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Advice or Approbation?

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Advice or Approbation?

“We ask for advice, but we mean approbation” – C.C. Colton, English Cleric (1780 – 1832)

I came across this quote over the weekend and it caught my attention. I would love to say it caught my attention because of it’s profound meaning and depth of insight. In reality, it caught my attention because I did not know the meaning of the word approbation.

Well come to find out, the word approbation means approval. So said another way, the author is telling us that when we ask for advice, we are not really seeking advice, we are really just looking to have our own perspective validated. That proved an interesting and insightful observation after all… but is it true?

Colton’s observation led me to think back to a book I read in college called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn was writing back in the 60’s and popularized the terms paradigm and paradigm shift that are now so prevalent in today’s business literature.

Kuhn postulated that paradigm shifts happen in three phases: pre-paradigm, normal science, and revolutionary science. A shift to revolutionary scientific thought usually takes place after a period of crisis. Prior to such a crisis, people look for ways to fit the observed data into the existing models. When anomalies in the data force us to reconsider the foundations on which our scientific worldview is formed, we have the beginnings of a paradigm shift.

It seems that most folks are not out looking for new ways of doing things. People are generally just looking for evidence that validates their current point of view. They are so comfortable with the old ways they will go to great lengths to ignore anything that challenges their current perspective. If people blind themselves to the data, where does that leave us as leaders of change?

Kuhn offers a not-so-encouraging quote for us to ponder:

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” – Max Planck, German Physicist (1858 – 1947)

What is it going to take for us to revolutionize the software industry? What can we do to create a sense of crisis? How can we demonstrate that old solutions won’t solve our current dilemma? How do we effect the wide scale change necessary to revitalize our industry?

One company, one team, one leader at a time?

For more on Kuhn and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, check out the following Wikipedia article:

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