Actions That Defy Logic

Often people do things which defy my logic and understanding.  Hidden factors are things that are unknown to me which explain people's behavior.   Remember that you do not have the whole picture from that person's point of view.  To understand another's behavior, we must walk in their shoes.  Each person has a unique set of experiences that bring them to this point and determine their private logic.

One technique I have used which helps I call "contecting the dots."   The dialog goes something like this:

  • X says "That is not the way we do things here."  (or some other apparently logic defying statement.
  • Jim says, "Could you help me? I am confused.  Help me connect these points, first you say you want to change and then you tell me it is not the way we do things.  Could you clear up my confusion."
  • X replies, "Some time ago we tried to do that and it got shot down by senior management."  or "I guess I mean it is not the way I want to do things." 
  • Jim says, "So how do you think we should proceed?  What are you willing to do?"
  • X says, "I think if my boss bought in to the change, it would make the difference.  Maybe I could check with him." 

I was discussing recently how much difficulty the North American car manufacturers have in adapting to the new world. I recalled a book  called The Machine That Changed The World .  The book described research done by MIT on the changes in the automobile business over the years.  The book predicted that GM would have great difficulty adapting to what they called the "Japanese Way" which the book calls "Lean Manufacturing."  They cited how much difficulty a Ford plant in the UK had chnging to Mass Production. A Ford plant in England still paid for peice work for fifty years after Ford introduced mass production.  They would not change because it was "the American way." 

The strange thing is the book clearly states GM's problem.  The GM people likely saw the book and some would read it.  Why did GM not change?   I conclude their private logic  led them to a different conclusion.

Then my friend brought up the case of Caterpillar Tractor.  The Autoworkers Union represented the Caterpillar workers and treated Caterpillar just like the car companies.  Caterpillar was not protectied like the car companies and competed internationally.  A new CEO, promoted from within, took the company through a radical change process.  They had to go through an eleven months strike and radical management changes but they are now doing much better. The new CEO surprized everybody by what he did but really changed Caterpillar. 

So many of these things defy most analysis because of hidden factors.  Other people's private logic of people  will be quite different than ours.  GM and others clearly need some sort of a revolution if they are going to survive. 

I recall some marvelous consulting reports that I have produced that were praised by the client and nothing changed.  I now conclude that my great report was very logical and well written, but beyond their ability to change because of the hidden factors.

  1. Jim Hayward Reply

    Thanks for your comment, Kevin.
    People hide things simply for lots of reasons. The person might be having serious personal problems which distract them.
    Imagine negotiating with an alcoholic who just finished a liquid lunch.
    Imagine a complex discussion with somebody who just was given notice or had a terrible review.
    Watch for signs and listen. Ask questions and listen, listen, and listen some more.

  2. Kevin Tennant Reply

    Very insightful. There have been times when I have been left wondering why someone doesn’t act on advice that is in their best interests. It is the “hidden factor” that we need to understand to make our advice relevant. This would be helpful for us to keep in mind when working with both clients and co-workers.

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