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Dogma

“Nothing clouds your mind like dogma,” says Roger van Oech, creative consultant, in his book A Kick In the Seat of the Pants (Harper and Row).

Dogma can come from an outside authority or it can be self-generated from one’s past successes. Here are some examples: None other than Plato himself dictated that the circle was the perfect form for celestial movement, and for the next two thousand years, astronomers said that planetary orbits were circular—even though their observations didn’t quite jibe with that. Even Copernicus used circles in his heliocentric model of the universe. Only after much soul-searching did Kepler use the ellipse to describe the heavenly paths. Joseph Semmelweiss, the 19th century Hungarian physician, felt that doctors could reduce disease by washing their hands in chlorinated lime water before inspecting their patients. His colleagues—because they thought that doctors were close to God—strongly resented his suggestion that they were ‘carrying death around on their hands,’ and denounced him. The later discovery of bacteria proved Semmelweiss correct. Having a big success with one set of assumptions can easily create a dogmatic outlook. Edison founded the electricity supply industry using direct current (DC). This prevented him from seeing both the benefits of alternating current (AC) and that the future of the industry lay with that type of current. Henry Ford had been successful making cars available in only one color (‘Any color you want as long as it’s black’). He believed that he had a formula that worked, and he didn’t want to change it. This prevented him from seeing the rise of a post World War I consumer class that wanted a variety of styles and colors from which to choose. As a result, Ford lost market share to General Motors. In order to make good decisions, your judge should avoid falling in love with ideas—especially those that have brought him success in the past.

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