Blog Post

The baloney generator

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 29 December 2002



The baloney generator
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Posted DateSunday 29 December 2002 10:25 GMT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
PeopleSteven Pinker 
CountryUnited States

Ian Glendinning in his weblog has recently been reading and reviewing a book by Steven Pinker - The Blank Slate - that explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. One of Ian's comments is as follows:
Pinker refers to the entire left side (?) of the brain as the "baloney generator" designed to produce convincing sounding "arguments" in difficult situations. Humans have an innate comfort with the "rational" and dislike of the "irrational", needing rationale to explain experience. Often the rationale may be a gross simplification, simple near-term logic, basic correlation, even an analogy, with little or no true causal connection with the real situation - almost certainly also a mechanism for recording, recalling and reconstructing knowledge in ways that minimize the mental resources needed to do so (Keep it Simple Stupid).
This view of the left brain struck a chord with me as time and time again I have felt that what we do with a complex situation - especially when it comes to human relationships - is to look for a simple model - "she is doing this because she is angry with me" - "she is doing this because she is scared" or whatever - the list is endless. Do we get it right? - "rarely" - in fact I would say - "never". The motivation behind human behavior - why people do or don't do things is sufficiently complex and hidden that is almost impossible to analyze and if we really do have an onboard "baloney generator" then what chance do we ever stand of understanding the motivations of another person? Maybe we should stop wasting our time trying and accept them as they are!

We also need to think about the effect of this "baloney generator" on our ideas about KM. How much of so called 'explicit knowledge' that we capture and store on paper or in computer databases is nothing more than baloney? And when we have a conversation - how much baloney do we talk?

Also how do we recognize baloney? Here is a simple answer. If we think we understand a complex business issue (one that almost invariably involves people and their behaviors) then it is most likely baloney. Which of course means that this last statement is also almost certainly baloney Smile!

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
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