By Miles Clyne
“Stupid is as stupid does” was originally coined by Tom Hanks’ character Forrest, in the movie Forrest Gump. I doubt I’ll ever forget the movie because I keep being reminded of the quote every time I open a paper or listen to news.
Recent commentary in the press talked about the BC-based Canadian company Lululemon considering moving its head office out of the country, because of the federal government’s temporary foreign worker policy. I can’t speak to the policy, only to the lunacy. We are constantly hearing about questionable government and corporate policies. Individually we are likely all guilty of having made bad decisions. But when we pay civil servants and corporate people and they perpetuate or institute bad policy it is different, they should be held to a higher standard.
Sticking to Our Biases
In order for things to make sense in my head, I bring them back to the basics. Our biases clearly make us trend toward making decisions that favour those biases. We favour those biases because we search for the facts that support them. This creates a nice tidy circle in our brain that allows us to have confidence in our decisions, even if we are using incomplete or dated information. And even in spite of compelling evidence we may still stick to a bias. IE: How does the tobacco industry continue to exist and if everyone owns a gun, are we really safer?
Take a common situation of biases in the workplace. A boss and an employee have a difference of opinion. In a respectful workplace, the employee can voice their opinion and it will be heard, considered, and quality dialogue ensues. Too often this isn’t what happens. We all know bosses/supervisors who live by the credo, ‘my way or the highway’. They rarely would dare say this out loud, but it comes across loud and clear. And they will often use policy to support or justify their behavior.
Organizations or individuals that still support the mentality of my ‘way or the highway’ remind me of archaic warfare tactics. Young soldiers would be given the command to attack, forced from the relative safety of trenches to meet the onslaught of enemy gunfire with no cover. These soldiers had no choice. History tells us that if the soldiers didn’t do as they were ordered, they would be executed on the spot. Zero tolerance for dissent, and a swift reminder to all others.
Fortunately, this behavior is gone from most modern military strategy. But, sadly it lives on in the day to day world of too many organizations. Dissent against bad or illogical policies now, rather than almost certain death, is often the loss of employment or future opportunity within an organization.
We all know policies that were perhaps ill conceived or have failed to evolve that continue to be enforced. In my opinion this happens because of: fear, control issues, laziness and probably a number of other reasons. The end result is polices that are damaging to all levels of organizations, and it often takes courage from one or a few individuals to get them changed. But courageous isn’t the adjective that many choose to label these individuals with.
In the case of the federal government’s foreign policy on migrant workers, they already make exceptions for certain types of businesses like universities, the film industry and large multinationals like Microsoft. So why would they penalize or disadvantage any other company, especially a home-grown company? I can’t answer this, but my bias is to think those in control of the policy are the type of people Forrest spoke of or perhaps fit into my limited explanation. Ironically, the ultimate failure is the mouth biting the hand that feeds it, and the body has no idea why it is suffering.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to paint myself with the brush of having inherent self-interest. I have my values and beliefs, and they give me a number of biases. Everything I do is firmly entrenched in the belief that everyone has to be accountable to the people they serve. No one is exempt. And like everyone, my biases put me in conflict with other people’s biases. I know it is my personal responsibility to identify and deal rationally with these challenges. But sometimes my emotions get the better of me, and then I hear Forrest’s words.