Maps of Meaning provides the philosophical, psychological and anthropological underpinnings to Peterson’s outlook. Not just for 12 Rules for Life, but also for his speaking and teaching as a whole. Maps of Meaning explores symbolism in the history of western civilization and ties it into psychology, neurology and other human sciences.

Simplifying greatly, his thesis is that we view the world through two lenses, one as a realm of objects, and the other as a stage for action. It is the latter that is developed in depth in Maps of Meaning. The two fundamental categories of action are order and chaos. Society, family, routines, tools, traditions, culture provide us with a protective cocoon of order so we can survive and thrive. But this order can be disrupted at any time by chaos: natural disasters, famine, war, violence, disease, accidents, and any other misfortune. We strive to maintain order in the face of change and disruptions to our plans for action. Peterson often refers to order as “explored territory” and to chaos as “unexplored territory.”

Order in the world and society is symbolized by the Father, who can appear as either the benevolent, Wise King or the oppressive, Tyrannical Father. Chaos, or nature, is symbolized by the Mother. She can appear as the Nurturing Mother or the Terrible, Devouring Mother. As we can see, both archetypes have a positive and negative aspect. Moreover, in myths, legends, religion and art, order is almost always portrayed as male and associated with the sun, day, sky, dry land, ships, castles, and walled cities. Chaos is represented as female and associated with the moon, night, chthonic forces, the forest, the desert, the sea, flooding, and deluges. Throughout history and prehistory, humans have contended with these two cosmic forces. (As an aside, the Greek root of cosmos means order, while chaos means disorder.)

The Hero is the Divine Son. He is the offspring of the Father and the Mother. He is the one who walks the fine line between order and chaos, exploring the unknown to bring back new knowledge and creating order at the edge of the known. Hero myths and legends (actually, myth in general) are highly condensed distillations of the recognition of the need for exploration in the face of the unknown, and to create and sustain order in the face of disruptive change. The hero is the one with the courage to venture beyond the borders of the kingdom to gain a great boon from the dragon’s lair. The dragon is the symbol of everything that humans find troubling and frightening in the unknown. The great boon is usually portrayed as a beautiful princess or a unique jewel of inestimable value. This is St-George slaying the dragon. Sometimes the hero fights against the gods instead of a dragon or serpent, in order to gain a valuable technique or tool. Think of Prometheus (which means “foresight” in Greek) stealing fire from the gods, then sentenced to have his liver eaten every day by an eagle. Even more powerful, especially for us, is the reluctant hero. This the person who, despite himself, ends up battling the forces of evil or destruction for the good of humankind. This is Frodo who must leave his cozy shire to battle Sauron for the Ring.

This is all quite esoteric, which is why I venture Peterson wrote 12 Rules for Life as a practical guide. The sub-title is instructive: An Antidote to Chaos. The thesis is this. We need rules for living, especially when we feel most at sea, confused, and disillusioned. We live in a time when traditional social roles and rules are upended. Many people find this disorienting and demoralizing. We can quibble about whether this is indeed the case or not, but there are nonetheless a significant number of people who feel lost and without meaning. Peterson isn’t advocating a return to the good old days, when men were men and women knew their place. He is, however, saying that we need a playing field with lines and goal posts, and rules to guide the game. If you skim over the 12 rules, many of them may appear trite. I prefer to see them as simple. But that doesn’t mean they are easy. In the army I learned 10 principles of leadership. The most important one is to always lead by example. Couldn’t be simpler, but if we look at failures of leadership, many and perhaps most start with the leader not following his or her own directives, breaking the rules, and putting themselves on a pedestal. Does that sound like the Clintons, or perhaps Carlos Ghosn?

Peterson’s work has enriched my experience and thinking considerably. As with many thought leaders, he can be infuriating and is certainly controversial in many respects. Isn’t that the point? The fact that some people see him as a guru says more about them than about him or his writings and talks, and possibly our society. Most of his critics don’t seem to have read or listened to him much, and I venture that is possibly also the case with those who wish to elevate him onto a pedestal.

© 2018 Richard Martin

I like Jordan Peterson’s work. In my opinion, he is a thought leader, in that he makes me (and hundreds of thousands of others) think. He’s become something of a cultural icon over the last 2 years. I believe there are four key reasons for this:

  • He has reinvigorated the practice of “moral examination,” which has ancient roots in classical civilization and was advocated by Ignatius de Loyola as part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. In fact, Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Lifeis actually a distillation of timeworn wisdom about how to live one’s life and interact with others through moral examination. Rule 1 is “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” Another of the rules is “Clean up your room.” If someone takes that only literally, then they need to think more. One of the more provocative rules, in my opinion, is “Don’t let your children do things in public that would make you hate them if they were someone else’s kids.” The fact that these are basic is important, because who doesn’t need a good reminder once in a while. I certainly do. Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. That’s why we quote the Bible so often: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Or, “No one is a prophet in his home” (or words to that effect). This leads to the next point.
  • His basic message is that meaning comes from taking on responsibility. This seems to resonate particularly with young men. I believe that this comes from the general lack of a framework for transitioning men from boyhood to manhood in the Western world these days. This is the kind of tough love, teamwork, and mentoring that is provided by team sports and that comes from a coach who is a role model for youths. I got this in the army, and I think it is missing for many young men who are, let’s face it, raised surrounded by women. Not all, but many.
  • Peterson is also defending traditional Western, Judeo-Christian values, many of which have come under attack in recent decades, especially in the face of political correctness, islamophobia, ideological feminism, resurgent anti-Semitism, and cultural Marxism. Many on the Left hate this aspect of his writings and speeches, for obvious reasons.
  • The final point, which is a major aspect of the previous one, is that we risk much when we throw out ancient traditions, cultural, social and religious. Amongst other things, he claims that there is much wisdom in the Bible, if read in a symbolic, allegorical frame of mind. He has also said that nobody knows what effects recent social changes will have on our society. I see that as an antidote to the conceit of many social justice warriors, university professors, and other miscellaneous social engineers and junior dictators. These are the same people who tar anyone who questions the zeitgeist as fascists, authoritarians, and anti-this and anti-that.

All of this makes him something of a “cultural” conservative, and I, personally, find that resonates with me. It also resonates with many others. I realize that’s only an ad populam argument, but it does explain much of his appeal around the world. 12 Rules has sold over 2 million copies and is being translated into 40 languages. He’s been on speaking tour around the world for all of 2018 and has been engaging with large, enthusiastic audiences, as well as with cabinet ministers, heads of government, and deep thinkers in many other domains (e.g. Sam Harris, Roger Scruton, Camille Paglia, etc.)

He may prove to be a flash in the pan, but I sincerely hope not. Shouldn’t we at least find out what all the fuss is about?

© 2018 Richard Martin

The following quotes are from Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed, by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter (HarperCollins Canada, Kindle Edition).

I couldn’t say it better myself. Heath and Potter have identified the underlying motivation and process of how individualism shades into narcissism. This is what happens when identity politics and self-centredness go too far. It’s what Jordan Peterson talks about as being analogous to the extreme right’s focus on group/ethnic identity. However, it’s not about equality of outcome. It’s about narcissism and wanting everyone to conform to your personal wishes and to pay the price for your idiosyncrasies.

“Whenever you feel that society is forcing you to conform or treating you like a number, not a person, just ask yourself the following question: ‘Does my individuality create more work for other people?’ If the answer is yes, then you should be prepared to pay more. Most institutions in our society have a system that they follow. At the fast food restaurant, at the bank, in a hospital, there is a standardized system for interacting with clients and delivering services. Such a system is generally designed to maximize the service that can be provided at a given price (or given certain budgetary resources). Individuals who refuse to follow the system not only cost more to service, they often gum up the works for everyone else. In this context, individualism often shades over into narcissistic disregard for the needs of others.” (Kindle Locations 3730-3736)

“While there is nothing wrong with individualism per se, it is important that no one person’s individuality be secured at the expense of other people’s time and energy.” (Kindle Locations 3747-3748)

“If your individuality is such that it requires other people to wait on you hand and foot, then you should be prepared to pay an arm and a leg.” (Kindle Location 3752)

by Richard Martin

At the beginning of this new year, among the economic priorities in Quebec must be included the improvement of leadership and an increased investment in human capital with the aim of increasing permanently the productivity and profitability of small business in Quebec. This will help attract greater capital to our small businesses for purposes of investing in new techniques and technologies. Greater profits also would allow small business to increase wages and salaries, which will affect positively its capacity to attract qualified employees and managers, who would then be dedicated and loyal to their employers.

According to Statistics Canada, small business constitutes 92% of all private sector employment in Quebec. This surpasses somewhat comparable figures for the rest of Canada and, by far, figures for other G7 countries, including those of the United States. The predominance of small business in our economy explains in a large measure the relatively low productivity and profitability of Quebec companies and their limited capacity to attract investment. Small business in Quebec must compete against competitors who feature much greater economies of scale. These economies permit greater and quicker return on investments in research and development and capital goods including application of new, high technology.

Surveys by the federal Business Development Bank (BDC) clearly demonstrate that the two greatest problems for leaders of small business in Quebec are the shortage of capital for investment projects and the necessity of increasing long term profitability. Obviously, one can’t happen without the other. In short, small business is the motor of both the Quebec and Canadian economies, but it competes in a hostile environment where big business enjoys important economies of scale making it more productive and profitable.

Furthermore, in addition to imperatives of competition, productivity, and profitability, increasingly small business in Quebec has to compete with big business for skilled workers and managers who are becoming rarer, hence, the object of greater competition. There is nothing new about interesting pay and working conditions for attracting personnel. Moreover, some big businesses now offer their staff the possibilities of unlimited vacations and allowing employees to work a part of their paid employ on useful projects of the employees’ choice. Small business in Quebec must not only compete for clientele but also for the best workers and managers.

In spite of all this, small business in Quebec does have one superior advantage. What might appear to be a weakness can actually be a strength. Big business can display a tendency to become bureaucratic and slow to change direction. It can also become disconnected from customers, employees, and business allies and partners. On the other hand, small business can substitute cohesion, speed, adaptability, and agility to the size advantages of big business. In order to survive and prosper, small business in Quebec must employ its size to its advantage. The shareholders of a small business can often include its founders, or its second or third generation owners, besides operating as its leaders. If they know how to lead and mobilize their personnel, an entrepreneurial spirit and culture can thrive at all levels of the company. The business’s leaders, whether they be company founder or son or daughter or even grandchild of the founder, shareholders, or managers working for company owners, can easily get to know all employees. This can allow them to appreciate their strengths and shortcomings, talents and individual goals in order to obtain their best possible performance by supporting employees’ personal and professional development.

Exceptional leadership and organizational mobilization thus can constitute significant competitive advantages for Quebec small business. For this to occur business owners and leaders must produce useful, mobilizing mission statements. They must lead their employees towards ever-increasing levels of quality, productivity, and profitability. Businesses wherein leaders know how to breathe the entrepreneurial spirit into their companies while setting good collective objectives and encouraging individual initiative can be flexible and able to recognize and pursue opportunities and to resist threats. This will permit short term increases in productivity without immediate recourse to capital investment. The resultant, increased profitability can happen more quickly. Increased profits can be directed to improving pay and benefits, greater investment in human capital, in addition to technological productivity. This can also make companies more attractive to new labour and managers, which can further increase productivity, thus, profitability.

Two examples serve to display the links between leadership and mobilization and increased quality, productivity, and profitability. Firstly, assume an employee knows his or her essential role in the business. Such is an employee’s dedication and motivation that he or she will treat customers well with courtesy and professionalism. As well, an employee who recognizes the need to economize rare financial and material resources will be able to recognize and indicate waste, and seek to eliminate it.

In a second example, a well-motivated and mobilized employee will know and understand the vision and mission of the company. The employee knows where its leaders wish to lead the company. Using these, the employee can propose new ideas with respect to products, customers, techniques of production, and the sharing of information and knowledge within the company. This will be the case especially if he or she knows the ideas will be valued and implemented. These ideas need not imply additional financial layout; for example, a new method on the production line might bring savings and improved quality and quantity of products.

In fact, capital investments simply materialize someone’s previous, good ideas external to the company. The good leader can transform good industrial relations to company objectives. Only a few large companies can so motivate their employees—for instance, Apple or Google—but these are only transitory phases in the lives of these companies that are often provoked by inspirational, charismatic leaders. All the above principles are available to small business in Quebec. What is needed is the necessary will to undertake the required changes.

Richard Martin is a management consultant and trainer living in Montreal who works locally, nationally, and internationally. He is the co-founder and president of the Montreal-based Canadian Academy of Leadership and Development of Human Capital (CANLEAD Academy). He envisions performing organizations that are lasting, cohesive, and adapted to change that invest in human capital. Mr. Martin assists ambitious entrepreneurs and leaders surpass themselves in terms of organizational cohesion, growth, and performance. His advice and training come from a long career building, leading, and mobilizing organizations composed of Quebeckers. Much of his experience was gained as an officer in the Canadian Army operating peace support missions, conflict management, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in hostile environments that were uncertain, risky, dangerous, and chaotic. In such environments dedication, cohesiveness, and inspired teamwork were essential to the success of missions.

© 2018 Richard Martin. Copying and sharing permitted subject to normal attribution.

par Richard Martin

Le besoin est clair. Les PME québécoises doivent se démarquer par les compétences exceptionnelles de leadership et de mobilisation de leurs dirigeants afin d’augmenter rapidement et durablement leur productivité et leur rentabilité. Ces efforts amélioreront l’accès aux capitaux pour investir dans la productivité. Les profits additionnels pourront aussi contribuer à une meilleure rémunération et plus d’investissement dans le capital humain, ce qui augmentera l’attractivité pour la main-d’œuvre ainsi que sa fidélisation.

Selon Statistique Canada, les PME comptent pour 92 pour cent de tous les emplois du secteur privé au Québec. Cette proportion dépasse quelque peu celle au Canada anglais et de loin celle des autres pays du G7, en particulier les États-Unis. La prédominance des PME dans l’emploi explique en grande partie la productivité et la rentabilité relativement basse des entreprises québécoises et leur capacité restreinte d’investissement dans le capital matériel et humain. En effet, la productivité de la main-d’œuvre est directement tributaire de l’investissement dans les techniques et les équipements les plus avancés. Les PME québécoises doivent lutter contre des concurrents profitant d’économies d’échelle élevées et permettant ainsi de rentabiliser plus facilement les investissements en R-D et en biens capitaux à la fine pointe de la technologie.

Les sondages de la BDC démontrent effectivement que les deux plus grands maux de tête des entrepreneurs et dirigeants de PME au Québec sont le manque de fonds pour mettre en œuvre leurs projets et la nécessité d’augmenter et d’assurer la rentabilité à long terme. Il est évident que l’un ne va pas sans l’autre. En somme, les PME sont le moteur des économies québécoise et canadienne, mais elles doivent se battre dans un environnement hostile dominé par des grandes entreprises jouissant d’importantes économies d’échelle et donc plus productives et rentables.

Aux impératifs de compétitivité, de productivité et de rentabilité, s’ajoute le besoin de faire concurrence aux grandes entreprises pour une main-d’œuvre de plus en plus rare et de plus en plus courtisée. L’attraction par la rémunération et les conditions de travail alléchantes ne date pas d’hier. Mais, en plus, certaines grandes boîtes technologiques commencent à offrir la possibilité aux employés de prendre des vacances illimitées ou de travailler une partie de leur temps rémunéré sur des projets qui leur tiennent à cœur. Les PME québécoises doivent donc non seulement se battre pour l’achalandage des clients, mais aussi pour les meilleurs employés et cadres.

Pour survivre et même prospérer dans ce milieu, les PME québécoises ont un avantage que les grandes entreprises n’ont pas. Ce qui, d’un côté peut être vue comme une faiblesse, de l’autre peut être perçue comme une force. Les grandes entreprises ont tendance à être lentes à changer de cap et sont souvent « déconnectées » de leurs clients, employés et partenaires d’affaires. Une PME peut substituer cohésion, rapidité, adaptabilité et agilité à la force brute d’une grande entreprise. Pour survivre et, même plus, prospérer, les PME québécoises doivent tirer avantage de leur petite taille. Les actionnaires des PME en sont très souvent les fondateurs en plus d’en être les dirigeants. S’ils savent diriger et mobiliser leurs équipes, leur esprit entrepreneurial peut se répandre à tous les échelons de l’entreprise et en affecter positivement la culture. Le dirigeant, qu’il soit fondateur, actionnaire ou cadre à l’emploi de ces derniers, peut, s’il le souhaite, connaître tous les employés de la boîte et apprécier leurs forces, faiblesses, talents et buts afin d’en soutirer la meilleure performance possible, tout en tirant profit de leur épanouissement personnel et de leur perfectionnement professionnel.

Le leadership exceptionnel et la mobilisation organisationnelle constituent donc les avantages concurrentiels fondamentales de la PME québécoise. Pour les exploiter, les entrepreneurs et dirigeants de PME doivent générer une mission valorisante et mobilisatrice et guider leurs équipes vers des sommets toujours plus hauts de qualité, de productivité et de rentabilité. Les entreprises dont les dirigeants savent insuffler l’esprit entrepreneurial et « mobiliser leurs troupes » autour d’objectifs collectifs rassembleurs, tout en prônant l’initiative individuelle, sont plus souples et rapides à exploiter les opportunités et se prémunir contre les menaces. Ceci permet d’augmenter la productivité à brève échéance sans nécessairement avoir à augmenter l’investissement à court terme dans les biens capitaux ; l’effet salutaire sur la rentabilité peut survenir rapidement. Les profits additionnels ainsi dégagés peuvent alors être dirigés vers l’accroissement de la rémunération et l’investissement dans le capital humain et le capital productif. L’entreprise devient alors plus attractive pour la main-d’œuvre et peut aussi améliorer sa productivité et donc sa rentabilité.

Deux illustrations démontrent le lien entre, d’un côté, leadership et mobilisation et, de l’autre, qualité, productivité et rentabilité. Dans le premier cas, un employé motivé qui connaît bien son rôle essentiel au sein de l’entreprise, et dont la direction cherche à stimuler l’initiative et le dévouement, sera plus apte à servir la clientèle avec respect, rapidité et professionnalisme. Par ailleurs, ce même employé, s’il comprend la nécessité d’économiser les précieuses ressources financières et matérielles de l’entreprise, sera plus apte à reconnaître les instances de gaspillage et d’inefficacité et de chercher à les éliminer ou les limiter, ou à tout le moins les signaler.

Dans le deuxième cas, un employé motivé et mobilisé comprend bien la vision et la mission de la direction. Il sait où elle veut amener l’entreprise. Par conséquent, cet employé pourra utiliser pleinement sa créativité et son initiative pour proposer des nouvelles idées aux dirigeants, surtout s’il sait que ces idées seront prisées et qu’il recevra reconnaissance et encouragement de ces derniers. Ces idées peuvent concerner des nouveaux produits, des nouveaux clients, des nouvelles techniques ou procédures de production ou de transformation, ou encore des idées pour partager l’information et les connaissances au sein de la boîte et donc d’augmenter la performance et la productivité. Ces idées peuvent nécessiter des investissements financiers, temporels ou matériels, mais pas nécessairement. Par exemple, une nouvelle façon de faire sur la ligne de production ou dans l’entrepôt peut entraîner des économies significatives et améliorer la qualité et la quantité des produits.

En fait, les biens d’équipement ne sont que la matérialisation des bonnes idées antérieures d’autres individus à l’extérieur de l’entreprise. Le dirigeant qui cherche à influencer les individus qu’il dirige et à les mobiliser en tant qu’équipe ou organisation peut transformer leurs relations au travail et aux objectifs de l’entreprise. Seul une minorité de grandes entreprises peuvent atteindre ce niveau de mobilisation et de passion—les Apple et Google de ce monde en sont des exemples—mais encore là, ce n’est qu’une phase passagère dans la vie de la grande entreprise, normalement activée par un leader inspirant, voire même charismatique. Tous ces principes sont à la portée des entrepreneurs et des dirigeants des PME québécoises ; il s’agit d’en voir la possibilité et la nécessité et d’avoir la volonté de faire les changements qui s’annoncent pour les mettre en application.

Richard Martin a comme vision des organisations performantes qui sont durables, cohésives et adaptables face au changement et à la concurrence et qui investissent dans le capital humain. Il intervient auprès de dirigeants et entrepreneurs ambitieux afin qu’ils se surpassent dans leurs capacités de leadership et de mobilisation et qu’ils mènent leurs organisations vers des sommets toujours plus hauts de cohésion, de croissance et de performance. Ses conseils, ses formations et son accompagnement résultent d’une longue expérience à bâtir, diriger et mobiliser des organisations constituées de Québécois pour opérer en missions de paix, de gestion de conflits, d’aide humanitaire et de reconstruction en milieux hostiles où règnent l’incertitude, le chaos et le risque et où dévouement, cohésion, détermination et inspiration sont indispensables à la survie et au succès des missions.

© 2018 Richard Martin. Reproduction et partage permises.

The minimum wage in Ontario jumped from $11.60 per hour to $14.00 as of January 1st 2018. Already, there are reports that small businesses will struggle with this jump. This will lead either to increased demands from the workers to generate the productivity increases to compensate, or layoffs and hiring restrictions, as businesses struggle with the increased labour costs without concomittent productivity increases.

Wages are the price of labour. All other factors remaining equal, a mandated minimum wage rise increases the price of unskilled labour, which lowers the demand for it. In other words, less people will be making a bit more money, but it will likely leave many unskilled or under skilled workers in the cold. These are the people normally hired by many small businesses and they can’t afford the pay rise. They will have to lay off workers, hire less workers, and/or do the work themselves.

Additionally, this affects mostly young workers. Statscan’s Labour Force Survey 2015 shows that two thirds of of men earning less than 15K per year (a proxy for minimum wage employment) are in the 15-24 years-old age category. For women, it’s three quarters. I don’t know what explains the disparity. In any case, you can see it here (incidentally reported on an apparently left-wing website):…/who-earns…/ (see last table near end of article).

The article notes that young workers deserve “fair” wages too. My question then is, by what standard? If by government fiat, that only raises the price of labour without necessarily generating increased productivity. If by the free market, then the prices reflect the real marginal productivity of the employees that are hired.

The Bank of Canada is predicting that there could be up to 60,000 job losses by 2019 because of increases to minimum wages. TD Bank is predicting 90,000 job losses due to the same cause. These are obviously just forecasts, so we have to take them with a grain of salt. But the reality is that we can’t ignore basic economics by legislating minimum wages. Businesses pay people what they must in order to survive and thrive. But if they can’t generate sufficient profit by doing so, they have three options:

  1. Hire less people;
  2. Improve their productivity (which requires investment in human and intellectual capital development, as well as physical capital); or
  3. Go out of business or go into a different line of business with their existing capital (which may or may not be convertible quickly.

© 2018 Richard Martin. Sharing and reproduction permitted only for non-commercial use.

by Richard Martin

This is my last Stand To! of 2017, as I’ll be taking a break until 7 January. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous 2018! May all your goals and plans come to fruition and may you have all the resolve and resilience you need to be ready for change and uncertainty in the coming year.

With that said, I’ve noted a disturbing trend that undermines good will and social accord. In recent weeks, a message has been circulating through numerous networks on Facebook concerning Muslims in Montreal. Muslim parents of children attending a school in Dorval Quebec allegedly requested that pork be removed from the cafeteria menu. The mayor of Dorval supposedly penned a letter refusing the request on the grounds that it goes against Quebec culture and customs. The “letter” is the object of Facebook sharing, with hundreds of people weighing in with their “attaboys,” and worse in some cases. Well, it’s a fake. It goes back to 2015 and even earlier, as it appears the meme originated in 2013 in the U.S. Just Google it to see.

Another occurence last week in Montreal shoes how the media and wider public are quick to overreact to purported outrages when it corresponds to prejudices or biases. The imam of two mosques in Montreal allegedly requested that a construction site near the mosques remove the women working there as this is against their religion. The Commission de la construction du Québec investigated it quickly and it is, once again, a fake. The TVA television network had to recant its story on Friday and apologize for its sloppy reporting, i.e., failure to go beyond what had been claimed and verify the source. The mosques have since received threats and there are hateful messages circulating on Facebook, that fount of calm and intelligent consideration.

Now, I’m not picking on Montreal, French Canadians, or Quebeckers in general. There’s plenty of intolerance to go around, regardless of nationality, origin, or religion. I’m not even pro or anti-Muslim. Though I come from a Catholic background, I’m an atheist, philosophically and practically. However, I am a firm believer in freedom of religion and freedom of speech. People can say and do whatever they want, so long as they don’t harm others. On the other hand, spreading hate propaganda of any kind, whether it’s anti-Muslim, antisemitic, or anti-anything goes against these principles, because it produces a climate of hate, fear, and mistrust. It feeds on atavistic tendencies in all, and that includes me. We can all be guilty of reacting with emotion when we should be reacting with our head.

When I commanded troops on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia, our motto was “First information is always wrong, so don’t overreact.” Whether we’re journalists, business people, politicians, managers, or just plain citizens, we owe it to others (no matter how different) and to ourselves to validate information before we start climbing the barricades. A simple test is to ask ourselves if the information conveyed in a message corresponds to a popular belief (not necessarily founded), a prejudice, a bias, or a stereotype. If yes, is it possible that the message is just repeating a “meme”? The latter is a bitesized piece of information that is designed, usually unconsciously, to be repeated and spread through a population, just like a virus.

The first question we should always ask ourselves is whether something we hear or read–in some cases, even claim to see–is true. Is the information valid? Does it come from a trustworthy and valid source? What is its provenance, i.e., can we trace it back to an actual author and follow the “paper trail”? The second question is, do I really need to react to this information? Is it of vital importance to me or others? Will I make things better or worse by weighing in? Can I back up my opinion–because that’s all it is, opinion?

I’m not saying people should keep their opinions to themselves. Rather, I’m saying that freedom of speech, association, thought, worship, etc., carry privileges, but also responsibilities. Retransmitting hateful propaganda or messages of dubious origin and validity are rights, certainly. But they are also actions which can have harmful or hurtful consequences. We must be smarter than the low-lifes who start these hateful memes and propagate them to satisfy their own twisted purposes.

I may not be religious or a believer, but I don’t think one needs to believe in God or Allah or Shiva to hope and act for peace and goodwill to all men. Amen!

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

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Here is a new book project I’ve been working on for over a year now. I’ve given some details about it over at Patreon, and I invite you to check it out and become one of my Patrons.

Sneak Peak

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by Richard Martin

“So convenient a thing to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.”
Benjamin Franklin

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman

This week I’d like to discuss the topic of cognitive biases. These are the ways in which our minds trick us, or can be tricked, into thinking in a way that is not fully conducive to realism and success in our undertakings. If there is anything that can undermine readiness, it’s that.

The content in the diagram above was created by Buster Benson of the Better Humans website. He took the ad hoc list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia–incidentally, probably the most complete such archive–and organized them according by similarity. The list was then organized graphically by John Mahoogian.

The important point is that the cognitive biases can be classified or collapsed into four main categories:

  • Too much information
  • What to remember
  • Not enough meaning
  • Need to act fast

Let’s consider how these can impact our readiness for change, uncertainty, risk, and opportunity.

  1. Too much information: The world is a kaleidoscope. How can we know what is important and what isn’t? The only way to make sense of the data and information coming at us constantly from all directions is in light of our goals and plans. I find the concepts of threat and opportunity are most useful, but how do we distinguish them? An opportunity is anything that can advance us toward our goals or enhance the effectiveness of our actions. A threat is anything that can block attainment of our goals or hinder our actions toward them.
  2. What to remember:There is too much information to remember it all. That’s why we need to classify it according to whether it is an opportunity or a threat. However, even this can get tedious. We can become overly focused on the ways (options, plans) and means (inputs, resources) and forget what it was we were trying to achieve in the first place. This is why military commanders and planners follow the dictum to always get back to the mission. What are we trying to achieve? What are our mission and end state? What are the commander’s intent and concept of operations? It is only by asking ourselves these questions regularly throughout our planning and action that we can stay on target, filter out the irrelevant, and put our resources and energy on what will get us the biggest effects for our efforts.
  3. Not enough meaning:Most of what happens and surrounds us is meaningless. In other words, stuff happens; it may be random or not, relevant or not, but we’re just not sure. So what do our brains do? They invent stuff. We see causes and correlations where there are none. We impute intentions to others and to impersonal forces where there are none. We project our thoughts, feelings, and intentions onto others, or we anthropomorphize collective phenomena, such as the “market,” the “competition,” the “environment,” the “government,” “immigrants,” etc., etc. Needless to say, we can get wrapped around the axle for nothing. The only remedy that works against this is to test our assumptions and hypotheses by putting ourselves in the others’ shoes and trying to imagine what they are thinking, feeling, intending, planning from their perspective, not ours.
  4. Need to act fast:This is common in fast-changing, risky or dangerous situations, such as emergencies and crises. My definition of a crisis is any time we’ve lost control of the situation and events are moving faster than you can assimilate and react to them. An emergency is a crisis where the risks to life and limb are imminent or actual. The best way to accommodate the need to act fast is through preparation and planning prior to a crisis occurring. To do this requires anticipation, and for that you need to consider what could go wrong–or right–beforehand. By extension, you need to set in place the tools and procedures to meet that need when the time comes.

There are no surefire ways of eliminating cognitive biases. They are inherent to human nature and the fact that we are constantly trying to assess what is really the case “out there,” in the world, or “in here,” in our minds and bodies. We are also trying to find the optimal means and ways available to achieve our ends. Furthermore, we are constantly assessing–or should be–our ends and values, to ensure that they are still relevant and congruent with our higher goals. This takes constant vigilance, self-cultivation, and self-discipline to carry out, along with a good dose of humility and openness to change, ideas, and criticism.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.