As I watched the presidential inauguration last month, I felt not only pride and patriotism but also profound relief that the actual campaign — and its bewildering barrage of tweeted misinformation, leaked half-truths, skewed statistics and unchecked “facts” — was well behind us.
I’m sure those of you who prefer plain truth over political posturing share my sense of relief. But I suspect the professional spin doctors behind campaign advertising are on to something.
Apparently, wanting to take things at face value is part of human nature. Call it hubris or gullibility, we all like to think that we understand what we see or hear and are capable of basing our opinions on our own experience and grasp of reality.
It reminds me of an old joke. A small-town police captain was interviewing three candidates for a position on the department’s detective squad, and he decided to test their powers of observation. He called in the first man, flashed the photo of a possible suspect for about five seconds, and then asked the candidate what he saw that might help apprehend the criminal.
“He should be simple to find,” said the candidate. “He only has one eye.”
“It’s a profile!” exclaimed the captain in disbelief. “You’re dismissed.”
He repeated the exercise with the second candidate and asked the same question.
“Oh, I think we can find this guy in no time,” said candidate No. 2 confidently. “He only has one ear.”
Again, the disgruntled captain explained that the photo was a profile and sent the guy packing.
When the third candidate saw the photo and heard the question, he quickly said, “We might want to look for a suspect who wears contact lenses.”
Caught completely off guard, the captain told the candidate to wait while he checked it out. Sure enough, when he came back he reported that the person in the photo did indeed wear contacts.
Thinking he had finally found his perfect detective, the captain asked, “How did you figure that out from just a quick glance at the suspect’s photo?”
“Simple deduction,” replied candidate No. 3. “With only one eye and one ear he can’t very well wear glasses!”
We all recognize the foolishness of simply taking things at face value or making assumptions based on limited or distorted information, but that doesn’t seem to stop us — not just in politics but even more so in business.
Every day brings news of enterprises and initiatives that failed because they were based on ideas that didn’t reflect the marketplace. The learning industry is not exempt. Organizations of any size or degree of success can falter when workforce development becomes entrenched or distracted by its own version of the truth.
So, what’s the answer? Asking the right questions.
As you plan and prepare for upcoming employee development programs this year, test your learning organization’s powers of observation and understanding by posing some key questions. Are we seeing the whole picture — not just a piece of it or what we’re used to seeing? Is our perspective skewed by experience rather than current reality? Are the products or services we create based on limited information, unchecked facts or unmeasured results? Are we making assumptions instead of informed decisions?
In tandem with asking the right questions comes choosing the right sources for answers. With such a glut of information to access, analyze and absorb and so much complexity to unravel and understand these days, who you listen to is almost as important as what they say.
I have a suggestion. For next month’s Spring 2013 CLO Symposium in Austin, Texas, we’ve assembled an impressive roster of speakers and presenters, practitioners and thought leaders all uniquely qualified to provide big-picture insights on the present and future of enterprise education and development. Named the Best Leadership Development Event by Leadership Excellence magazine in both 2011 and 2012, it offers an exceptional and highly trusted opportunity to expand your knowledge and increase your understanding of critical workforce development issues.
When it comes to deciding which is the most relevant and rewarding professional development experience, attending the Symposium certainly gets my vote. I hope it gets yours, too.