The illusion of control

It’s modern and very widespread. It motivates us, frightens us and drives our consumer mania: The idea that we are in control. That our work is so leveraged and important that through force of will, we can ensure that things will turn out as we choose. 

We extend this to our sports and hobbies and adventures, as well. The compelling belief that we’re almost in control, that we’re right at the edge, that this ski run or this play or this experience will be the one we earned through our extensive planning and investment and skill.

Financial advisors and travel businesses and everyone in between peddles us the story that if we just team up with them, we’ll get exactly what we expect, that it will all be as we dreamed it to be.

You can see where the disappointment lies. We’re never in control, not of anything but the monologue in our head and the actions we choose to take. Everything else, if we’re lucky, is a matter of influence. If we do our work and invest our energy, perhaps we can influence events, perhaps we can contribute to things turning out in a way we’re pleased with.

That’s a tough sell if you’re in the service business. “Pay us extra and we’ll work to influence events…” And yet, back against the wall, the powerless customer service person shrugs her shoulders and says, “it’s out of our control.”

And the boss has to say to her board, “we missed the numbers, but we did our best to influence them.” (Interesting to note that oil company executives get huge bonuses in years their companies do well because of high prices, but when oil prices go down, it's obviously not their fault).

And the team says to its fans, “next year.” 

When the illusion of control collides with the reality of influence, it highlights the fable the entire illusion is based on.

You’re responsible for what you do, but you don’t have authority and control over the outcome. We can hide from that, or we can embrace it.