Taking a Stand

Today’s post is a great example of an integrative insight. This is the phenomenon in which two ostensibly separate events in distinct domains lead to a more general conclusion. It is different from inspiration – in which an idea in one design triggers an idea in another. It is the fundamental integration of the two that makes it special.

Integrative insight is one of my favorite kinds and the reason I study so many different areas. Studies have shown this kind of thinking might be less likely in our modern society in which most of us hyperspecialize. We are all supposed to be T-shaped experts but that diminishes the likelihood of integrative insight. This requires more comb-shaped expertise.

My Take

First, I read this study on leadership. The basic finding is that leaders who offer ethical-based justifications for their positions get more support than leaders who offer pragmatic justifications. This effect only emerges when the ethical position is perceived as genuine because it implies greater moral character in the leader. This perceived moral character is what drives the support. We seem to trust and follow leaders who hold strong beliefs more than we trust and follow leaders who base their decisions on cost/benefit analysis (or simply being correct!!).

We found that perceptions of a leader’s private motives had a stronger influence on policy support than did the leader’s public stance. Irrespective of how a policy was framed, people were most supportive of a policy championed by a leader high in moral character.

Then, I listened to the weekly This Old Marketing podcast, which I strongly recommended if you are interested in content marketing. They discuss a report showing that companies that have a content tilt derive more brand value than companies who promote their products. Content tilt is when the company takes a position on a particular issue. The example they use in the podcast is Hubspot and its award winning content marketing. The tone of their posts conveys that they deeply believe that their approach is the best and that it is the future of marketing. It comes across as authentic as well as authoritative.

What does the combination show? It seems to be a generalizable phenomenon that we are drawn as much, if not more, to authenticity than authority. As Robert Rose describes on the podcast, we respect people or organizations that take a stand, even when they are wrong. Even more than a company that is more often correct but doesn’t take a stand on their values.

There is a good neuroscientific reason for this too. The insula is perhaps the fastest responding module of the brain, even compared to other System I processes. The insula likes binary tags: good/bad, match/mismatch, fight/flight, like/dislike. If we need to evaluate a person’s explanation every time, it takes a lot of work. But if we just know their moral baseline, we can simply trust them to say what they think. Then the insula just needs to decide agree/disagree.

This explains lots of other domains as well (more integrative insight). It explains some aspects of U.S. national politics that I have often wondered about. Politicians who have impractical or factually inaccurate positions, but who clearly believe in them, get a lot of support (Donald Trump anyone?). This has always baffled me, but now I have a sense of why.

Your Turn

Are you T-shaped or comb-shaped in your professional expertise? Do you get integrative insights from your work? Do you see it is a valuable skill? Do you intentionally pursue it (like I do)?

Let us know.

Image Credit: Scott Maxwell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *