Monday, April 6, 2009

"Ontological" Constraint -- I

Michael Jensen, the co-pioneer of the well known agency theory in organizational economics and the founder of SSRN visited Wash U. and presented his latest research project on "An Ontological Perspective of Being a Leader and the Effective Exercise of Leadership". The talk certainly contains many insightful points that are neither fully explored by economists nor by psychologists, sociologists or management scholars.

Several "ontological constraints" he pointed out during the talk are quite illuminating. Here is one example, namely the "feeling of knowing", which is original put forward in a well-crafted book "On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not" by Robert Burton.

Read the following excerpt at normal speed. Don't skim, give halfway through, or skip to the explanation. After reading, ask yourself how you feel about the paragraph. Does it make any sense? Then proceed to read the clarifying word, reread the paragraph. You will probably notice some shifts in your mental mind.

A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is better than the street. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Once successful, complications are minimal. Birds seldom get too close. Rain, however, soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications, it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If things break loose from it, however, you will not get a second chance.

Is this paragraph comprehensible or meaningless? Feel your mind sort through potential explanations. Now watch what happens with the presentation of a single word: kite. As you reread the paragraph, feel the prior discomfort of something amiss shifting to a pleasing sense of rightness.

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