The Danger of Bubbles

BY Talbot Gee
11/16/2017 - HVAC Networking

No, this is not an economic forecasting article or the debut of a new passion about consumer product safety. It is, however, intended to be a warning shot of an epidemic I see spreading quickly across our world, society, and industry. I’m not sure whether it’s due to unprecedented access to and influence of technology, or a world that keeps getting bigger, faster, and more complex, or a failure of too many to master critical thinking skills, but many of us and those around us are living in their own bubbles. These bubbles can be social, socio-economic, political, or all of the above but the one constant is their inability to compare their own perceptions and opinions with reality; better yet the complete lack of awareness of their own bubble. Those who succumb to this illness will be doomed by it while those who transcend it will prosper.

The recent gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey were the first standard, state-wide elections in the US since last November and the analyses of the Virginia results are reinforcing my concerns about this bubble epidemic. Those on the Left argue the election was a referendum on the President while those on the Right assert changing demographics and an opposition media sealed their fate. While there’s probably some examples of truth in both views, neither fully takes all factors into account to produce an intellectually honest answer and, therefore, they both produce conclusions consistent only within their respective bubbles. It is not my intent to make this a political article, and Melchi and Palmer are certainly far more the expert on such things, but I find this the perfect example of how bubble thinking could possibly doom both sides in this instance.

Surely there was anti-President voting taking place in Virginia but the President didn’t even win the state in 2016 and the Republican candidate did just about everything possible to not just distance himself from the President throughout the campaign but also ignore the voting block that did vote for the President in the 2016 elections. Conversely, data showed there hadn’t been a significant demographic shift in registered voters in Virginia but rather that Republican turnout was dramatically down in this election compared to 2016. These are two brief examples to help me make the point that the Left’s and Right’s respective bubble-thought conclusions will likely lead to misguided strategies for future elections and candidate selection and, therefore, eventual failures that could have been prevented with better analyses and strategies.

It is too easy for distributors (and their suppliers) to live in their own bubbles. When numbers aren’t good or an initiative underperforms, ask yourself how frequently team debriefs begin with early assumptions that are never truly challenged. “Well we know Competitor X didn’t get the business because they don’t do that…” or “we’ve never had that problem before”. While as leaders we must always strive to find the simplest answers but the fact is most problems are complex and impacted by too many factors for us to always know off the top of our heads. Further, it’s easier to blame failures on factors that don’t hurt the feelings of anyone in the room or that insulate leadership from culpability but we owe it to our organizations and our teams to gather all of the facts, face the music, and be honest about root causes.

To break our bubbles, we must:

  1. Find as many information inputs as possible
  2. Develop methodologies and processes to be constantly ingesting and analyzing all of this external information
  3. Requiring those with outward-facing responsibilities to be just as accountable for gathering external information as they are being responsive to existing customers and relationships
  4. Train new and upcoming leaders to step outside and view challenges and failures as an outside consultant would
  5. Reward leaders for properly identifying mistakes and rewarding them again for crafting solutions tailored to the root causes of those mistakes
  6. Create a culture throughout our organizations that constantly challenges anecdotal assertions to the point that they become rare
  7. Develop leaders who recognize those anecdotal assertions and respond with appropriate questions to uncover the true answer

I look forward to seeing all of you in Las Vegas next month as we all strive to pop our respective bubbles and win against those who do not!