EDITOR: | December 8th, 2013 | 4 Comments

Cargo Cults illustrate ‘the secret’ path to business failure

| December 08, 2013 | 4 Comments

Cargo-CultsIt is axiomatic, almost cliché, that progress is based on learning from failure. But it is mindboggling that nature has endowed us with neurological mechanisms that inevitably cause our failure.

With the approaching New Year, CEOs, entrepreneurs and investors will take time off to reflect on the past year. In the privacy of dens, offices and hotel rooms will cringe at our mistakes, and then promptly plan the next ones by engaging in cargo cults, perhaps the most effective way to plan and repeat failure.

Anthropologists invented the concept of cargo cults by observing tribal cultures in Melanesia. During World War II, Allied Forces established airbases on strategically located tiny islands of the South Pacific to support the war effort against the Japanese Navy. Indigenous people who didn’t have knowledge to understand technology inhabited many of these islands. These people had seen airplanes in the sky before, but were never able to bring them down. So, the Allied soldiers came in by boats, built runways and, spoke into headsets to guide planes to land on the islands. And then, the plane disgorged a cornucopia of goodies: chocolate, cigarettes, and food…

After the end of the war the soldiers packed up their gear and left the islanders to their own devises while aircrafts continued to fly overheard, leaving tantalizing contrails in the perfect blue sky, which caused the islanders salivate at the thought of chocolate and the other goodies.

Because they desperately needed the planes to come back, they carved coconut shells into headsets, which they outfitted with little bamboo antennas.  They donned the coconut headsets and mimicked the gestures of the soldiers they’d seen communicating with the aircrafts.

Technologically savvy people know that the chance of directing an airplane down by dancing around with coconut headsets on one’s head is next to nothing. In logic theory this exemplifies confusing sufficient conditions with necessary conditions. Necessary conditions are an absolute requirement for success: without the right electronic equipment, the right frequency, or the right language the aircrafts will not land. Sufficient conditions do not guaranty success but are loosely associated with it.

New age emancipation gurus like Anthony Robbins have mastered the art of teaching us to confuse necessary and sufficient conditions: if you believe hard enough in your goal and master your fears you can achieve anything you want! Business schools, on the other hand, are all about necessary conditions:  markets, margins, planning, or contingencies.

Seems simple?  Not so fast!  Even though, we are technologically savvy we tend to approach the interface between what we understand and what we don’t understand with similar beliefs in sufficient conditions as tribal cultures: we expect that the stuff we don’t control will resolve itself through positive thinking, luck, meditation, or determination. As far as I know it is not possible to improve the price of gold by doing yoga five times a week.

I acknowledge that positive thinking is more than useful and at times seem a necessary condition, but it is not the most critical of the component of success:  there is a need for actual actions and milestones that take the yardstick forward. Without careful self-analysis and coaching we are the Kool-Aid drinking prisoners of our own cargo cults.

Dr. Luc Duchesne


Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>

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  • Tracy Weslosky

    This one required some research and contemplation, and forgive me Luc — I added the Max Keiser interview at the bottom as it illustrates the formulaic issue you identify in a discussion on the over printing of money; which is that there are many conclusions we all have — from using credit to start a business to investing in uptick trends without the comprehension of the impact of the associated losses. In my piece on the secret of success being about energy balance, it talks about incoming revenue and outgoing revenue being in balance. In your piece you discuss the new business guru formula of positive thinking to be misleading without a balance of careful analysis and coaching. This point may be best illustrated by the stupendous sales numbers of the best-seller “The Secret” in NA, which is as close to sticking a coconut on your head as it comes. For instance, you cannot ‘believe’ or ‘meditate’ great wealth to come from the investment of equities without the research, due diligence and talents required. Too many young people today have the belief that these cargo planes will keep coming without understanding that the advanced technology that we rely on for communication and socialization requires rare earth elements and well, we have a problem Houston….

    December 8, 2013 - 1:27 PM

  • Nevada George

    If you add two more ingredients to the mix then the concept
    of the power of positive thinking , autosuggestion, right thinking, etc.
    … can be critically analyzed from another perspective.
    Those ingredients are “realistic goal setting” and “taking action”.

    I do not know any successful person that has a negative mindset.
    Thoughts create your belief system… which can be realistic
    or unrealistic.

    Fifty years ago an Old Navy Chief told me to hold out
    my hands with the palms up.Then Hope in one hand and
    Pee in the other and see which one fills up first.

    Since we are a little “off topic”.
    Below, I pasted an email that I wrote to my Nephews last week.
    I do not know if it will come across formatted correctly.

    Tracy, you should monitor it before it is posted.
    If you do not think it is appropriate for your Blog then
    delete it.

    My Opinion

    Thoughts and Manipulation

    Throughout my life I have amused myself by
    observing Human Behavior … and how irrational/illogical it can be.

    After Decades of sporadic self study on subjects
    within the realm of the Behavioral Sciences … I have come
    to the conclusion that it all boils down to one thing
    … “THOUGHTS”.

    This being documented in the scriptures of ancient texts.

    Proverbs 23.7
    For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.

    Thus, this stimulated my interest and observance of the
    propagandistic techniques of “those in power.”

    Those authoritarians who mastered the science of thought manipulation.

    The present administration utilizing its’ “Behavioral Insights
    Teams” is inundating the masses with these thought manipulating
    techniques to push through their “Ideological Agenda”.

    The two major agendas: Obamacare and Immigration Reform
    are examples of propaganda campaigns.

    Most of their efforts are now being “doubled down” on the
    push to get the immigration act into law.

    They are machine gunning the populace with…broken immigration
    system, broken immigration system, broken immigration system,
    broken immigration system …???

    This calls for some critical thinking … is our current immigration
    system broken “or” was it never properly enforced.

    Yesterday, I was watching a webinar given by a successful
    advertising copywriter… He summed it up.

    Never try to appeal to the buyers logic … prey on their emotion…
    as illogical as the advertising is … emotion will hook them.

    He went on to draw examples of wordage he used to
    increase sales conversions of products bought by
    Women beware .. he knew what your deepest desires were
    and he knew how to capitalize on it.

    Logically thinking:… Is Obamacare and Immigration Reform
    needed, financially sustainable, and beneficial to the “majority”
    of citizens?

    Or, is there another motive/agenda at play and this is
    the two final moves into checkmating capitalism.

    Ulterior Motive:
    Lying beyond what is evident, revealed, or avowed, especially being
    concealed intentionally so as to deceive.

    “When you think that you are free, do you pay attention to the elements
    of your thoughts and where have they leaked into your brain from?”
    ― Ilkin Santak

    Two of the most powerful psychological phenomenons
    are “Cognitive Dissonance” and “Normalcy Bias”.

    The two short videos below scratch the surface on these

    Viewing these might evoke uncomfortable emotions
    .. .if so … maybe you need to do some self analysis
    … who “really” owns your mind?

    Just my opinion………..

    Cognitive Dissonance

    Normalcy Bias

    Those of feeble mind and lack of independent motivation
    will remain inside of the ant colony.

    December 8, 2013 - 3:53 PM

  • vacuum

    Says Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    Ever since Martin Luther, we are inclined to relate everything to us, rather than ourselves to it. So, we are inclined to believe that the natives doing cargo cult behavior was entirely what we call mirroring. But this is a projection of our own cosmology upon them. For what we do not know is if it was their long experience that in other circumstances rituals obtained results. Viz., their mirroring might have been enacted not only because they witnessed “us”, but because in their experience of using rituals, they got actual results (though unknown to them, not in this case was it appropriate).

    Jean Gebser (1905-1973) was a history of consciousness philosopher. His text ‘The Ever-Present Origin’ (1985) is probably this day part of the curriculum at UC Santa Cruz, which has a subdiscipline of its Humanities/philosophy department dedicated to history of consciousness.

    Basically Gebser argues, using anthropological and social artifacts, that mankind has moved through epochal, paradigmatic changes in consciousness. He identifies five stages, the last of which is inchoate today amidst this transitional phase of post-modernism.

    In discussing the earliest stages: the magical and the mythic, he mentions some hitherthen untouched aboriginal tribes who when encountered by Western anthropologists were found to have hunting rituals which yielded practical results to the amazement of the modernist way of perception/being. However, it would be veritably impossible for these same Westerners to adopt these tribal behaviors since they themselves are of a paradigm which is incommensurable with that of the natives. Furthermore, there is no means of translation to obtain entry and existence within that other realm. (conversely, cf. the Harvard philosopher WVO Quine and his pragmatist treatment of the indeterminacy of translation, Word And Object, 1960)

    These deep structure paradigms at both the psychological and physiological level–we know as recently as last week that women’s brains are wired differently than men’s brains.

    Julian Jaynes (1920–1997) approaches the subject via the monocameral brain then bicameral brain. His ‘The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind’ (1976) is worth a companion read to Gebser’s book. The theses have overlap but are different.

    Finally, read the child development work of Jean Piaget, especially his treatment of how an infant comes to self-individuate from its mother. Supposedly, initially an infant is ontically contiguous with its mother, and only subsequently (through hand/eye coordination) becomes to be itself as distinct from mama. [Probably many women have dated men who never fully developed hand/eye coordination.]

    The point being that what is really real is a delicate issue to unfold.

    The Secret may have a grain of truth to it. But it is treading upon the problem of incommensurable paradigms. In an hundred pages or so, it attempts to school the how to be effective at the rituals of a pre-modernism man. Even if that were possible, one would be that and no longer a (post)modernist. The gestalt shift in paradigm would not allow one to be in both worlds simultaneously. . . . could be able to win the lottery at whim, but would be crazy in the world of today and unable to do anything with the money.

    December 8, 2013 - 4:18 PM

  • Frank Donovan

    Peter Schiff has been bashing the cargo cult of keynesians endlessly yet for some reason people still follow it.

    Printing Money creates inflation period.

    Inflation increases the value of Gold period.

    Gold can protect from inflation period.

    Inflation is BAD and hurts retirement planning.

    STOP Printing Money end of story

    December 10, 2013 - 12:55 PM

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