Published on: August 17, 2010by Michael Sansolo
A terrible fight broke out on the Washington subway system recently. It happened at 11 p.m., spilling out onto two different stops and involving, according to police, 70 people. When I first heard the story I did the same thing you probably did: felt disgust. Then I felt relief because I live in the Washington area and while my family uses the subway frequently in the area where the fight occurred, none of us were out that night.
So imagine my shock when I read a column in the Washington Post about the melee that summarized the event with: “Looks like progress to me.” I couldn’t believe anyone could say that about such a shocking event, until I read on and learned that there were some who actually saw a silver lining.
The point made by the columnist, Courtland Milloy, was that while the fight was awful, its result wasn’t. There were no deaths and only four of the 70 people involved needed medical attention because the weapons of choice in this fracas were only fists and feet. In sharp contrast to the sometime shocking outbreaks of gun violence in DC, this fight actually wasn’t that bad.
Honestly, it’s a point of view I would have never considered. I saw the fight as awful, fearful and a black-eye for a city that has more than its share of issues. But while I may not subscribe to Milloy’s point of view, it was enlightening to read it and therein, I think, lies a big lesson for us in business.
I’ve written before about our need to listen to opinions that differ from ours, to understand that all stories have another perspective, even if we hate it. It pains me today that I know so many people who receive all their news and commentary from only one side of the political fence, in essence only reinforcing and not challenging their own views. There was a terrific column about this by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times on how college students now can select their freshman roommates by finding like minded people on places like Facebook.
Dowd’s point applies in business. She argues that students lose out by not taking the chance to live with someone with different likes, dislikes, backgrounds, values and goals. They might find some new tastes in everything including music, fashion, political leanings and, of course, college eating habits. None of that happens when we pick people who are just like ourselves.
In business, we have to heed those warnings. Our customers come from all different backgrounds, with different needs, values and goals. If we only hire people like ourselves we can miss out on understanding all the differences and diversity in our communities. If we only hire people like ourselves we run the risk of becoming too self-congratulatory and fail to understand where we might be falling short.
Dowd’s article is worth reading by anyone in the business of hiring. Make sure you aren’t only selecting people who reflect your views and values; sure you want good workers, but you don’t want clones. Challenge yourself and challenge your team to think outside the comfort zone. You never know what you’ll learn.
As a last point, consider a recent column by John Renesch in the Christian Science Monitor about the impact of monolithic thinking. Renesch wrote: “We are building silos of ideologies, isolating ourselves into factions, and preaching to our choirs about the faults and defects of ‘the other.’ Each silo is suffering from ‘groupthink’ - reinforcing its own dogma and avoiding any feedback that disagrees with the party line.”
Such behavior is damaging our entire political dialog; in business it could be fatal.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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