Posted on January 18, 2008
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Sometimes people ask me about the name of this blog. The term “coconut headsets” refers to a behavior of the Cargo Cults. These cults are usually tribal people who were exposed to military forces of major countries during a war.
Famous examples of cargo cult activity include the setting up of mock airstrips, airports, offices, dining rooms, as well as the fetishization and attempted construction of western goods, such as radios made of coconuts and straw. Believers may stage “drills” and “marches” with sticks for rifles and use military-style insignia and “USA” painted on their bodies to make them look like soldiers, thereby treating the activities of western military personnel as rituals to be performed for the purpose of attracting the cargo. The cult members built these items and ‘facilities’ in the belief that the structures would attract cargo intended to be sent to them. This perception reportedly has been reinforced by the occasional success of an ‘airport’ to attract military transport aircraft full of cargo.
After cargo airplanes stop using the temporary runways around many of these tribes, the tribes people decided to attract the aircraft back by building mock equipment. One of things they did was build coconut headsets to wear when guiding the planes in. Of course, the planes did not return.
The idea behind coconut headsets is that these cargo cult members thought that by copying certain aspects of a situation, they could get the result they wanted. They were obviously wrong. But people still do this frequently. Companies copy the leaders in their industry, even though strategic thinking would say this is a bad move - that you should differentiate your market position unless you have some reason to believe you can beat the market leader out of their own position. Managers wear coconut headsets when they blindly copy ideas, or grossly misapply them, instead of thinking through each situation to see if adopting a new idea makes sense. Leaders wear coconut headsets when they confuse cause and effect, like believing that happy employees leads to better corporate performance, when perhaps the real link is that better corporate performance leads to happy employees.
Human beings make bad decisions because our brains evolved to maximize our fitness the way the world was 10,000 years ago. We aren’t well adapted to modern life, and sometimes make mental mistakes because of the way our brains process information. This blog is about how to take off those coconut headsets, how to make better decisions, and how to think better about business, and about life.