It’s an old saw – familiarity breeds contempt. But in organizational settings, it’s also dead wrong.
Familiarity actually breeds contentment – and that can be dangerous.
We call it “corporate culture” or “organizational culture.” Put another way: “It’s how we do things here.” It’s what we believe in, and the values we hold.
Chip Heath and Dan Heath, in Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, suggest that contentment often comes from repeated exposure to an idea, a program, a process. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, “but what’s more troubling is that mere exposure also extends to our perception of truth.”
In other words, the more we hear or read or see something, the more we believe it’s true. Even if it’s a flat-out lie.
How many times have you received a group email claiming something (usually outrageous or bizarre) is true and you’re urged to pass it on? The internet lends itself to this type of communication. If something seems unbelievably outrageous, it’s probably untrue.
I received one that claimed a certain consumer product (I won’t mention names here to protect the innocent product) was the cause of all cancers, autism, Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy and virtually every other illness and disease known to humanity, supposedly on the basis of “new scientific studies.”(I am not making this up.) Looking at the email chain, it has already been passed on numerous times.
If you receive something like this, check Snopes. The odds are good that Snopes will have an answer as to the validity of an internet claim.
Why are we so prone to believe this stuff?
We trust the people sending the email or making the claim.
We see a lot of people making the claim on Twitter and Facebook.
There’s an article about it on Wikipedia.
An online publication that you read regularly has an article about it.
We have a lot of reasons for doing this. The key point related to all of these is that we tend to believe something is true if it fits our pre-existing worldview.
If we mistrust big corporations, or big government, or big religion (or any religion), we are more prone to believe crazy things about them. We don’t stop and ask if something might be wrong with our worldview. We’re a consumer culture and we consume news and information just like any other consumer commodity.
For organizations, the Heaths say, this status quo or “it’s the culture here” mentality can be devastating. It’s often most easily seen when an outside executive is brought in to change things in a staff or business unit with a strong culture. Watch how fast the white blood cells go to work to “kill the infection.”
We all can do better than that. Not every status quo is bad or wrong. Not every change or innovation is good. But we need to develop a highly tuned sense of discernment to know the difference.
And stop forwarding those crazy email chain letters.
Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.