I have grown very aware over the years of how easy it is to conflate observation and interpretation, and to draw inaccurate conclusions from the data (or selectively picked data) as a result of emotions, assumptions, or systemic influences of all kinds. You see this in business all the time, as you see it in the private sphere.
We are all very good at convincing ourselves of the rightness of our observations, views, opinions, and decisions. Subjectively, someone can be absolutely convinced of a state of fact that does not exist. This was directly acknowledged in 2004 in the Report on the Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice, which stated that “The most well meaning, honest and genuine eyewitness can, and has been, wrong.” (Department of Justice of Canada, 2004, p. 42) This notorious “unreliability of human observation and recollection”, acknowledged by the Supreme Court of Canada in Burke v. The Queen, lies at the root of tragic judicial errors, misguided business decisions, and everyday misunderstandings large and small. And as if that wasn’t enough, we are also quite bad at reasoning clearly and drawing the right conclusions from the information at hand, as studies on the psychology of reasoning have shown since the 1960s. (Mercier and Sperber, 2011)
The result is like putting on blinders that narrow the field of available options to whatever our mind is already set on. This idea is well-known in the world of traditional martial arts and Sensei Kyūzō Mifune, one of the all-time greats of judo, was getting at the very same thing when he warned that “once the mind is fixed upon something, free movement and action are hindered.” (Mifune, 2004, p. 27)
If you and I get attached to our views, we are not alone: “The flaw is this—everyone creates their own experience, everyone is having a different experience, and everyone is making up stories about each other’s experience.” (Busche, 2009, p. 19) Harsch-Porter suggests something similar when she writes that “Narrative accounts of the same event are often constructed differently depending on who is doing the telling.” (Harsch-Porter, 2011, p. 86)
Deconstructing an experience to untangle observable facts from thoughts, feelings and wants, is tricky. This may be due to the fact that emotions are integral to the formation of memories. (Tyng, Amin, Saad & Malik, 2017) It also points to the fact that stories or narratives are central to our identities. As Drake points out, “people tell stories to make, confirm or experiment with ways of being in the world and being seen in the world.” (Drake, 2011, p. 274)
From within any given system or narrative, it can be nearly impossible to look at things differently on your own. If people and organizations existed alone in their respective sandboxes, that might well be the end of the story. But we live and breathe in a context where we are constantly interacting with others and confronting ourselves to the vagaries of the outside world: in our homes, our places of work, our communities, etc. What mix of subjectivity and objectivity does one require to thrive in the real world?
However much we may hate this, we all harbor blind spots that give rise to real consequences. In the judicial system, where stakes are often of the highest order, lawyers are charged with challenging accounts of the truth, by cross-examining witnesses and bringing in contradicting evidence. Very few people would choose to put themselves through that kind of experience when faced with decisions of a personal or professional nature. Still, who do you rely on to help challenge your assumptions, interpretations, and conclusions when, in business or in your personal life, the stakes are simply too high to rely on a purely internal perspective?
Bushe, G. (2009). Learning from collective experience. A different view of organizational learning. OD Practitioner, 41(3), pp. 19-23.
Department of Justice Canada, Report on the Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice, Department of Justice Canada, 2004 https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/ccr-rc/pmj-pej/pmj-pej.pdf
Drake, D.B. (2011). Chapter 28: A narrative approach to coaching. In L. Wildflower & D. Brennan (Eds.). The handbook of knowledge-based coaching. From theory to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 271-278 (Chapter 28).
Harsch-Porter, S. (2011). Chapter 9: Social constructionism. In L. Wildflower & D. Brennan (Eds.). The handbook of knowledge-based coaching. From theory to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 81-88.
Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2011). Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(2), 57-74, p. 58.
Mifune, K. (2004). The Canon of Judo: Classic Teachings on Principles and Techniques. Translated by Françoise White. Tokyo, Kodansha International, 224 pages.
R. v. Sutton,  2 O.R. 358 (C.A.), at 368; Burke v. The Queen (1996), 105 C.C.C. (3d) 205 (S.C.C.) at 224.
Tyng, C. M., Amin, H. U., Saad, M., & Malik, A. S. (2017). The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1454. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01454