film production + social action

The Mistakes That REALLY REALLY Matter

By Tim Gauss

Malcolm Gladwell

As Malcolm Gladwell – author of books such as The Tipping Point and Blink – finds himself at the forefront of numerous social media discussions, let us step back for a moment and focus on one of Gladwell’s erstwhile arguments. The idea that “incompetence is the kind of failure that results from not knowing enough about a problem. Expert failure –are the problems that result from knowing a lot about a problem.”

Last week I was afforded the opportunity to attend a lecture in which Gladwell established a series of examples and conditions under which the idea of miscalibration – a situation where there is a gap between how much we know and how much we think we know – can lead to catastrophic consequences. In essence, there are perils associated with the notion of overconfidence, even in a system where a person is fully equipped with all necessary tools to acquire what is perceived to be perfect information.

While this particular lecture was geared towards a visceral understanding of the financial crisis of 2007, I believe that if we extrapolate these basic ideals and apply them to current social injustices, we may find a degree to which overconfidence in shrewd business tactics, parallels miscalibrations of entire governments.  In particular, I would like to establish a continuation of Bree’s Blog on the current involvement of France in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  Or what Achille Mbembe, a Cameroon-born historian has stated in the New York Times, “a continuity in the management of Francafrique – this system of reciprocal corruption, which, since the end of colonial occupation, ties France to its African henchmen.”

Ivory Coast has found itself in a recent state of chaotic civil war. With political parties committing mass atrocities, France has positioned itself as the peacekeeper, using military force in arresting presidential candidate Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters in Abidjan.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been anything but shy about his foreign policy in dealing with Ivory Coast as well as pushing—with resilient fervor—for intervention in Libya. Although he has acted under mandate from the United Nations Security Council, Sarkozy has received criticism for his crude strategies in what some believe seems to mirror a French colonial past filled with dictated politics and reaped fiscal recompenses especially in African territories.

What is interesting however, is not Sarkozy’s actions in using military force to make possible the arrest of the defeated Gbagbo. Nor is it the atrocities Laurent Gbagbo has committed during his regime and against opponents with a refusal to agree to hold democratic elections.  Rather, it is whether or not Sarkozy’s decisions were made with objectivity and humbleness in the face of all intel gathered. At the same time, we must examine how these actions will be viewed – largely by Ivory Coast civilians – and any potential ramifications that may develop as a result.

Cue Gladwell’s nagging voice of reason and warning: “mistakes of overconfidence are made by experts. Made by people running countries and governments and companies and armies. And those kinds of mistakes, REALLY REALLY matter.”

Has France acted with brash disregard for foreign diplomacy? I don’t have the answer and only time will tell as critics are lined up at both ends of the spectrum.   What remains important – in all cases dealing with foreign invasion, genocide, financial ventures and all other social injustices – is whether or not those we put our trust in as experts or leaders, have instilled within them, some sort of humility that places overconfidence in check.