Sunday, May 18, 2014

Quotation incrustation (and a little inoculation)

Francis Bacon said, 'There arises from a bad and unapt formation of words a wonderful obstruction of the mind'. And where better for a wonderful obstruction of the mind than the program kick-off meeting? A slide-deck which has been over worked, with pictures of sinking boats (that will never happen here of course), some incidental shots of a medal winning track team and maybe even the odd roaring lion. And of course the quotes. Where would the slide-ware of any self-respecting change practitioner be without some well chosen quotes from a few notable luminaries?

You know the sort of thing... "I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom" or "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts".

But quotes are funny things. And, it was only when recently reading Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (which I can't recommend highly enough incidentally) that I realized just how potentially beguiling a quote can be.

Now even I am not going to try and distil Professor Kahneman's comprehensive insights within a paragraph or two of my blog but among the great swathes of wisdom provided, Professor Kahneman discusses something called the 'confirmation bias'. The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.

So with that in mind and to underscore by point a little, I ask that you cast your eyes over the following, almost universally flawed, quote-ware; 

“Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she’s a householder” (Extraordinarily naughty)

“Better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground” (Unhelpfully playing on latent fears about more or less anything)

“Hat’s divide generally into three classes: offensive hats, defensive hats, and shrapnel” (Smirk-worthy undoubtedly, but entirely content free)

“The only fetters binding the working class today are mock-Rolex watches” (Mildly offensive and with some obvious pandering to smouldering prejudices)

“It is queer how it is always one’s virtues and not one’s vices that precipitate one into disaster.” (Stealthily seductive and quite possibly dangerous!)

“The truth is that our race survived ignorance it is our scientific genius that will do us in” (Truth? Prove it!)

“Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them” (A bit of grandiose whimsy)

"A policitian’s words reveal less about what he thinks about his subject than what he thinks about his audience". (Rather insightful actually).

You might find that (in view of Professor Kahneman's run-away success) that your audience isn't quite as susceptible to an approach of "'s a quote to back up what I'm telling you so it must be true...". You might also be less easily beguiled by a well chosen (if specious) quote should you be on the receiving end of it.

But, most importantly, you won't need roaring lions and Benjamin Franklin in your communications if you simply answer the questions; what's the point and why does it matter?

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