Willy Wonka's Struggles With Cognitive Dissonance

We all know that Roald Dahl's Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is a morality tale, albeit a sinister one. As children, we have been probably warned how not to behave like the 4 kids - Augustus Gloop (Gluttony), Violet Beauregarde (Rudeness), Veruca Salt (Selfishness) and Mike Teevee (Vainglory) , who all didn't make it through the end of the factory visit.

In light of the recent news that Roald Dahl's children's books are being rewritten, I certainly agree that there are certainly some aspects of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that may be inappropriate and insensitive for certain audiences. As a disclaimer, I would like to clarify that while the story contains some elements that may be considered inappropriate, the focus of this discussion will be on specific themes or lessons that are relevant to transformational leadership and growth mindset concepts.

In April's blog posts, I would like to discuss the several executive coaching lessons that can be drawn from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In this blog post, I want to point out a perculiar aspect of Willy Wonka's character: On the one hand, Willy Wonka believes that parental rules and restrictions can stifle creativity, as seen in his backstory about being forbidden to eat candy as a child. However, on the other hand, he has little tolerance for the children on the tour who don't align with his vision or who break his rules.

As humans we are often prone to and struggle with cognitive dissonance when we hold beliefs that are not fully aligned with our behaviors. This is especially true as leaders, managers, and business owners d
ue to the demands of their roles and the constant pressure to make urgent and difficult decisions.

How do know if we are caught in a convoluted trap of cognitive dissonance?
A tell-tale sign that we are experiencing cognitive dissonance is when we are more likely to engage in behaviours like rationalizing our own decisions, dismissing information that contradicts our beliefs, or seeking information to confirm our exisiting beliefs (confirmation bias). These responses merely go against 72 Smalldive's coaching principle of upholding Socrate's belief that "the only thing I know is I know nothing".

Leaders may be more prone to cognitive dissonance because they are often expected to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity with immediacy. This of course lead to greater cognitive strain and a greater likelihood of experiencing dissonance. It is also important to know that the organization culture plays a part too. By surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals or to be subject to groupthink, we are reinforcing our existing beliefs and limiting our exposure to alternative perspectives. 

Now if we piece Willy Wonka's dissonance and the impact of organizational culture has on the cognitive traits of a leader, it makes total sense why Willy Wonka's ideal choice of workers are Oompa Loompas, efficient but morally-vacuous individuals who did not pause at Willy Wonka's questionable managerial style.

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