Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Best Evidence

A man showed up at a psychiatrist’s office concerned that his family was upset because he was, in fact, dead. Surprised, the psychiatrist said “Did you say you’re dead?”
“Yes.” Replied the man. “Quite, and completely - dead!”
Intrigued, the psychiatrist invited the man onto his couch.
“So,” Inquired the doctor. “You’re dead, you say. How long have you been dead?”
“Well,” replied the man. “I’ve been dead most of my life, so to speak since I am not really alive.”
“Let me ask you something.” Said the psychiatrist, thinking. “Do dead people breathe?”
“No, don’t be stupid. Of course dead people don’t breathe.” Replied the dead man.
“Well I have news for you.” Said the doctor triumphantly. “Clearly you’re breathing, so you cannot truly be dead!”
“Oh, No! No!” Laughed the man. “I am only pretending to breathe. It’s a habit because not breathing tends to alarm people around me.”
“Ah, I see.” The doctor scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well do dead people’s hearts beat?”
“Come-on.” Answered the patient. “You know the answer to that, of course dead people’s hearts don’t beat.”
The psychiatrist walked over to his desk and pulled a stethoscope from a drawer, put the earpieces into his ears and listened to the man’s chest. “I hear a heart-beat.” He said, raising his eyebrows to the dead man.
“Oh that is just a sound I make, it’s a habit like breathing.” Replied the man.
The doctor retuned to his desk, put the stethoscope away and surreptitiously picked up a pin.
“So if your heart is not beating then you would have no blood-pressure, and you would not bleed?” he asked the patient.
“No!, of course not, dead people don’t bleed.” He said emphatically.
“Are you sure?” asked the doctor.
“If you got a cut, would you bleed?
“Look,” Replied the man impatiently. “Don’t be thick about this. You know perfectly well I would not!”
Instantly the doctor grabbed the man’s finger and pricked it with the pin. Blood oozed out of the hole.
“Ah ha!” Exclaimed the doctor. “You see, you do bleed, you’re alive!”
The man looked at his finger in bewilderment, and then looked at the doctor astonished.
“Well, what do you know.” He said throwing his hands up. “Dead people do bleed.”

Originally I heard this story many years ago as an undergraduate. The point is, entrenched beliefs do not easily succumb to rational argument. Innovators run into this phenomenon all the time. ‘Big Idea’ innovators often find ‘Continuous Improvement’ innovators as not seeing the big picture or not clearly understanding the problem. Equally, the ‘Continuous Improvement’ innovator will often find the ‘Big Idea’ innovator as having risky, unworkable, or incomprehensibly ideas. For the Continuous Improvement innovator, smaller alternate approaches are better.

To successfully innovate, the team needs to find a safe way to suspend the predispositions of everyone in the room. This is a key craft of a accomplished innovation facilitator.
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