What do we see in this scene?
Arrow is the story of Oliver Queen, spoiled billionaire playboy, who was presumed missing after his father’s yacht capsized. Five years later he returns, changed and determined to clean up the city as a hooded vigilante.
As a side note, most episodes are below average and the story is only worth watching if you enjoy kung-fu fights and wrong decisions at every turn.
In this scene we see Oliver and his best friend Tommy have a conversation. Tommy has a hard time adapting to the changes in his surroundings and now that he knows Oliver’s secret it has become even more complex.
Earth is a big place and each one of us is a world on its own. People experience the context they live in as their own extension. Through our senses, we try to understand or realize what is physically going on. Our brain then computes the information and uses the data acquired to make sense and connect with our personal set of values. This basically means that the world is different for each of us based on one’s perception. More about it can be found in Husserl’s work about Phenomenology.
Cognitive dissonance and Egoïsm
When something weird and unexpected happens and we start feeling discomfort or mental stress we tend to ask the following 3 questions:
How did it happen?
Why did it happen?
What’s the impact on me?
Egoïsm, in its psychological state, view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seems to be acts of altruism. As the world is our extension, we will work on it to improve our situation. When someone experiences a cognitive dissonance such as Tommy, things get complicated. In Tommy’s case, to find back his balance, he decides to quit.
When Oliver’s friends and family found out that Oliver is back, they were in shock and had to start computing that information. In order to adapt to this new context, they had to ask Oliver certain questions: where was he, how did he survive, why did it take so much time to come back and so forth. While they felled compelled to ask these questions, they didn’t really care about Oliver’s context. They expected to have answers that will help them understand how this change, Oliver’s return, will impact their live and how they can adopt it or adapt to it.
Arrow’s story revolves around helping each other out, and yet, somehow it fails completely. Instead everything seems to be focused on selfishness. Me! Me! Me! And this is where it gets interesting.
These last couple of months were strong in emotions. First we had the stories with thousands of refugees coming to Europe and now the focus is on Volkswagen using a software to cheat.
We all remember Aylan Kurdi’s sad yet powerful picture, and while probably most of us forgot his name, we haven’t forgotten what happened. The boy’s picture and very convincing news headlines have literally put all of Europe in a situation of cognitive dissonance. The war wages a couple of years now in Syria, yet, suddenly, we realize bad things happen to innocent people. Egoïsm then kicks-in and people start to send calls to action and help arriving refugees. Now a month later, most have done their required action to get back to a congruent state and returned to their dormant self.
Volkwagen is the latest case where a giant in the car industry decided to cheat on their diesel car emissions. When this was discovered and then communicated to the masses, most people followed the same scheme.
How did it happen?
Why did they do it?
And finally because they don’t have answers to both these questions, how does it impact me?
People without a volkswagen car, do not feel directly related to the case, but still may think that their car manufacturer could do the same. Volkswagen customers on the other hand, who bought such a car with the idea they’ll pollute less, now realise they have been lied to, feel a discomfort, and want compensation.
Here again, the press started spreading fearsome headlines putting all of the world in mental stress. The company’s stock value dropped over 40% in two days and the end of the world is near…
And yet, nothing has really changed. The moment I’m writing this post, Volkswagen’s stock has increased over 20% and people are still buying their cars. We don’t really care about what happens with Volkswagen, we don’t even talk about what could happen to the tens of thousands of employees, who had nothing to do with it. While we cry out loud on Volkswagen, we don’t even try to find out the reasons behind this fraud and how this could be used in a constructive way. No, what’s important is how I can make the situation better for me.
Once the novelty effect (in this case a negative one) will go down, all of us will return to our daily routines and some short term investors would have earned a few millions.
Actually, this is the same as Apple launching their new iPhone and the reason they have to launch an s version after 6 months. Each new iPhone creates a cognitive dissonance for Apple fans (and most of the press) and they must talk about it and potentially buy it. Therefore, each time novelty ebss away, the company has to come with a new product to recreate the effect and increase (or at least maintain) sales.
How does this relate to leadership?
We’ve seen in previous posts that leadership is not about oneself, but about the (positive) impact we can have on others. The simple fact that a CEO has to step down indicates that, at least for listed companies, leadership and management are indeed to separate concepts.
Right now people are trying to make sense of the situation and once they feel they have their answer (and compensation) things will return to normal. It happened many times throughout mankind’s history, in the car industry (Toyota, GM) , with the oil industry (BP) and it will continue to happen in the future.
For you as a leader
When such large context changes happen, time is at your side. People get quickly infuriated, but when the novelty effect has gone or when they understood how the situation impacts them and what they can do about it, the situation will quiet down.
These kind of cases also happen daily on smaller scales and can be rapidly fixed. An employee that gets promoted and has a very different job, an employee who lost a relative, or someone who heard 100 people will get fired.
When dealing with an issue that changes someone’s context, it is all about helping that person answer the 3 questions:
How did it happen?
Why did it happen?
What’s the impact on me?
And this requires transparency.
In the Arrow and Volkswagen case, everything happens because people don’t get the answers they deserve and therefore focus solely on trying to weigh the impact.
Henceforth, when someone is in a state of mental stress or feels out of context, help them get back in it. Help them rebuild the context as being their own extension.
Start by explaining how the company or that person got into this situation and what it actually means. Tell them about the big picture and how they relate to it while being concrete and earnest. Give them the information and the tools they need to control their context.
Professional coaches use techniques such as Neuro-linguistic programming and Non-violent communication to help restructure the broken link. Systemic thinking is also a very powerful way to understand and explain the context and impact of a specific problem. Systems theory helps provide a holistic view of a given situation and should be taught to managers and leaders. While unknown or forgotten by business and politics, it has the potential to help solve many cases.
Once the person can directly relate to the context and has all the required information to compute, then they will be better equipped to accept the impact and come up with constructive suggestions and alternatives.
The most important is that the relationship between the leader and the follower takes place in a trusting and constructive context. Act in a different way than Oliver who keeps secrets because he believes that the truth may break his friends. You as leader are not the only one who has the right to change and evolve. Your people deserve it too and it is your role to help them get there.
In the series Oliver often say to the criminals he capture that they have failed the city. He as a leader has often failed his team, but you don’t have to.