Dr. Ritu, an anaesthetist by training, was in the operating theatre assisting with surgery on a patient. 90 minutes into the operation, the patient started wheezing, her face reddened and blood pressure plummeted. Dr. Ritu strongly suspected that the patient had latex allergy and that the surgical gloves of the surgeon could be at fault. After providing a dose of epinephrine, Dr. Ritu noted that the symptoms subsided. She then advised the surgeon to change to an alternative pair of gloves. Surgeon said, “You are wrong. This can’t be a latex allergy, we have been operating an hour and half and the patient didn’t experience a reaction to latex during any of the previous procedures.”
The stakes were now set. The Surgeon had pronounced his judgement. He was the captain, the boss in charge. Any argument would be seen as a challenge to his competence and authority. During the course of the operation, Dr. Ritu tried to explain to the surgeon several times. But she was overshot.
The patient was now in serious condition and Dr. Ritu knew that if she didn’t take an extreme step, patient might lose her life.
You might imagine that in a situation like this- the surgeon would relent and agree to the anaesthetist. Surely the surgeon can see that it was just about changing gloves. The risk benefit was not about weighing the life of the patient against the few moments it would take to change the gloves. Rather, the risk benefit was about weighing the prestige of the surgeon against the life of the patient.
This in psychology is called cognitive dissonance. Leaving the jargon aside – we see these situations happening all around us – in more ways than you could have ever imagined.
With information overload, we come across many ideas – many of them opposing our current views, some proposed by young team members, some by wise men based on their experience. But we look for ideas that match our psyche, our mental make-up. Then we adopt the idea, make it our own. Believe me or not – we adopt ideas in a matter of seconds. And then these ideas become our own.
So, whether it is the experienced surgeon in our story or Mr. Modi and team defending demonetisation or you sticking to the old way of question answer tests for assessment – its cognitive dissonance at work. That’s the reason airlines work most infallibly – they have black – boxes installed, they learn from failures and they ensure failures are not repeated.
Who is the black – box in your team, who is the “Dr. Ritu” of your team;
I would love to know your views. Write in to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: Dr. Ritu did not give up. She did something which saved the life of the patient. If you are curious to know what she did to help her patient – well, I invite you to write in to me. And before I sign off – yes, this is based on a true story!