The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Franklin D Roosevelt
There you go. Nothing like a well-worn cliché to kick off, and with the apparently imminent (again) collapse of the global financial market and the consequent disintegration of democracies around the world, that is probably as relevant and true today as it was 80 years ago. Except of course, the Armageddon scenario won’t happen because throughout time the brave have overcome the one thing that would precipitate such meltdown; the paralysis of fear and the temptation to sit on the touchline and watch the whole sorry saga dissolve before their frozen, staring eyes. (Caveat: if it does happen, by then you’ll have hopefully forgotten that you read it here first and have more important things to worry about.)
Robert Terry’s recent blog “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”, or “Kirkpatrick must go!” put forward an interesting ‘conspiracy theory’ slant to the whole training evaluation debate, and it got me thinking that the root cause of the lethargy that contributes to the huge sums that are wasted on training events might just be because it’s all a bit scary. Even in such austere market conditions, why are so many of our corporate leaders apparently content to sit back and watch the money flow out through their Learning & Development budgets? Why do they seem satisfied when they have a team who return from their development experience having made some new friends, are a bit more motivated and, at best, have transcended as individuals into better human beings, albeit not actually able to contribute anything of demonstrable additional value to the business?
Every now and then, a foolish notion takes such a firm grip on the public consciousness that no amount of hard evidence to the contrary can persuade its believers to put aside their convictions and embrace what is frequently an unpalatable or less interesting truth. Some such notions emanate from the ‘supernatural’ school and demand high levels of blind faith from their adherents. The absence of anything remotely evidential in the stories that surround faith-based urban myths presents no problem to their originators who, through their powers of persuasion and the vulnerabilities of their audience, succeed in recruiting armies of supporters to their cause. The uneventful passing once more of Harold Camping’s revised deadline for the end of the world on 21st October is unlikely to persuade his followers that The End Times is a put-up job any more than readers of horoscopes will cancel their subscriptions just because none of the foretold events actually happen. Faith like bindweed once established, is tough to kill.
Some urban myths are lightweight confections whipped up by pranksters seeking nothing more than the inner satisfaction of knowing that they have duped the gullible. The recent Kidney Heist Hoax is a masterpiece of the genre. In its frequent beery re-telling the narrative gathers both mass and momentum like a snowball rolling down a ski slope. Each storyteller attaches his or her own embellishments and invigorates the story by making it their own; or at least “a friend of friend’s”. These myths derive their currency from the frequency with which they are told and the conviction of the teller, no matter how implausible the story itself may be. It would seem that for many, a myth repeated often enough will assume the authority of truth.
One of these days, someone will definitively inform us as to the exact percentage of people whose lives are diminished by exposure to statistics, or once and for all model the vectors that trace the relationship between industry surveys and people rushing to promote their service as the solution to their findings. But until that technology becomes available, we can all take the opportunity to polish our debating skills on the raw meat of the latest statistical insight.