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  • Tamar Balkin

Why Do We Keep Seeking A Silver Bullet For All Our Complex Problems ?

"Magic speaks to the child in all of us. No matter how sophisticated we become, there's still a part of us who wants to believe in an alternative reality, where we can defy the laws of nature."

Criss Angel

Photo by Alex Shaw on Unsplash

A client recently said to me "surely there is an easier and quicker way... Each time I reflect on my leadership capability I realise there is something else I need to do"

Now more than ever before we are constantly being tricked into believing that complex situations can be resolved by a quick a google search. At our fingertips there is always a blog, a podcast, ted talk or an app that will apparently solve our problems. 

According to the dictionary, the silver bullet is“Something that provides an immediate and extremely effective solution to a given problem or difficulty, especially one that is normally very complex or hard to resolve. The phrase is almost always used in a statement that such a solution does not exist.”

What is it about human nature that makes us seek and try a quick fix?  

If we take an honest look at our behaviour it is likely that one of the following reasons causes us try the silver bullet:

  • Laziness 

  • Arrogance

  • Ignorance

  • Pressure 

  • Fear

  • Anxiety

  • Impatience

  • Need for control

  • Exhaustion 

  • Stress

“In the age of the Internet, when both science and pseudoscience are at a click’s distance, many people do not know what to believe anymore.” 

(Matute et al., 2015)

Do our brains play tricks on us?

Just optical illusions are deceive our eyes, cognitive illusions misinform our minds, researchers have found that the the illusions of control and causality increase the likelihood that we will seek the 'silver bullet'. 

To be efficient and deal with complexity we have a tendency to  believe that there is a causal connection between two events that are completely unrelated (the illusion of causality). A classic example was when a client once proudly told me his meeting with a key stakeholder was a disaster because he wasn't wearing his lucky socks. The fact that he had lost his patience and spoken impolitely to the stakeholder was apparently irrelevant to the outcome of the negotiation. 

Spend time in a casino or a trading floor and you will observe people behaving as if they have personal control over chance events (the illusion of control). 

“it's very easy when you are making money (as a trader) to double up and double up and take unnecessary risk. This is just human nature. You think you have become God like and you can actually see more than the market can”

(Fenton-O’Creevy et al., 2003)

What can we do to avoid these illusions?

Researchers have found that the leaders can do the following to reduce the likelihood of cognitive illusions:

  • Raise awareness of the existence of cognitive illusions;

  • Encourage a collaborative rather than a competitive climate;

  • Reduce workplace stress' and 

  • Foster a deliberative mindset, where  there is openness to varied information in decision making.

If there is no silver bullet, should we persevere indefinitely?

Perseverance, goal setting and grit are complex phenomena. When used appropriately they keep us motivated and focused. However, as I was reminded by colleague last week, researchers have found that constantly setting goals may lead to anxiety, perfectionism, and even burnout.

I have always found it curious that it is the norm for professional athletes to have a team of independent experts coaching them on when and how to grit and when to quit, yet senior leaders do not.

As the coaching session was coming to a close, my client took a deep breath, paused and then said to me “perhaps the silver bullet for improving my leadership is to cultivate a sense of curiosity especially around the impact of my behaviour on others.”


My blog would not be complete without a few songs, so I have added, Love potion number 9, and the Witch Queen of New Orleans, to my blog play list. Please click here if you want to enjoy the original version of Witch Doctor by David Seville.


References: (n.d.). When to grit and when to quit. [online] Available at: Büttner, O.B., Wieber, F., Schulz, A.M., Bayer, U.C., Florack, A. and Gollwitzer, P.M. (2014). Visual Attention and Goal Pursuit. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(10), pp.1248–1259. ‌Langer, E.J. (1975). The illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32(2), pp.311–328. Fenton-O’Creevy, M., Nicholson, N., Soane, E. and Willman, P. (2003). Trading on illusions: Unrealistic perceptions of control and trading performance. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 76(1), pp.53–68. Koppe, K. and Rothermund, K. (2017). Let it go: Depression facilitates disengagement from unattainable goals. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 54, pp.278–284. Matute, H., Blanco, F., Yarritu, I., Díaz-Lago, M., Vadillo, M.A. and Barberia, I. (2015). Illusions of causality: how they bias our everyday thinking and how they could be reduced. Frontiers in Psychology, 6

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