A changing world?

Yesterday, the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the Chicago area, predicting up to 18 inches of snow. The city of Evanston deemed it serious enough to declare a snow emergency, although Northwestern University remained open today (from where I sit here typing this J)

Snow or no snow, Rusty still needs to get out of the house three times a day to relieve himself. So, this morning we braved the weather to get out and also check the “damage” outside.

Rusty snow

The snow was thick, but not as scary as I thought. I think Chicago has experienced far worse blizzards. I think we survive this one quite well.

Rusty though was jumpy and anxious. It was not the cold, for he was the least interested in heading back to our warm apartment.

As I observed him further, it dawned on me that the world could look different for him. The usual smells are now blanketed under heaps of snow. As we walked along the footpath, where it was unshoveled he had to jump and hop a lot, and where it had been shoveled the shoveled snow formed huge piles on each side. I was curious how the world looked like for him, so I bent down to take some pictures from a dog’s eye view.

Snow terrain

Seeing these “dog’s eye view” photos, I began to empathize with his experience. I could imagine why he might have been so jittery walking along these same paths that we must have walked hundreds of times. For him now, it may feel like a different place, perhaps like walking around in trenches and not knowing whether friend or foe might pop out at every turn.

Snow terrain 2

I tried to assure Rusty that all was fine, and the world has not changed. But the poor boy could not be placated. If dogs could talk, his cries and whimpers might sound something like, “But Daddy, you don’t understand! The world has changed! Everything has changed! What I used to know, I don’t recognize it anymore! I can’t tell where the dangers are!”

To little Rusty, the world has changed drastically. In fact, it must have looked different to him each time we go out. He is stressed, anxious, and he is mounting a huge effort to make sense of it and find new bearings.

As human beings, we know the world has not changed overnight. At least not in the way Rusty thinks it has. We have a different vantage point to realize that despite the changes, nothing has really changed. We might even have a good laugh watching him running around like a headless chicken.

Could there be an interesting parallel here with what goes on in our organizations and workplaces? On one hand, increasingly we hear leaders and experts declare that the world is changing at a faster and faster rate. Complexity is growing and we must adapt even more quickly! On the other hand, employees are increasingly overwhelmed and fatigued, perhaps not so much by the changes in the external environment, but by the internal (organizational) responses to that.

What if amid all the complexity and change, some things have not really changed? Some of us may have laughed at Rusty just moments earlier, but what if in our own ways our behaviors are not too dissimilar to his?

As the world around us changes, do we focus only on what has changed? Or do we also look for what perhaps has not changed?


A different perspective on “inglorious” food

Saw the following video today and was very impressed. A supermarket chain in France is doing its part to reduce fruit and vegetable waste by buying those produce that do not meet the aesthetic standards for the market, creating a new marketing spin, and giving these “inglorious fruit and vegetables” a new lease of life. Sold at a 30% discount to their “normal looking” friends, they have proven to be a hit in France.

The UN estimates that one third of food produced in the world is lost or wasted, while on the other hand, more than 800 million people do not have enough to eat. Why is food that looks unusual but is otherwise just as tasty and nutritious, prejudiced and thrown away?

The main reason, I suspect, is that we are too affluent. If we were much poorer, we might be a lot more grateful for simply anything that Mother Earth offers.

A kinder and more sympathetic reason might be that we are ignorant and conditioned.

At the supermarket, often, all we see is nice looking produce. In the fruit section, all the apples in the same box are sold at the same price. Naturally, we pick the freshest and nicest looking ones. This is quite logical: for the same price why would anyone pick a bruised apple over a perfect-looking one? When we do not have any more information, appearance serves as a quick proxy for value, whether it is physical appearance or in price. (Actually, we apply this to human beings as well, which is sad…)

A friend asked whether I would actually buy the grotesque looking apple (below). My honest answer is, if I did not know anything more about the apple, probably no. However, if scientists and nutritionists verify that it is just as safe and nutritious, why not? And if it comes at a 30% discount, certainly! With better information, and a bit of price nudging, we can equip others to consider decisions they might otherwise not make.

inglorious apple

Another idea to consider is how we frame the issue. Psychological studies have shown that framing can influence the way we think and decide.

  • Because we are so used to good-looking produce, the current frame is that anything that looks strange (and scary) should be sold at a discount since they appear to be “deficient” in some way (in this case, looks). And so, the discount makes up for the deficiency.
  • But what if we consider a different frame? If the oddly shaped produce is just as nutritious and tasty as a good-looking one, aren’t we simply paying a 30% premium for beauty?

In both frames, different social norms seem to be implied. In the former frame, the social norm is on appearance and the discount is for the oddity (or deficiency). In the latter frame, the social norm is on the nutrition, and the premium is for beauty.

Would you choose different in both frames? :)

[Just to round out the “inglorious” gang, here are the other gang members.]

inglorious carrot inglorious eggplant inglorious potato inglorious lemon

Photo credits

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