Monday, October 07, 2019

The Madness of Crowds – why training may be tilting at windmills

The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray is a good companion piece to The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by HaidtBoth put the brakes on what they call the ‘ideology’ of atomising identity, then policing oppression through language and restrictions on freedom of speech. They both believe that much of this (not all) is harmful, producing a culture of complaint, grievance and victimhood that actually damages people and institutions. They also have a go at the training industry.
The reason HR and L&D people may want to read these books is that they lay a charge against organisational learning that needs to be discussed. Could it be that we are now using invalid instruments to diagnose our 'unconscious bias', even when those who designed those instruments tell us they are unsuitable? Could we be defaulting into simply protecting the organisation against its own employees? Are concepts like ‘triggering’ and ‘safe spaces’ limiting open and free discussion and learning? Are voices being silenced in this process? Good questions.
Murray rightly questions the role of training, especially that of ‘unconscious bias’ training, which he sees as a futile attempt to diagnose and ‘rewire our attitudes’. I have already written about, what I regard as the foolishness of ‘unconscious bias’ training as being the wrong target, unreliable, the wrong target, not predictive and doesn't actually change behaviour. Since when did HR and L and D managers have the permission, or even imagine they have the skills, to probe my unconscious? They really know nothing about the scientific validity of the tools they’re using or the dangers of such training. It is overreach on an astounding scale. 
An even bolder question, put forward by both authors, is that we may, inadvertently, be doing damage to people, especially the young, by making them less resilient and less capable of coping with adversity. Like Don Quixote, we go tilting at windmills but quickly turn to tilting at anything that moves, rather than being careful on both the methods we use in such titling and the targets. Large studies suggest that this type of training is often counter-productive with no measurable effect on the hypothetical problem.
Murray points out that the slicing and dicing of identity eventually results in a hierarch of oppression, where the groups turn on each other. Feminists turn on Germaine Greer, a central thinker for decades in feminism, preventing her from speaking. Women find themselves being criticised by people who were men for being transphobic, if they even question the use of certain language. It is as important to know the limits of one’s professional reach and competence. Much of what passes for training in this area is actually incompetent and places us outside of our reasonable sphere of influence.
I’m aware of the fact that even writing this places one on the plain of La Mancha, waiting to be skewered by the lance of a delusional Don Quixote. But these issues need to be discussed and debated and I don’t apologise for that.

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