Monday, 12 November 2012

Are You A Lion Or A Unicorn?

Reality-based thinking built on precedent and an aggressive pursuit of the truth is vastly preferable to faith-based blue-skying and longing for a vanished age on principles that didn't even work back in the day. As the pundits pick at the corpse of the US election, let's have a look at the way two different styles of thinking affected the outcome.

On the left we have the unicorn, a mythical creature, and on the right stands a lion, which exists in real life. Each of them represents a way of thinking I want to explore with the aim of arriving at an understanding of the values each kind of thinking can bring to a given situation.


I've chosen this to represent the kind of annoying blue-skying that loves or hates on principle and refuses to acknowledge need or circumstance. This kind of thinking ignores reality for a "deeper truth" based on faith and ideals. Unicorn people think with their hearts and often focus so completely on what they want that even the most pressing facts are pushed aside to accommodate their fantasy or desire. They're often aggressive and when denied, they can be dangerous. They seem to believe that the sheer force of their will will bring them what they want. This results in rather hilarious incidents in which they might develop an app but fail to beta test it, and when they get results they don't want, they recalibrate it to provide the results they want to see, which will, they believe, magically manifest. When they fail, their belief in the intrinsic rightness of their cause prevents them from engaging in the kind of critical thinking that would have brought about a better outcome based on the available data. This is why they end up doubling down on failed policies instead of ditching them for ones that work.

They don't give up, and if they're lucky and the breaks come their way, being stubbornly wedded to your principles might work, but only if they're built on something solid or you have a plan to compensate for your weaknesses. In business, this usually means subcontracting to the government at a local or national level. It's also very good for sales because you can attract like-minded people who truly believe or can be convinced to believe in your idea. People who look the part and present themselves well are usually successful in that they retain influence even if they fail at their stated goals.


I've chosen this to represent the kind of determined, long-game, rational kind of thinking that gets things done. Lions are happy to delegate and they trust based on reputation and peer-review. They want facts, not flim-flam, and although they're often skeptical, they chase the facts down until they have discovered the truth of the matter. Lions are aggressive in that they don't back down when they think they're right. They're noisy about it, too, and swat the nonsense away with a swipe of their mighty paws. If it doesn't work, they ditch it. Precedent and respect for all as part of a wider system rules the intellectual roost. Arrogance goes with the territory. Lions can be haughty and they're eager to make that kill — or wrest it away from someone else. The gloating over the election results shows this trait over and over again. Several websites have sprung up to dance on the grave of the presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

Lion thinking can and does alienate people. It annoys people to have the truth thrust at them over and over again. The relentless quest for facts and practicality can stifle creativity and spoil projects as bickering breaks out over the details. Since I tend towards lion thinking myself, I often end up getting into fights on the internet over politics, usually with people on the right of the political spectrum.

Which is the right one?

To be perfectly honest, we need a bit of both, but in the right proportions. Getting the balance right can be tricky but the last thing you want is to either wander about in a daze feverishly speculating over the latest conspiracy theory or be so focused on the facts that you end up with no friends. Don't ask me, I'm still working it out.

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