How do you tell a real elite, from a fake elite? (Part II)
Posted by intellisg on August 7, 2007
While writing the second part of this series on ‘how do you tell a real, from a fake elite?’ I found myself mulling over an issue which started as roughly the size of a mustard seed: did you ever consider, how your assumptions about ‘elites’ came about?
By lunch time, that seed had grown to roughly the size of a tennis ball. Yet, I was still no closer to resolving the mystery – did someone put it in my head? (this may be another case for agent Molder and Scully). After rummaging through the annals of my averagely miserable childhood – I realized none of my teachers or for that matter even any my friends actually spoke to me about what an ‘elite’ is or isn’t – let alone how they should or shouldn’t behave and how to recognize one.
Mmmh strange…very strange. Maybe someone fiddled with the water supply? No, I am just kidding, but you get my drift don’t you. It’s disconcerting when you can’t pin down – how a thought managed to latch itself so firmly into your head.
Now if this sounds to you like the ‘revelation’ scene in the Matrix when Morpheus presents Neo with the ‘red and blue pills’ with the prophetic words,
“You take the blue pill – the story ends here, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland …… Neo, I don’t know how it will end, all I can tell you for certain how your journey will begin.”
That’s because this is one of those rare cases when life actually mirrors art – it begins the very moment you click on that ‘continue reading further’ side bar – only remember this: as you read, you will realize that what I have to say has nothing to do with learning, but rather unlearning! To paraphrase, it’s all about you! Surprise, surprise and you just thought it would just be a stroll in the park like part 1 – where I lay it out neatly in bullet point format while you lookey see.
Nope, we’re going to take the high road on this one. It’s got to be this way, only because if you’re really going to grasp the art of how to distinguish a fake from a real elite. You first have to ask yourself, the question: ‘where did all your assumptions about elites come from?’
Who Put It ‘All’ In My Head?
Consider this: A reporter once asked a panel of experts to ‘define space.’ One of them replied, “Space is a hole that we are in.” The reporter intoned, “That’s a really dumb answer!” The man shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Hey, you try figuring space out then, if you are so smart! Because I’ve been at it for the last 30 years and I really don’t know!”
Let’s freeze the frame here and just stand back and ask a simple question: Is this man a real ‘elite?’ Let me paraphrase, does this man conform to our world view definition of how an ‘elite’ should respond to a serious question about the mysteries of space? After all, we know ‘elites’ never ever use the phrase, “I don’t know” – don’t we? They’re supposed to be the authoritative Mr Know-it-all, right?
Mmmmh, I don’t know, only because, the man in question is none other than Dr. James Van Allen (the Van Allen Radiation Belt around the Earth is named after him) so if he doesn’t know who does? This raises the question: how did all of us form our impression about elites? This may hold a clue……
What if I said – most of our assumptions about ‘elites,’ is essentially a bi-product of our scripting? That’s to say it’s a product of Pavlovian conditioning that’s being largely woven into our worldview subconsciously since childhood?
Don’t believe me? Let me prove it.
Cast your mind back to the period when you’re a babbling child. You spilled your Ribena bunny mug on mommy’s fav carpet. Only for judgmentally conditioned mummy to confront you, “Didn’t I tell you not to do that! Why did you do that?” You tell the truth: “I don’t know!” What does mummy do? She berates you again “Don’t lie to me! Tell me the truth!” You’re confused now, because you just told the truth and according to the Pinocchio protocol, that’s supposed earn you a few brownie points with the fairy God mother. Instead mommy is standing there like an unleashed Rotweiller waiting for any answer except – “I don’t know.”
Somewhere between wiping the gunk off your nose and eating it, you figure out the world isn’t such a fair place after all. You do a few mental calculations. You figure out soon enough, you’re in a no-win situation. Mommy’s waiting for an answer and if you don’t produce the one she’s waiting to hear, you’re in for a good licking. So you do something real smart, you experiment with a lie – there in your little head where everything looks like Babel at that moment it just spreads nicely. It works, your world is preserved proving once again all ends happily ever after only if you remember never ever to say, “I don’t know.”
Now That You Know, It Was You all along…..What Does This Have To Do With Real and Fake Elites?
Now what I have just shared with you is a brief history of how many of us formed our assumptions about ‘elites.’ Even from our tenderfoot years, we’re all conditioned to believe only losers say, ‘I don’t know.’ This serves to reinforce our risk adverse outlook to anything resembling ‘uncertainty’. The cost of having to saying, ‘I don’t know,’ is simply too high. Not only is our professional and personal pride tied up in having to say, ‘I don’t know.’
But what’s even worse even if we exhibit humility in private about our knowledge or insight, we are often incapable of submitting our fragile egos to explicit tests that might show we have been wrong all along – our Pavlovian conditioning even works against all our attempts to admit that we are wrong.
Now if you’re thinking, this is just the sum of all your fears of spiders and creepy crawlies = a big nothing, you’re dead wrong. When you consider how our society regularly reinforces this corrosive understanding of how we should all define organizational and personal success by making sense of ‘I don’t know’ logic. Only then can you understand why the key to grasping: what separates a real from a fake elite, doesn’t depend on what you have or will ‘learn.’ Rather it has everything to do with how much, you are prepared to ‘unlearn’ and ‘de-program’ yourself from the scripting of the world.
This in a nutshell this is what separates the real from the fake: real elites have managed not only to ‘unlearn’ many of the scripts and narratives imposed upon them. In doing so they have also derive a very clear understanding of how stuff work in the world. I call this, “a super sense of scale and perspective.” Too often, even experts mistake this for intellect, but that’s like calling Lake Toba a giant puddle or the Grand Canyon a big sink hole – it fails to capture the crux of what makes everything come together.
If you consider much of our scripting imposed upon is able to color and skewer our understanding to seeing the world as-it-should-be. Then by the same corollary, it simply means an inversion to seeing the world ‘as-it-is.’ Adds value to clarity and allows things to be seen in their rightful scale, context and perspective.
It Has Everything To Do With ‘How You See The World.’
All to often we attribute success to a number of bag words like ‘fire-in-the-belly’ or the “go-knock-them-dead” attitude. I don’t for one moment doubt, ‘courage’ and ‘persistence’ plays a part in the success equation. Only understand this, you may well embody the same admirable attributes if you are charging head on into a machine gun battery at full speed. It doesn’t guarantee you success anymore than rubbing your head three times increases your chances of success – not if the plan is flawed in the very first place. And when you consider, how fake elites regularly embody these same qualities of optimism and drive when they fail big time!
This suggest, if one doesn’t see the world as-it-is rather than what-it-should-be, all the courage, dexterity and risk taking will just amount to speedy extinction.
My point is, the key to understanding why real elites are so successful to whatever they put their mind too has everything to do with their new world view. The rest is the stuff of second fiddles. The competitive advantage factor stems directly as a function of having successfully stepped out of the scripting of the world. Fake elites on the other hand are still trapped in this mental vortex of “I cannot say I-don’t-know” scripting where they’re still very much preoccupied in the spoon and egg race of life, deftly skirting risk at all cost.
What that aversion typically produces is a cautious and conventional approach which they often try to peddle off as extraordinary level headedness (this reminds me of one of my gf’s who is so level headed. I even regularly use her as a side table for my tiger beer and bowl of peanuts whenever I watch football on TV. But I don’t want to end up blue and black floating in the Singapore river so, I will stop here) i.e whenever they hit a hard point, they mark it, reverse, going around it etc. The goal being in every case is to either avoid or circumvent those ‘hot spots’ at all cost.
There’s nothing wrong with that, only one has to mindful of the double edged nature of having to balance risk with opportunities. It brings into sharp focus Mark Twain’s parable of the cat and the hot stove. It goes like this: how do you stop a cat from jumping on the stove? Answer: turn it on, but that also means that same cat wouldn’t jump on a cold stove either. This is where you need to ask yourself is that such a good thing?
It’s only ‘good’ if you believe no learning outcomes can be generated from deliberately confronting those aspect of your performance that typically produces failures. In our age where we have seen whole clumps of technologies converging and coalescing to produce an endless myriad of products – it even suggest the business environment is so complex keeping to the tried and test assumption of avoiding failure produces a big fat nothing!
“I Don’t Know” – That Makes All The Difference In The World.
Real elites seem to know this – they know only too well, the – the “I will never say, ‘I don’t know’ attitude” only buys them at best more of the same conventional systematic approach, hardly the stuff that buys them a competitive edge more like the perfect ball and chain.
This means what they do to maximize their returns on energy / investment & opportunities is by deliberately leveraging on ‘I do not know’ strategies. In precise terms: risking deliberate mistakes at the outset to help expedite learning that may even hold the break thru to further push the envelop of a new ideas. Now I am not saying if the goal is to improve car safety, real elites regularly drive off the cliff. Of course not! They use simulations and crash dummies, but what I am saying is because real elites have managed to come to entomb their risk aversion by coming to terms with their mental conditioning. They’re don’t suffer from the same morbid fear of failure as fake elites who haven’t really stepped out into the ‘light.’ Not only do they (real elites) have few hang up’s about trying ten ideas and getting nine wrong to derive at the one that wins the day! Many of them even see ‘failure’ and the strategy of deliberately ‘making mistakes’ as a means of carving out competitive advantage.Unlike the cat who once jumped on the hot stove only to shy away from even a cold stove, real elites constantly challenge the boundaries of acceptable and conventional knowledge, they go one stage further to figure out the ‘on’ and ‘off’ part – they’ve cracked the code.
And just in case you think this is came out from my ass.
Research shows that managers who apply a conventional, systematic approach to solving a pattern recognition problem are often slower to find the solution than those who test their assumptions by knowingly making mistakes (1).
Much can be said about why one man succeeds and another fails, but never forget what makes the journey of a thousand miles possible is a small step that one first takes with the mind – the one where one is simply prepared to say, “I don’t know.”
Before we leave, let me share you with a clip from a real ‘elite’ who says it all better than I can ever possibly hope to say it. May I introduce, the illustrious Doctor Feynman….excuse me, I mean Mr Feynman, as he likes to be called only because he says, “I don’t know” better than anyone that I know.
May I take this opportunity on the behalf of the Brotherhood Press to wish you all Happy National week.
(This has been brought to you by your friendly brotherhood controller, Aurora / (lead writer): Darkness / Harphoon / Scholarboy / Cerebus / Astro Boy [special guest writer: Scimitar & Friends] – how do you tell a real elite from a fake elite? – ES 2998279ES2 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
1. David M. Kreps and Robert Wilson (1982) introduced the concept of “Sequential Equilibrium” (SEQE) Game theory with imperfect information.
2. The Wisdom of Deliberate Mistakes by Paul J.H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther / Harvard Business Review / June 2006.
3. ‘Whatever happened to machines that think?’ By Justin Mullins. New Scientist (April 23, 2005; Issue 2496: pages 32 – 37).
4. A Simulation Study of Organizational Decision Making under Conditions of Uncertainty and Ambiguity / Arthur J. Athens.
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