This week’s Pearl of Leadership Wisdom is on Limiting Beliefs.
“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Oh what a mess…
The British Home Secretary Alan Johnson is responsible for the government’s drug policy. He uses the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to advise him.
The government has recently returned cannabis to Class B, reversing its previous demotion to class C. (Incidentally, the classification relates to harm caused: C = bad; B = worse; A = don’t be stupid).
The chairman of the ACMD, Professor David Nutt, has accused ministers of devaluing and distorting evidence and said drugs classification was being politicised. He believes cannabis should have remained at Class C.
Got any horse?
Now, Professor Nutt, through his independent publicity unit, has recently pronounced that taking ecstasy (Class A, alongside heroin), is no more dangerous than riding a horse. There have been some other lurid comparisons as well.
Mr Johnson retorted that few of his drug-addled Hull constituents had cause to worry about falling off a horse and promptly sacked Prof Nutt. His colleagues are now threatening to resign. Some already have.
What a mess.
So who’s right?
Each is wrong, independent of the other. But the scientists are more wrong so I’ll concentrate on them.
The scientists and their supporters believe that they are right, and therefore it is right for their rightness to be fully enshrined in government policy, because after all policy is simply their rightness turned into an action plan. And if this does not happen, their rightness allows them to go public with lurid comparisons with scant regard for the impact they may have on all concerned.
This is called a limiting belief because it limits the scientists’ ability to do their job – to influence government.
That’s a classic…
It’s actually a classic limiting belief that’s been around forever, and afflicts scientists. The scientists’ believe that absolute truth is all there is. This is noble, but only in the lab and the pages of peer-reviewed journals. In the messy real world there is more to think about.
The government is not obliged to simply turn scientific advice into policy. In this case, where the issue of harm arises, there is no effective truth to promote anyway, because few consumers actually think they are going to come to any harm.
Alan Johnson in his way, is not the first politician to ignored scientific advice.
In the cold war, John von Neumann was a scientific advisor to President Eisenhower. He developed game theory to calculate how each side in a two-player game can minimise their losses. It seemed clear that the Russian spy network had obtained many of the details of the US atom bomb design and it was only a matter of time before the Soviet Union became a nuclear power to rival the US.
Von Neumann therefore recommended to Eisenhower that the U.S. launch a nuclear strike at the Russians, as now was their window of opportunity. The huge advantage the US had in possessing the atomic bomb would soon be lost. Game theory says that the US should have pressed home their advantage when they had the chance in order to avoid a far worse war later. Von Neumann was right, within the limited scope of his analysis.
Clearly, Eisenhower, who had been around a bit, ignored him.
So what are your limiting beliefs? If you have any recurring problems in your life, look under the surface. There might be a limiting belief lurking there.