One of the most insidious problems that I encountered while working at TBI was the prevalence of what psychologists call “magical thinking”. While this thinking was less in evidence at the wretched TBI franchise schools, which had mostly had years of disappointing sales and low student numbers to cure them of their illusions, it was absolutely rife at Head Office. And all you have to do is look at their recent press releases/promotions/Linked-In pages to know that they haven’t changed a bit; “magical thinking” still prevails in the eternal La-La land of The British Institute.
HOW TO THINK LIKE A 6-YEAR OLD
So what exactly is “magical thinking”. It is sometimes used to describe the belief in magic/superstition/religious doctrine, but that is not the sense in which we are using it here. What we are referring to is thinking patterns that are prevalent in what Piaget termed the “pre-operational phase” of psychology, which occurs between the ages of 4-7. This is a period which is elsewhere described as the “narcissistic phase” of development, as the child is unable to form true friendships at this age; they tend to ‘play alongside’ others rather than really interacting on a deep level.
During these years children are imaginative and creative, and they live in a magical world where the harsh weight of reality rarely touches their flights of fancy. “”Look Mummy, I’m an aeroplane”, they cry, as they run around with their arms stretched out. They enjoy role plays of various kinds and they act out different roles. “One day I’m going to be an astronaut/the President/a rock star”, they say and there is no reality check. The child has yet to develop the cognitive skills necessary to compare themselves to their peers and make a realistic, level-headed assessment of their abilities.
THE ETERNAL NARCISSISTS
But the thing is, most people start to grow out of this after the age of 7. The only people who continue to engage in pervasive “magical thinking” into their adult years are highly narcissistic individuals. Trapped in their narcisstic, pre-operational phase of development forever (due to various kinds of poor parenting), they go on believing that all they have to do is say it and it’s true. They don’t compare themselves to their peers and form realistic self-assessments. They don’t ever acknowledge their limitations/flaws/weaknesses. Instead, they go on believing they are golden forever. This is the person who goes on Amerian Idol and says, “I’m going to be the next American idol,” and then sings a few bars of a Whitney Houston song is a whiney, out-of-tune voice, and ironic glances start passing between the judges. We think: How could this person not realize they are bad? We ask: Didn’t anyone ever set them straight in all these years? And the answer, of course, is no. You are in the presence of deluded narcissist.
This week I will try and point out some of the key examples of “magical thinking” at TBI, focusing on price/exclusivity, professional qualifications, claims to innovation and the low staff retention rates. Really, it explains a lot.