Kevin Smith and Andy McElfresh on Vampires, Creativity and Path Dependency

Kevin Smith Andy McElfreshHave you ever considered why vampires only go outside at night? Ever since this question was posed on the podcast Edumacation (hosted by Kevin Smith and Andy McElfresh), I’ve wondered why no one has tackled this. Vampire mythology clearly states they cannot be exposed to sunlight. With this being the case, why are vampires okay with the sunlight reflecting from the moon – it’s from the same source and, especially during a full moon, can provide a potent amount of light. Maybe no movie, book, or show has considered this highly important hypothetical because we’re suffering from path dependency.

Path dependence is the theory that our decisions and beliefs are limited by the choices we’ve made in the past. Think of your mind as a path in the forest. You don’t veer off because you only know this one path. Your imagination, your ability to think beyond the path, is inhibited by mental parameters established through your experiences.

Path dependence is why we don’t generally change technology, why our leadership style hasn’t changed, and why I’m wearing the same style of clothes that I’ve been wearing since 1990. Once we find something that works, change is painful. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: At some point, someone complimented us thus reinforcing the behavior. We kept doing it and it kept working. Then, it became so engrained in our psyche that we were on autopilot, paying no attention to whether the behavior was still relevant or effective.

Because of the self-restraints, path dependency is like an idea vampire. It sucks out creativity and kills ingenuity. Path dependence confines us to a singular way of thinking by obstructing our ability to consider alternative options. It’s not that we don’t try to think outside the box; we are so constrained that we don’t realize we’re in a box.

To deviate from this derivative path, it takes a leader who can guide the team through the mental barriers. As Ted Cadsby mentions in his Harvard Business Review article, the key is to facilitate structured deliberation. Since a team’s natural inclination is highly path-dependent, the leader needs to promote constructive dissent to allow new possibilities and generate innovative solutions.

Leaders must encourage their teams to speak freely and independently, to correct one another’s errors and build on good ideas, and to allow the insights of others to deepen their own thinking.

When the vampire legends began, there was a widespread, societal fear of these mysterious monsters. At some point, the stories morphed into vampires being unable to go outside during the day. This idea stuck and the ever-expanding vampire lore stopped progressing. Be the leader who pushes people beyond the narrow path, avoiding the traps of comfort and contentment. Explore why the organization does what it does and make intellectual curiosity a cornerstone of your culture. And if your idea vampires are allergic to sunlight, be able to explain why.

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