We’ve been asked by many of our customers for periodic, no-nonsense emails with just-in-time information for managers and knowledge workers on how organizations work. This is our 39th issue and we hope you enjoy it. Past editions are available on our website.
I reviewed Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by this author in June 2007. Deep Survival is one of those books that has continued to resonate with me. After all, I live in Oregon where bad choices by people in our mountains, result in severe outcomes. When I saw this book in an airport bookstore, I grabbed it and have not been disappointed. Gonzales turns the survival issues to everyday life. He weaves in a lot of the theory of organizational and leadership behavior (mental models and hubris - see chapter 3 of The Thin Book of Naming Elephants) with human evolution. To sum up why smart people do stupid things and how to avoid the same, I suggest you ask yourself: Whom do you look down on?
The reason is that we humans have an inbred trait to form groups and then look at 'other' groups with hostility. Think of Jeff Skilling labeling all who didn't agree with him as those who "don't get it." Think of how nasty politics has become and how we snarl at those in the 'other' party. Review all of the big corporate 'mergers' of the past decade and how the more powerful group imposed their own rules without determining if the lesser group had a better idea. Note also the loss of value in real money and stock prices that followed those mergers as the predicted synergy never materialized.
Status is another evolutionary trait bred in us. Status infers someone is up relative to another being 'down.' So looking at 'other' groups with hostile intentions is also a way of creating status over others. (See the April 2009 ThinZine on Ed Schien's book for more on this) A recent article in the New York Times, Workplace Gossip? Keep It to Yourself (November 15, 2009) featured a workplace that has a "no-gossip policy". This workplace asks employees to sign a written agreement to follow their values. It sounds like a refreshing way to make their norms explicit. Gossip is of course, rampant in the workplace. It's a way to engage others to form hostile attitudes by defining the individual or the group as the 'out-group'. It may be a way to punish those who don't produce. But, I've seen it more commonly used as a way to create status by having an out-group to look down on.
When we look down on others, we divert our energy from appreciating to creating an in-group and an out-group. The most cynical workplaces even look down on their own customers! I honestly can't think of a single situation in which looking down on others creates a positive result. Can you?
We may be hardwired by evolution but we can override the default if we are mindful and choose to act differently. I suggest you put this provocative question in front of you for the next 30 days and see if it changes anything. I'd love to hear your stories!
Another way you can appreciate others is to learn about the other ways you and they are hardwired. That's one reason we carry the Inscape Publishing profiles. Those profiles can help you understand your innate tendencies. In particular, the Personal Listening and Team Dimensions Profiles are both incredibly useful for anyone. Look for our short podcasts on each profile and upcoming inexpensive webinars. I have introduced these two profiles to several clients and they have seen substantial results from using them. Many times, profiles are used to create in-group and out-group status, which is why I think the process is often regarded in a cynical way. My goal is to help us use our hard wiring to a better end, to override our default settings. This is a great time of year to look for concrete ways to create a better place to work.