The Top Performer’s Field Guide: When the Earth Was Flat

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” -Philip K. Dick

Only one of the following two statements is true. Care to fancy a guess?

A: One of Christopher Columbus’s goals in crossing the Atlantic Ocean was to prove the Earth is round.

B: The Earth is a sphere and orbits the Sun.

Unless you’re a member of the Flat Earth Society (yes, that’s a real organization), you might be having a problem believing statement A is false. As early as the sixth century BC, Pythagoras and Euclid wrote about the Earth being round. Even in the 1200s, an astronomy text called On the Sphere of the World was circulated in universities until the time of Copernicus. The story of Columbus and the Flat Earth was presented in a number of 1800s books and has stuck ever since.

If you were conflicted about the veracity of both statements, you’ve experienced what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. The principle states that humans experience distress when we hold multiple contradictory beliefs, values, or ideas. That conflict may cause us to do or believe things that are uncharacteristic. In down-to-round Earth terms, cognitive dissonance is one of the reasons we have lapses in judgment and actions. For example, you abhor profanity but tell an off-color joke to a tight-knit group of bawdy coworkers. You simultaneously believe that profanity is wrong, and to be part of the team, you must find acceptance from this foul-mouthed group.

When we better understand our own behavior, we can develop strategies to align our beliefs with our actions. Everyone has had the “Why did I do or say that …” moment. Use those missteps for instructive introspection rather than regret or self-loathing. When you can discover those blind spots within yourself, you are more likely to see the bigger picture. Misalignment of an organization’s mission, vision, and values can be caused by the same cognitive dissonance. That fresh set of eyes will start seeing through the blind spots that are holding you and your venture back from achieving greatness.

When The Earth Was Flat Accelerators

  • Examine the mission, vision, and values of your organization or workplace. Are they consistent? Do they have meaning? Do they drive positive workplace behavior?
  • Where are you prone to have personal “blind spots” in your work and/or your leadership with others?
  • What things can you do now to begin behaving more consistently with your mission, vision, and values?