Question Everything. Unless!

Question everything! Unless it originated in academia - in which case it’s a protected, off-limits, sacred, golden calf. 

Has society gone mad in demanding “evidence” or “proof” at such a rate and intensity? 

The world is infinitely complex, unpredictable, unstable, unknowable. There are limitless, emergent variables, with so much interplay, tension, and interdependence between them, that research can, at best, only identify loose clusters and relationships between them. In this realm, science may be able to give us a broad, fuzzy, incomplete image of the landscape. 

This isn’t to say everything is volatile, dynamic, and complex. Certain aspects do have a tighter/closed-loopedness, linearity, complication, measurability, finiteness to them. (Consider pharmaceutical trials in the medical field or interview & interrogation psychology - working within the constraints of the human body and mind.) This is where science and research give us not only a terrain map, but suggestive routes along the way. And I’m good with that.


But how have we allowed academia to prescribe practices, procedures, and policies in our complex and chaotic environments…where tradeoffs and compromises must be chosen through our values, risk tolerances, priorities, and sense of purpose? When did we give them permission to stomp on experience, heuristics, schema, and intuition in dealing with emergent variables and contexts…where uniqueness, creativity, and untested interventions are required? 

No case can be made that this post is anti-intellectual. I frequently look to and adopt research-based strategies in fields of: human performance, learning/education, emotional intelligence, conflict, and more — mostly in topics that tend to have higher rates of predictability and structure…and less variability. I also look at inconclusive research and theories in complex issues to look for potential patterns and trends that might help me along my journey. Those are distinctions I feel need to be highlighted -- the difference between that of drawing a map and that of designating a route. 

This is a challenge for us to suggest how academia can be useful in Complex vs Complicated or Ordered domains (to use Cynefin language). And to take back the decision-making and judgement power we've surrendered. 

Where does everyone stand on this? How do we see academia fitting into our jobs, lives, and world?

We need to question it. 


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedIn


  1. Questioning is science. Hiding behind a stack of studies and saying "trust me, I'm a scientist" is not. Rather it is "scientism," the result of confusing the accidents of science with its essence.


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