In the past I have written about the challenge of cognitive bias – those instinctive gut reactions, honed by evolution for survival, that enable us today to completely ignore logic and common sense.  

To this mix you can add the challenges of pre-conceived ideas.  To function effectively in a complex world, most of us build up a mental picture of our environment and then assume it is fixed and unchanging.  Many of these beliefs are formed at school and, unless there is a reason for them to be challenged and updated, they remain with us for life.

For 20 years Hong Kong was my second home.  Constantly evolving it was truly the City of Light.  At one point we were looking to bring in a well-respected sales manager from the Bank’s US business.   The selection process involved a conference call and the questions emerging from the US proved revealing.  We were asked about personal security, medical evacuation facilities, transportation and more.  It soon became clear that he thought Hong Kong was a third world village – if you told him he needed a canoe to get across the paddy field he would have believed you!  When told Hong Kong was just like New York ‘and some’he was astounded.  After he arrived he told me that his mental image of Hong Kong came from the geography text books at junior school – in the 1950s! 

One of the few failed secondments we had was the inverse issue.  A successful trainer from the UK volunteered for a secondment to Philippines.  After a month she returned to the UK citing ‘Manila was different to London’.  One case was outdated pre-conceived ideas while the other was ignorance of the wider world.

Increased human life expectancy is just one of a series of global changes to have taken place over the last 50 years that are changing the world as we thought we understood.  It is only by really understanding these changes – and their implications – that we are in a position to make the right strategic decisions for ourselves – and our families.

Written by John Small

John’s business career started in the technology sector working with ICL and Fujitsu before moving to International Finance where organisational change and development has been a constant theme.