David Cameron, Cognitive Dissonance and Clarity
The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
I’m not convinced this is the case – particularly in the sustainability field where I frequently find people of normal intellectual ability seemingly comfortable with pursuing two conflicting goals. UK PM David Cameron was at it yesterday in front of the parliamentary Liaison Committee. He claimed to be pursuing both a green economy and a gas/fracking ‘revolution’ where, for once, that ‘and’ can only be an ‘or’.
Holding two conflicting views like this is said to cause ‘cognitive dissonance’ – a uncomfortable, conflicting mental state, yet so many people carry such a dichotomy merrily along with them without a care.
For the sustainability practitioner, this is dangerous. You get assured that things will change, sustainability projects will start and bad practice will end. Yet business as usual always seems to live on like the B-movie zombie that will never die.
The magical antidote to this disease is clarity.
About a year ago I was pondering why so many of the outputs of my workshops fell into what I thought was the ‘bleeding obvious’ category yet my clients were delighted with the results. I had a minor epiphany when I realised that my prime goal should not be to drive workshop participants to make intellectual breakthroughs (although those do happen and are very welcome), but to make the implicit explicit.
Once everything is explicit, the synergies and conflicts become very clear. And in terms of sharpening people’s understanding of what must change, that clarity is priceless.