Q7- We Found the Enemy: Our Own Concepts!?

Let us do a thought experiment (Gedanken Experiment).

      One day, I visited a forest. With me are four friends: an entomologist, a logger, a civil engineer and an ethnographer. The entomologist proceeded to examine many varieties of insects hiding in the cracks of trees’ barks and underneath fallen leaves. He starts to tell everyone stories about each kind of insect he discovers. The logger is not listening because he was busy mentally estimating the commercial volume and market value of a tree in front of him based on its diameter-at-breast-height. He was also estimating the timber density of this forest. The civil engineer was looking elsewhere: at the elevation, slopes and the flow rate and drop of a nearby small waterfall. He wanted to estimate how many kilowatts a micro-hydro power generator can produce from the waterfall. The ethnographer was a bit disappointed. She could not find anything interesting in the forest so she just observed the behavior of her companions and asked them a few questions.

What is happening here? The entomologist, logger, civil engineer and ethnographer are each seeing different things. Their individual academic trainings, experiences and habits are boxing in how they see the world around them. They see only their own familiar SLICES of the real world. No one is looking at the entire forest!

In the previous blogpost(Q6- KM for development: a triple(?) bottom line?), I have no doubt the Philippine Government and the World Bank hired the best engineers. The engineers who conceived and designed the Chico River Dam project where doing their darn best. But engineers are not trained in sociology or cultural anthropology or ecology. They were trained well to look elsewhere. So they missed and failed to anticipate social and cultural costs of the project. The engineers, the Philippine Government, the World Bank, the soldiers sent to the area by the Philippine Government, etc. were not our enemies. Our common enemy was the wrong development model or the purely engineering framework (a SINGLE-SLICE framework) for viewing a hydroelectric power plant project.

Every one of us is making choices we think are best for the situation we are in, given our individual worldviews and value systems. Don’t you think so? Do you agree that the Hamas, given their viewpoints and values, are making decisions they think are the best? Do you also agree that the Israeli cabinet, given their viewpoints and values, are making decisions they think are the best?

After 178 nations learned and woke up from the terrible costs of development disasters, and adopted the principle of sustainable development, they are also making decisions they think are best or at least better than those based on earlier development models. Sustainable development is a THREE-SLICE framework (see Q6- KM for development: a triple? bottom line). So now, sixteen years after the Rio Summit, sustainable development has become the mainstream development model. With sustainable development, have we finally vanquished our enemy, namely, wrong or incomplete development framework?

Wait. Let us not quickly jump to the conclusion that we have found THE final solution. In blogpost F15 (“Our Development Concepts may be THE Problem”), I showed data hinting at the possibility that even sustainable development may not be THE perfect development model. So our real enemy may be OUR OWN cherished beliefs about development.

Please allow me to repeat what I said in the introduction to this Q Series.

In the movie “Men in Black,” Kay (played by Tommy Lee Jones) told Jay (played by Will Smith):

      “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

Our beliefs about the world keep changing. Chances are, our beliefs today are not final; something better will be discovered in the future. KM guru Ikujiro Nonaka defined “knowledge” as “justified belief that increases an entity’s capacity for effective action.” And so, our knowledge is exactly that: beliefs. Tomorrow, better beliefs or assumptions can replace our current beliefs if the former justifiably work better or they help us produce the results we say we want. So, we should not get stuck in “right-and-wrong” thinking or “I-am-always-right” thinking, but try to replace it with “what-could-work-better” thinking.

Peter Senge said that in a truly learning organization, members are skilled in being aware, in re-examining or testing and if needed, in revising their mental models (=assumptions or beliefs).

I wonder, what could be the development model 100 years from now? 1000 years from now? (assuming the human race is still around).

What belief could be the common enemy of Hamas and Israel? What belief could work better?

Do you have any thoughts on this? Please go ahead and share it with the 700-800 visitors per week of this blogsite (click the Comment link below).

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