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“It was a very interesting course. My role isn't EA (yet), but it provided me a good understanding of what EA should be in an org.” - Director, Internet Development, Hasbro, USA, Jan 2013

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“Yes - easy to be understood” - IT Head, CAS, Indonesia, Feb 2015






Cognitive dissonance theory is based on three fundamental assumptions:

¨      Humans are sensitive to inconsistencies between actions and beliefs.

¨      Recognition of this inconsistency will cause dissonance, and will motivate an individual to resolve the dissonance.

¨      Dissonance will be resolved in one of three basic ways:

 

Belief

Action

Perception

1

Change

Preserve

Preserve

2

Preserve

Change

Preserve

3

Preserve

Preserve

Change

Changing ones beliefs is very hard and this very rarely happens. Changing one’s actions is generally not possible - only future actions can be changed and therefore while discussions and arguments about whether the action was right or wrong can occur they are largely immaterial. Because of these two things, the dissonance (more often than not) causes the person to change their perceptions in order to justify their actions and amazingly people can change their perceptions quite easily - by lying to ourselves.

It’s mankind’s greatest achievement!

Changing one’s perceptions changes the way you view/remember/perceive your action - in other words you "rationalize" your actions. For example, you might decide that the test you cheated on was for a dumb class that you didn’t need anyway. Or you may say to yourself that everyone cheats so why not you. In other words, you think about your action in a different manner or context so that it no longer appears to be inconsistent with your beliefs.

In relation to Enterprises, it is not so much actions, but decisions - the decision is the action - and while an action that has occurred cannot be changed, a decision that has occurred can. However, as humans we are so used to changing our perceptions (lying to ourselves) that even though decisions can be changed we can easily fall into the routine of justifying our decisions instead of changing them.

For a decision to be changed, there first has to be a change in the context or implications or culture that was used to make that decision. That might mean the exposure and acceptance of new information, or the acceptance of information that did exist before but was not taken into account, or a change in culture.

It is often felt that there are two types of people; “Bad People” - those who know their decision to be “wrong” and use any means (including but limited to lying to themselves) to preserve it; and “Good People” - those who find out their decision was “wrong”. But what makes a decision “wrong”? Who is to say what is “right” and what is “wrong”? This is where culture plays a massive part.

All people tend to be generally logical (not the same as moral) and really quite simple in the way they think (including me - and you!). Tell someone that acting strategically is monumentally important but reward them with money for acting tactically and guess what they are likely to do? There are no bad people. Only bad information and bad culture. Everything else is smoke and mirrors (created by bad culture!).

Cultural aspects never (explicitly) come into making decisions or evaluating why decisions were taken but it is exactly these cultural aspects that are the most powerful.

The effects of Cognitive dissonance can be many and varied and usually range from very bad to catastrophic. For example, incorrect decisions do not get corrected, people get demotivated and disengaged, etc.

Cognitive Dissonance is described as when someone holds two or more contradicting beliefs, ideas or values. Interestingly this is exactly what Architects do all the time and is probably what they are best at doing! Keeping conflicting beliefs or ideas in your head creates possibilities. In fact they hold intricate and complex networks of possibilities in their heads. When facts come to light or decisions are made some possibilities close down - this has a knock on effect that ripples through the remaining possibilities. Don’t ask me how my brain does that - I have no idea - but that’s probably a good thing!

 

Do people in your Enterprise justify “bad” decisions?

Can you think of examples where this has happened in the past?

Who were they? What was the impact? Why do you think they acted in this way?

What needs to change to reduce the likelihood of it happening in the future?

Who needs to drive that change?

 

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