will not be heard, or that we are somehow inviting others to walk all over us and our ideas as though we were a doormat. So we choose the path of pre-emptive verbal strikes. Typically long-winded and varying in degrees of "on-topic", they help us scope out our territory, be heard (or at least be verbal, if not simply be loud), and prevent others from taking all the credit for an idea that is not our own. Or, at least, prevent them from poking holes in our thoughts because they are too busy holding their breath, attempting to get a #$*!$&!! word in at all.

This doctrine works equally well when talking ourselves out of an idea. Note the irony of an original thought being crowded out by our habitual mental defenses. For demonstration purposes, when was the last time you had a novel, potentially useful idea (can you recall when that was?)? What was your first mental or verbal response to it: positive or negative? What about the last time you responded to someone else's original thought?

Studies further show students require a praise-to-criticism ratio of 4:1 just to maintain current behavior. To actually alter (read, improve) it, the ratio shoots up to 8:1.

Conclusion: we are far more likely to be negative than positive. Negative, judgemental thought is habitual to the point of going unnoticed in us. The routine of crushing, killing, stomping out or otherwise destroying others' ideas will do that to a person, because we are so used to having our own novel thoughts crushed, killed, stomped out or otherwise destroyed.

But the downward spiral can be broken. What if we were to routinely withhold judgement of another's bad idea or our own stupid thought? imagine if we habitually graced others with our silence when we have no business speaking ...

Change leaders bear an extra burden to turn the tides of meaningful change on behalf of those they wish to lead.


  • Well constructed argument. Here's my response.

    By Blogger Rob, at 7:54 AM  

  • The notion of survivors v.s. innovators reminds me of comparison I once heard of Sprint's advertising campaign as it has changed over the years. Once it was 'so clear you could hear a pin drop.' It has become, as this person saw largely on a billboard coming to work, "fewest dropped calls."

    By Blogger Rob, at 7:59 AM  

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