How open-minded are you….REALLY?

If I were to ask this question of a random sampling of leaders and employees, how do you think they’d answer?

Most likely, everyone would present themselves as an open-minded, thoughtful human being, unswayed by their bias. (Except for that weird guy from the third floor. But he’s probably a sociopath.)

The reality is that people don’t like to think of themselves as closed-minded, or at the very least, they know better than to admit it. That’s because companies work like hell to hammer home the fact that inclusion, respect, diversity, love, peace, unicorns and rainbows are an integral part of a successful workplace. And it IS important to be inclusive and respectful.

But deep down, we all kind of suck at it.

I don’t mean we’re all assholes and racists or anything. I just mean that we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve got control over our natural biases. And not just the big ones (gender, race, age, etc.) – I’m talking about white-collar, blue-collar, where you went to school, the shoes you wear, what music you listen to…that kind of stuff. Even the most well-intentioned, self-aware person has inherent biases. [For an eye-opening revelation about your own biases, take the Project Implicit test from Harvard. It’s free. And a little spooky.]

All those little biases add up to a pretty significant impact on our decision-making.

Don’t believe me? Look at your hiring practices. Many organizations have some sort of diversity initiative in place – whether it’s monitoring and reporting, or a specific process to ensure a certain candidate pool mix. Hopefully, these programs ARE making a difference for your organization on a macrolevel.

Now look at the teams around you. Look at YOUR team.

Is everyone just a little too…the same?

Do you all like the same things? Have similar backgrounds? Make decisions the same way?

Did you even realize it when you hired them?

BOOM. That’s bias in action, baby.

If you want to be closer to the level of open-mindedness you claim to have, you have to be aware you’re not perfect and be proactive in your approach to make a difference. Here are a few things you can try, either as a leader or an employee:

  • Hiring practices: When hiring, consider taking off names, addresses and school names off the resume. Just look at whether the person meets the required education level and has the right experience. (Bias exists for peers just as much as hiring managers!)
  • Job design: Question whether the education level you’re requiring for a job even makes sense. A college degree does not magically make you a better employee and mean you can do the job. I’m not saying it’s NOT a good thing, but question your implicit assumption it’s required for success.
  • Teams: Challenge your need to like everyone you work with. I mean, it’s nice and all…but a lot of times we like people because they’re just like us. Same can be boring and stifle innovation. Build and/or join a team with people who will challenge your thinking.
  • Silos: Go learn more about the people who do work that is wildly different from yours. If you’re in a corporate office, do some ridealongs with the field folks. If you’re in the field, shadow the corporate people. Understanding of the unknown helps breaks down bias and assumptions.
  • Ideas: What happens who you propose an idea and someone questions it? Do you defend it to the death? Do you think the other person is an idiot because they don’t agree? Do you assume they don’t like it because they don’t have your background? All of the above? To be truly open-minded, you have to be open to the fact that you DON’T know everything…even about the topic you’re supposedly THE expert in. Listen and learn.

These are just a few ideas on how you can set up an environment that encourages open-mindedness through behavior, not intention.

Give one or two of them a shot. After all, you’re open-minded….

Right?

A little disruption is good for the soul

In Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle In Time, she shares the story of the Murry family – specifically Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their quest to find their missing scientist father.  I won’t recount the entire plot here (if you need a summary, here it is.  Seriously, just go read the book!), but there are two important things I want to point out – Meg struggles to fit in, and Meg is challenged to save her brother from the powerful IT…whose one power is the ability to make EVERYONE fit in.

In the story, Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace travel to the planet Camazotz, a picture of conformity:

Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns.  The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray….In front of all the houses children were playing….As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball.  As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes.  Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical.  Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

Not to get all dramatic about it, but the truth is that many companies are like Camazotz.  The denizens of Corporate America are all too happy to allow someone else “to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decisions.”  Unsurprisingly, Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace are unnerved by all the sameness.  To them, it’s creepy and unnatural. Why?  Because if everything is the SAME, how would you know if something is good or bad? 

That which moves us forward requires a lack of conformity.  Progress, by its very nature, is disruptive.  It interrupts the status quo.  It challenges us to bounce the ball to a different rhythm from everyone else.  Without disruption, we would be drones.

It’s hard to embrace our inner disruptor, though.  We are surrounded by people who will defend their right to a boring, thought-free, risk-free existence.  And, like IT, these people are often in leadership roles. Why? Because the more you have, the harder you will work to defend it.evolution-change

At one point, Meg and Charles Wallace see a little boy who bounces his ball out of rhythm – you know, as a little boy would play with a ball.  Rather than this being seen as a natural thing, it’s considered an Aberration:

The door of his house opened and out ran one of the mother figures.  She looked wildly up and down the street, saw the children and put her hand to her mouth as though to stifle a scream.

When you have chosen to trade your free will to avoid responsibility, it would appear you have also chosen to live in fear.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to work with people whose default setting is “don’t rock the boat.”  That doesn’t mean I’m an anarchist – it means I value individuality, risk taking, and looking forward.  I believe that what got us here won’t get us to the next level.  Gosh darn it, I’m a disruptor.

To further disruption in your environment, keep the following in mind:

  • Know your currency: Charles Wallace, intuitive genius that he is, is eventually seduced by the power of IT – not because he doesn’t want responsibility but because IT flatters his intelligence.  Many of us have trigger points or other elements that we hold dear and will defend to the (metaphorical) death. Be aware of yours and establish your personal boundaries so you don’t automatically go into defensive mode when you should be embracing a challenge.
  • Use frustration to your advantage: In the book, Meg says, “When I’m mad I don’t have room to be scared.” She uses one strong emotion to give herself courage to ignore her fear.  We all run into frustrations at work.  We get angry.  Would you rather sit and stew? Wouldn’t it be better to use that anger and frustration to give yourself the courage to try something new?
  • Understand WHY disruption is needed:  Meg saves Charles Wallace because she knows IT doesn’t understand love – her motive was purse, her cause just, her disruption a necessity.Change for change’s sake isn’t necessarily a good thing.  It should be intentional.  WHY do you disrupt?  Is it to encourage new thinking and behaviors?  Or are you just being a contrarian? True disruptors use their powers for good, not evil.
  • Keep trying: Disruptors understand that success doesn’t always happen on the first try.  It takes persistence, adaptability, influence, charm, support, help, failure, learnings, repetition, new leadership…all of it.  But it’s worth it.

We keep talking about the importance of authenticity, letting your freak flag fly, being yourself at work.  If you believe in that, be open to a little disruption now and then.  It’s good for you.

“Maybe I don’t like being different,” Meg said, “but I don’t want to be like everybody else, either.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Think disruption sounds cool? Want to explore your inner disruptor? If you are in the Denver area, join us for DisruptHR Denver – a FREE event on April 9, 2014, exploring new was to think about people and talent.  Visit www.disrupthr.co/denver for more information and to RSVP!