Published on: November 15, 2012
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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
About a week and a half ago, I used the word "detritus" in a sentence, as in "clearing away the detritus." In this case, "detritus" is sort of a synonym for "debris." I got some grief about this word from an MNB user who thought I was just showing off my vocabulary skills, but I promise you, this wasn't the case.
However, it makes me think that it may be time for an actual vocabulary lesson - this time, it is a phrase I'd never heard before, but one that I think has a lot of business relevance. I heard the phrase on NPR, when it was used by the conservative columnist David Brooks, and here it is:
Essentially, "epistemic closure" is another phrase for being closed-minded.
It has at its root the word "epistemology," which is the study of the origin, nature, and limits of human knowledge.
"Epistemic closure," Brooks said, is when you are so hemmed in by your own belief system that you are unable or unwilling to accept anything other than what you believe as being possible or factual ... it is the opposite of "empiricism," which is defined as the practice of relying on observation and experiment.
Now, Brooks was using the phrase in a political context, and suggesting that both political parties, especially in the wake of the recent election, have to be willing to beyond the boundaries of their own belief systems if they are going to govern effectively.
But I think it is a great phrase to apply to business practice. The fact is, businesses and business leaders, especially those that have been successful, do tend to have rigid belief systems and a sometimes irrational adherence to what they believe are core values. But these days, as we all try to cope with radical and fundamental changes brought about by demographic, cultural, political, and economic shifts, it is critical that we not be hemmed in by anything.
It just doesn't make sense.
Not at a time when some competitors are doing their best to make the unlikely normal, and then doing their best to mess around with what's normal.
Mark Twain probably never heard the term "epistemic closure," but he argued against it eloquently when he said: "Sacred cows make the best hamburger."
Businesses simply can't afford bouts of epistemic closure. Because of they indulge in such limited thinking, they may end up surveying the detritus of their businesses.
As Jimmy Malone puts it in The Untouchables, "Here endeth the lesson."
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: