While Alice didn't need a scientific observation to help her make a decision to shift her faith into the piano, scientific method is available today for people who have difficulty making intuitive decisions. The scientific model is all about hypothesising, testing, and recording the observable differences with factual results and conclusive decisions.
The hypothesis of today, said Elaine, “is I am going to change”. Without specifying what, when or how she was going to change. Elaine wrote her hypothesis down to find she had nothing of substance for testing. Elaine noted her results “nothing changed”. The conclusion that she decided on was “ there was no change because there was no experiment” Her professor responded that even where there is no change, change may be present. His argument was about the black swan.
In 1959, Philosopher of Science Karl Popper, discovered his "black swan problem", that helped him to express how scientific ideas can never be proven true, regardless of how many observations appear to support it. Popper said
“All swans are white, yet it is logically possible to falsify this statement by observing a single black swan.”
The Black Swan of Western Australia
In change analysis terms, what this suggests is that one contrary result in the expectations of a change decision can prove that decision to be false. In other words, the reality of change hit the ideal of change and now the ideal is longer valid because reality is the change. For some people that can feel like hitting a brick wall. It can feel like that decision to shed a few pounds turned out to be bigger than originally thought. What these examples mean is that the decision needs to be re-thought and for some people the re-thinking will just say “forget it”.
What Poppers black swan problem essentially questions is that, if something can be shown to be false, how could this not nullify the truth? To ask yourself the same question, say when feeling head bashed by a change resister, is to nullify what you originally thought to be true. In other words your perceptions of change also need to change and this is as easy as expecting the unexpected.
Until the latter part of the 17th Century, Europeans held the strong conviction that all swans were white. They had seen them in the local village pond and in the villages close by. Overseas explorers constantly discovered swans, and they always were white. Yet, on 10 January 1697 black swans were sighted on the West Coast of Australia, by Dutch Explorer Willem Hesselsz de Vlamingh who named the river, they were sighted on, the “Zwaanenrivier”. The Swan River, along with its black swans, still winds its way through Perth today.
This finding undermined British, and European belief that swans were white. When Popper heard about the black swans, you could say he had an ‘ah ha’ moment. The term ‘black swan’ became his metaphor to express the logical asymmetry between scientific verification and falsification. Up until the black swan find, all swans were white, very much like the earth was flat until it was discovered to be spherical (around 3BC) then potato shaped (see New Scientist April 2011).
In one fell swoop of the ink; ‘Not All Swans Are White’ became the headline. Popper concluded that empirical generalizations, though not verifiable are falsifiable. What this means in decisions about change, is that everything is a test, and no matter what you may believe when making a decision to change, making the commitment to change with the expectation that it may contain a black swan, helps.
When somebody tells you they’re going to change, the predictable outcome might be they will and the unpredictable outcome might be they won’t. If they don’t and you respond with “that decision wasn't what I expected” you have just experienced a black swan problem. Hearing someone saying what they are going to change, doesn't mean that it’s predictable. Telling someone you have decided to change also doesn't mean that you are predictable.
Chaos Theory supports the black swan problem in human decision-making through its discussions about the unknowns in complexity, and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) supports the white. Introduced in the 1970’s, NLP claimed that the connections between brain, language and behaviour in humans can be changed to achieve specific goals in life. Yet, despite a growing body of neurological evidence about human brain plasticity, NLP is yet to receive scientific community applause. What this essentially means is that your decision to change is as unique as you are and no matter what people say, the only one who can review the way you think is you. It also means that your expectations may be a little high and bringing them more into line with an ‘observe before you can talk’ philosophy might help.
The world is full of people who are ready and willing to help you. Change is not a dirty word and some people love-making it their business to organise your change needs linen cupboard. Decision theory can help to analyse the probability of success, but what if you prefer to follow your own rules?
Freda completes a decision theory matrix about her need to buy software, but when she gets to the store she decides to do what she always does, and walks away from the purchase to see if her mind will nag her to return. “If it does”, Freda says, “I will buy the software and if it doesn't she says, “then I don’t really need it”. The mathematical decision theory matrix was of no use to Freda in the long run, because she had already decided on her assessment tool, she’d just forgotten it in the excitement about doing the math. It took her to reach the store and consider the product for her to remember her own golden rule, and once she did, her history of decision-making practice over took any rationale calculations about the subject.
In another example, 40-year-old Pat decided to grow his hair. He completed a mathematical decision theory matrix and discovered reward savings. Pat shared his findings with his ailing father, Jack, who nearly choked on his food in protest. Jack warns Pat that if he doesn't cut his hair, he will no longer be his son. Dad is all Pat has left in the world, so he spends what little money he has left, after buying his prescription drugs, at the barbers that afternoon. In this scenario, Pats decision to change in order to save is railroaded by his father’s response. The hidden variable is the need to save and not wanting to worry his father about his heart condition, Pat goes and gets his hair cut.
A general criticism of Decision Theory is that it considers the "known unknowns", and not the "unknown unknowns". It focuses on expected variations, not on unforeseen events or unknown variations, like a black swan. To identify a black swan listen for the words “If I had only known then what I know now”. Yet, if you had known then what you know now the decision would be classified as a white swan.
When Francis Bacon decided that empiricism was a much-needed change in the scientific revolution of the 17th Century, was the outcome a black or white swan? History informs us that Francis wasn't applying a change when he introduced empiricism into the scientific method. He simply attached Aristotle’s empirical theory of the 4th Century BC (as amended). In this way, he conserved a previous change in the emerging scientific method of the time, as opposed to reforming it. In other words, he applied a white swan and it worked for him. That white swan changed the world of change, yet Francis Bacon did not change. He did not think differently to make the change and he did not change his life to make the change. He simply applied what he knew about the establishment he moved in, using his power and influence to do so. But what about a woman or man who has very little power or influence in society? What commitment options are available to them? When dis-empowered people want to change something, generally what they have at their disposal is the inner freedom of themselves.
Faith is one of the most hopeful, if not freeing, of all thoughts an individual has at their disposal, when faced with a situation that s/he is socially powerless to change. Philosophical and psychological remedies ranging from storytelling to stoicism to holistic spirituality, have opened windows in the thoughts of the most vulnerable with “you do have the freedom to change your mind”. While some professional change conversations revolve around how to influence others into committing to change (organisational change, socio-economic change), the most challenging of all change decisions is freeing belief. Particularly when that change of mind means accepting something you are convinced is immoral, dehumanizing or unfair.
In 1962 when lawyer, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment; after being charged with attempting to overthrow the South African government; do you think Mandela changed his mind? He served 27 years in prison before the international campaign for his release succeeded in 1990. While in prison Mandela was unable to change the rules of prison life. As a law degree educated revolutionary, an African nationalist, a democrat and a socialist, how did Mandela survive years of not being able to change apartheid prison rules? It’s commonly understood that Mandela had a preference for abiding by majority decisions, even when deeply disagreeing with them. Did he survive prison by refusing to change his preferences in favour of the court’s decision or did he survive prison by turning his outward revolutionary goals inward in defense of himself? If Mandela did decide to change his focus from fighting for others into fighting for himself, was the decision a commitment to not change his beliefs? Or did he just apply the strengths he always had inside of him, in a way more supportive of his own need to survive?
After his release from prison, Mandela appeared to focus more on policy changes as opposed to his pre-sentence days of legal defense. What this suggests is that Mandela did re-think his applications of revolutionary change and through inter-weaving his education with his real life experiences, he chose a more strategic path of revolutionary reform. He allowed others to help him. This allowance continued his focus of improving the rights of Indigenous Africans. His goals had not changed, but his management of them did.
Change is about attaching life experiences and learning with attention. It is also about detaching life experiences with learning by paying attention to what needs to be exchanged. You don’t have to be on the lookout for a black swan for it to exist, but it helps if you are paying attention when it shows up. Paying attention to your change decision commitments offers you the opportunity of adjusting your seat belt when the going gets tough. But what if the tough get going in the wrong direction, and what started out as a good change idea feels like a rumination nightmare?
Rumination is repetitious, intrusive, often averse and prevents the thinker from focusing on the matter in hand. Rumination often concerns goals or desired outcomes (action rumination); including counter-factual outcomes associated with recent problems, failures, or blocked goals (state rumination). Automatic, unwanted, and intrusive, as well as controlled, deliberate, and conscious thought processes are typically included in the definition of rumination. Rumination can have important consequences in one’s life. For example: task-irrelevant rumination interferes with a person’s ability to make a change decision. It distracts the goal with non-associated items. You might call them unresolved issues or doubt.
Finding yourself ruminating over unresolved issues is like hoping pigs do fly and elephants do jump fences like sheep. The best hope you can have in a state rumination situation is that it will turn into action rumination, over time, where a renewed optimistic explanatory style can go to work. But what if you are a die-hard pessimist?
The term ‘emotional intelligence’ (IE) was first used in psychology in 1966. Today it is used to describe “an innate human attribute” which, if understood and used well, can help to manage human thinking for improved behaviour and relationships with others. Yet in times of stress, IE can be as lost as Mary was from her little lamb.
Shy William had been caring for his frail aged mother Mary for 16 yrs without any respite. Then he met Elise on Facebook who he became infatuated with. After months of Facebook ‘flirting’, she private messaged that she’d like to video chat and William panicked. Years of focusing on his mother’s needs over his own had taken its toll and without noticing he’d developed an alcohol habit to help him sleep. William went to talk to himself in the bathroom mirror and hated its reflection of him. He decided to change. He decided to tell Elise that he didn't have a web cam and ease away from the relationship. He still reads her public postings, and instead of posting messages, he now follows the public posts of as many women as he can find. William’s new ‘hobby’ not only gives him more time to drink, but increases his already overwhelming sense of carer isolation.
EI can be said to be divided into two main areas which are personal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence. These areas are further divided into 16 scales, representing self-regard and regard for others, self-awareness and awareness of others, emotional resilience, personal power through personal responsibility, flexibility, authenticity, trust, a balanced outlook, connectedness with others, emotional expression and resolving conflicts amicably. Where this theory falls down is it assumes that life is predictable. William’s EI profile was unbalanced by the negative issues in his carer's role in life. EI assumes that emotional intelligence improves with age, but William’s EI might not. In this way not even EI assumptions can escape the black swan, which in William’s case, looks more like a black dog.
How you communicate with yourself influences whether or not your decision to change will benefit your life. In terms of enough motivation to make a decision, both pessimists and optimists have the capability to reach a decision to change. Only the analysis by which they reach the decision differs. Yet when ‘enough is enough’ both pessimists and optimists alike generally agree, it’s time to do something about it.
According to the BBC "How to Make Better Decisions" (Horizon 2009) , “our decisions are based on over-simplification, laziness and prejudice: And that’s assuming that we haven’t already been hijacked by our surroundings or led astray by our subconscious”.
I think this is quite a dramatic statement, considering that we all are making small change decisions every single day, from choosing what soap to wash our mouths out with, what to wear, what to eat, when to shop and according to personal power guru himself, Tony Robbins, when to feel down. Change decisions can also be so set in habit that driving your car to work becomes as automatic as tying your shoe laces. Change only becomes an issue if we haven’t considered it before. Then the issue may be about finding the time to slot yet another change into say another, otherwise crowded, decision making day. Yet, despite any goings on about how people do or do not make decisions, when it comes to change, how you regard yourself is important to whether or not you're going to take your decisions, to change, seriously.
The philosopher Socrates decided to drink the hemlock poison, he was ordered to drink, after being found guilty of “false beliefs’ by the court of Athens. Many scholars consider that the execution arose from a decision by Socrates not to convince his jurors about why he was thinking differently about accepted norms. Socrates obediently carried out his own execution, which in my book, must have been extremely difficult, unless Socrates decided that this change had meaning. Deciding to carry out his own execution probably arose from Socrates thinking that he had no options. At ground level of decision-making, change is essentially about letting go through acceptance. While choice does play a big role in deciding which fork in the road to take when following the yellow brick road, choice is not always the reason why people change and choice is not always the reason why people make decisions to change. In a sense you might agree that Socrates had no choice. He was condemned to death which left him with the option of running away or complying and for some people, running away is never an option when they don’t believe in it.
The world is full of people stuck in situations they’d rather not be in. Unfortunately, change just happens upon us, and the survivors of floods, hurricanes, tsunami’s, earthquakes and human wars can testify to that. How you respond to the impact of earthly and human change activities matters to your survival: If your decision is to survive the change, that is.
Socrates, Mandela, Francis Bacon and Alice Herz Sommer all had that famous quality of being themselves. What they had in common is that they did not change when faced with adversity or challenge, they accessed what was unchanging about them, their faith in what they believed about themselves. In this way, it is the unique qualities of character that help us to identify the commonalities between the black swan and the white where the only real difference is the colour of the feathers. It is the commonalities between what is unknown and what is known that moves change from a decision into a commitment and it is faith in our own abilities that helps us do it. © Chris Tyne, 2013
Character Strength Info: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx
Decision Theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN1yGouxGaA
How To Make Better Decisions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul-FqOfX-t8