The “other minds” problem

Photo by Guaciranaves


I the last few days I am reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, What the Dog Saw (one chapter every night) and I must admit it if a fascinating ride. However, up until now, what stuck with me the most is a paragraph in the first page of the book, as part of the preface:

This was actually a version of what I would later learn psychologists call the other minds problem. One-year-olds think that if their like Goldfish crackers, then Mommy and Daddy must like Goldfish Crackers, too: they have not grasped the idea what was inside their heads is different from what is inside everyone else’s head. Sooner or later, though, children come to understand that Mommy and Daddy don’t necessarily like Goldfish, too, and that moment is one of the great cognitive milestones of human development.

How many times in your life have your said or heard something like this: “I treat others this way, because that is the way I like to be treated”. Think about it. Seriously, how many of your daily decision are based on that rule of thumb – that what you like is what everybody likes too? It is even an important religious concept – “The Golden Rule” which we hear about all the time and which I wrote about in the past:

This is a good general concept and at a religious (and maybe political) level it is a smart rule. But the problem is that if you move into the world of management, this well intentioned rule leads you to bad managerial decisions (like many conventional wisdoms). Because, if we agree that we are all different it also means that we like and hate different things. This means, I may hate the way you like to be treated. And if I follow the rule (and treat you like I want to be treated), I will avoid giving you what you want.

Isn’t it time to reach that cognitive milestone in managerial development as well? Isn’t it time we understand that the people we work with are different from us and thus enjoy and appreciate different things? They don’t want to be managed like we do. They don’t want to be recognized like we do. They are not driven and motivated by the same thing we are driven and motivated by. They might absorb information differently than us. They are different and unique. Each and every one of them.

The people around us, our employees, our bosses, our peers, they all have “other minds”. The sooner we realize that, stop assuming and starting talking to them, the better equipped we will be to really start creating partnerships with them.


2 Responses to “The “other minds” problem”

  1. Yoav Says:

    Hi Elad,
    great post, enjoyed reading it!

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Yoav,
    I am happy you liked it.
    Hope you keep coming back!

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