How Being Consistent Can Lead Us Astray
“Are you suggesting the consistency and standardization that have made us who we are, is creating problems?”
The expression on the Quality Control Manager’s face communicated the depth of their frustration. They had spent weeks artfully articulating throughout the organization the importance of following the Standard Operating Procedures that had dramatically improved the company’s previous error ratio. Now someone was suggesting that the system was "overly standardized."
“There are small, but important elements of the entire process—from the supply chain to landing on our customer’s doorstep—that have been overlooked,” the detractor challenged. “For one, our customer’s needs are changing, but we’re trying to force-fit them into our way of doing things. You know what their response is? They go somewhere else.”
So, what do we do when a proven process or behavior pattern—that may have worked beautifully in the past—no longer works?
The Chinese sage Lao Tzu is credited with first articulating the principle, “If you don’t change direction, you’ll end up where you’re headed,” and that ancient wisdom has echoed through time courtesy of other luminaries. Einstein, for one, defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The challenge in the Quality Control scenario we just described is that we often don’t perceive a need for change, because we are only looking at things from our own vantage point.
How do we remedy this?
By more deeply examining our results and deciding whether they are still meeting the needs of all those involved. That’s a good start. But the next step is usually to begin looking at what we are doing with a focus on changing behaviors—or processes. That too is worthwhile, but it’s referred to as “First-Order Change” for a reason.
It’s meant to provide a stop-gap measure; a quick fix that’s applied while we dive more deeply into what’s actually needed. The challenge is that we often stop there. Why? Because to create a deeper fix; a more thorough change, requires "Second Order Change". In other words, we also need to change the way we think about the situation; we need to evolve our mindset in order to create a more thorough solution.
To this point, Einstein also said that we can’t use the thinking we used to create our problems to solve them. We have to think differently. Take the case study we described above. If the QC Manager’s mindset is, “Our system works brilliantly,” their overall willingness to look more deeply into what could actually be improved, will be limited.
One significant shift that can help us in this regard is be to open to more diversity, to be more inclusive. Numerous studies now show that diverse groups who develop their inclusionary muscles, significantly out perform more homogeneous groups. Why? Easy to answer, right? Because they are tapping into a variety of perspectives and actually increasing their group’s IQ in the process.
Some people describe it this way:
“Diversity is being invited to the ball. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
So how do we improve our ability to be inclusive?
It starts with respecting the uniqueness of others. These days we see racism and bigotry seemingly on the rise—or at least more in our awareness because of social media. Yes, certain social climates may have created permission for more overt behavior, but it’s not a new phenomenon by any stretch.
Concepts around superiority and elitism have always relied on separation and stratification which, carried to the extreme, can become fatal for a culture and its people.
We’ve shared in our podcast and in past blogs about how this shows up in companies. For example, one manufacturing plant continued having problems on their assembly line (to the tune of $600,000 in lost materials) because they neglected to ask some of their largely “high-school educated workers” (who actually knew what that problem was). The unconscious bias at play: What could they know? They don't even have a degree?
Easy to see, from this standpoint, what happens when we adopt and an “us” vs. “them” attitude.
The fact is that it is easy to judge anyone who is different than us—there’s actually a normal human tendency for us to do so. But when we do, we lose the innovative value and richness that others might bring into our lives or into the change process we’re attempting to implement.
The simple truth is, we are not truly self-sufficient nor are we at our intelligent best when operating alone or only tapping into the knowledge of those who see the world the way we do.
Think about it for a moment.
Who’s involved in producing the food we eat every day (from the field to your table)? Who’s designing and making the clothes we wear, the cars we may drive, the homes we live in? When we go online, how many thousands of strangers have contributed to our ability to tap into the knowledge bases we access? We don’t know them, we likely never will. They may be similar to us in many ways; in others they may be dramatically different. They live in different countries, they may speak different languages, they don’t look like us, and they may have different cultural values. But we depend on them.
We depend on millions of strangers every day, really, and not just human ones. Our bodies contain millions of bacterial cells. We couldn't digest lunch without the single-celled creatures in our gut. Scientists tell us that life as we know it would be completely disrupted if just a few species vanished—for instance, the honey bee. We rely on bees, and fungus, and spiders, and house flies in ways we may not even understand… and yet they make our world work; and they sure aren’t like us!
Being more inclusive in the workplace has become a hot button issue for many organizations as they see top talent, particularly diverse talent, leave and go to another organization where they become highly successful and contribute their brilliance in meaningful ways for someone else
How do we become more inclusive? It also starts with shifting our mindset about who we are.
Each of us is a completely one-of-a-kind individual, rich in our differences and more abundant when we bring those differences together to enhance our understanding. With that mindset, we stop referencing others to ourselves and judging them according to our standard of normalcy. We can begin appreciating everyone for the unique value they bring and celebrate our diversity and put it to good use. Does that mean you have to give up what makes you unique? Not a all . . . your differences are valuable as well.
With this in mind, instead of merely tolerating or even accepting others, we can learn to fully appreciate them—remembering that “appreciation” means increasing the value. Imagine in your workplace . . . what a difference it would make if everyone began to genuinely celebrate and appreciate each other’s differences rather than merely aiming for conformity and compliance.
Is there a place for continuity, standardization, and compliance? Absolutely, yes. But not in lieu of—nor at the expense of—the genius and richness that comes when we encourage people to show up fully, bringing their whole brilliant selves to the mix.
Your Thriving Breakthrough opportunity for the week:
Show up with a different mindset about others. Study them with genuine curiosity, to discover what’s unique about every person you meet. See them, listen to them, appreciate them, and then reflect back on yourself to discover unique aspects in you that you may have ignored or judged. Notice any judgement you may have and release it. Enjoy belonging to and being part of the diversity all around and within you.
Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding