When I was in high school, I loved the book The Catcher in the Rye so much that I wrote an English class research paper about it in both 10th and 11th grades, respectively, hoping the two different teachers wouldn’t compare notes (they didn’t). And I’ve read the novel at least two or three additional times as an adult.

What my adolescent self loved about the main character, Holden Caulfield, is also what my middle-aged self sees as his biggest weakness: his insistence that other people who don’t see the world the way he does are “phonies,” and his instinct to outright dismiss them without stopping to pause, ask, listen, and be vulnerable enough to let them challenge his thinking.  

From Holden Caulfield to AI

Civilization is grappling with the complex and nuanced problem of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it converges with other types of accelerating and exponential technology (such as Augmented and Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, data processing, robotics, drones, etc.). Each day I see increasing evidence that a sizable chunk of the population is insisting that, in the face of all things AI, we’ve no choice but to feel frantic, overwhelmed, and helpless.

This article in Neuroscience News makes three assertions regarding our fears and misconceptions around AI:

  1. We’ve allowed ourselves to fall victim to our amygdala’s learned response to uncertainty and potential threats.
  2. People struggle with a perceived loss of control, privacy, and human value, as AI develops capacities that might outperform human abilities.
  3. Addressing these fears responsibly involves understanding that AI mimics but doesn’t possess consciousness, ensuring ethical data handling, and promoting a ‘human-in-the-loop’ concept where AI collaborates with, rather than replaces, humans.

I would add that we’ll gain clarity and confidence by stepping back to more fully understand AI and how we can thrive through partnering with it. But this behavior is the exception more than the rule these days.

This challenge tells us a lot about how human beings deal with topics that don’t have quick and simple answers or resolutions. As each of us confronts (willingly or unwillingly) a specific complex and nuanced problem, a real-time mindset is revealed. Although our mindsets usually exist along a continuum, and aren’t always in the same place on this continuum from one moment to another, in general we are typically leaning toward having a:

  1. Fixed mindset, or
  2. Growth mindset

I unpack growth mindset here. For this current piece, let’s explore the impact of having a fixed mindset.

When we possess a fixed mindset, we tend to struggle with a degree of lack of curiosity. And the greater this deficit, the more likely each of us is to have fixed or rigid beliefs. Such rigidity sets the stage for a likely wrestling match with cognitive dissonance, which is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

More importantly—and sometimes with negative consequences for ourselves or others—these tendencies enable “groupthink,” which discourages creativity or individual responsibility, and intolerance toward others whose ideas, values, or experiences differ from ours.

Absent or uneven leadership

Furthermore, when an individual (with a “title” or no title) brings these factors into positions of leadership or influence, they are more likely to demonstrate absent or (at best) uneven or unreliable leadership. Such a leader and their team are more prone to a lack of clarity about what they want or need to achieve in the context of the complex and nuanced problem. The primary culprit in most cases? The leader isn’t guiding them to fully consider the situation from multiple angles or viewpoints, leaving many of the best ideas and potential breakthroughs untouched.

When a work group has a lack of clarity on the challenge they’re trying to solve and how to solve it, there’s less alignment on what to do next. In this quagmire, trust is more likely to be eroded since the team will consciously or subconsciously have a lack of faith in the leader’s abilities to unite everyone and drive them toward results.

And where trust is lacking, motivation is also lacking. And without consistent motivation, there’s a dearth of impactful action steps.

The ultimate impact of a tendency toward being less open to coaching that enables “absent or uneven leadership?” The complex and nuanced problems we’re facing don’t improve and usually get worse. The people most impacted by the problem are less likely to flourish.

And many of them, like Holden Caulfield, will sink deeper and deeper into cynicism and disillusionment.

Can we do better than that? I think we can.

Let’s connect

I’m an ICF-certified and experienced professional, coaching authentic human leaders in the age of AI, with a focus on organizations whose Director+ population is facing complex, nuanced problems. Use this link to schedule a call with me to discuss potential coaching services. You can also email me or message me on LinkedIn.