Virtual Teams

Control and The Drunkards Walk

John Bland, Global Integration
John Bland, Global Integration

Post by John Bland, Director, Global Integration, who has thought long and hard about that balance between logic, randomness, and control.

I read a really good book recently: The Drunkards Walk. How Randomness Rules our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

Apparently some of the research was undertaken in an old people’s home.  Some people were given rooms arranged by the home and a pot plant looked after by staff.  Others were allowed to arrange their own room and look after their own plant.  Not only were all measures of happiness higher in the second group when measured after (I believe) six months, but the first group died faster too. Conclusion — people need to feel some control over their lives.

One of my colleagues worked with a software firm where they ran a similar experiment with air conditioning – the air conditioning kept the temperature steady, but people were willing to accept a far wider range of temperatures when they were able to control it by opening the window.

This resonates with me at the moment as a raft of new technology is forced upon me, and I think it also has a lot to say for those working for large organizations where it’s easy to lose the will to live.

Leonard Mlodinow contends that much of life is actually random, including CEO performance.   However, accepting this means that people feel out of control and therefore don’t like it at all.  They respond by doing things that make them feel in control when they are not. So in the book he points out that even though the performance of the company is often random and a few bad years are to be expected, the CEO is often fired so that people feel incontrol and have someone to blame.

It’s evidently the same with football managers

On control and randomnessAnother example is the performance of funds on the stock market.  He shows very nicely that there is NO correlation with the performance of a fund over the past five years with its performance over the next five years.  That’s right: there is no correlation!

One highly provocative example is the use of cycle helmets.  Recently the number of people wearing cycling helmets in the UK has increased substantially.  But at the same time the number of serious injuries and deaths has actually gone (slightly) up NOT down.  A major reason people wear them is because they are trying prevent that random event that is going happen to someone somewhere anyway – to establish control.

Or, look at the amount of advice we give to women about staying safe compared to that we give to men. Statistics in the US, UK and Australia demonstrate clearly that young men are far more likely to be attacked than young women. Some feel that this imbalance is about women’s behaviour being easier to control than men’s.

Statistics have demonstrated increased efficiency in people who use social networks for work. Yet managers block access to social networks fearing that social networkingwill distract them at work. They fear not being able to control what users are doing.

I’m sure there are many other examples too.

As control is one of the topics we often touch on as a module when training remote and virtual teams to manage new ways of working, it made me think.  I hope it does the same for you.


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