One unfortunate habit of humans, particularly in Western societies is their tendency to make other people – “other”. Let me explain. People evolved as social creatures. Everything we have ever achieved is in some way the result of social endeavour – collaboration, co-operation and community. Even the most apparently individual achievement relies on the support of family and friends, or the prior work of others. We have however, developed a tendency to narrow our definition of ourselves, see our achievements as individual and in so doing we sort the world into categories – me, like me, and not me. Mentally, we make everything that isn’t “us” into something “other” defining it as different to us, and therefore at best irrelevant and at worst an enemy. From football supporters, to music lovers, politicians to corporate leaders, we sometimes cling so desperately to our narrow sense of identity that we can miss opportunities to revolutionise our lives. By defining ourselves narrowly into specific sub-groups or purposes in life, we miss chances to learn and grow from wider experience, both as individuals and organisations.
The three C’s – collaboration, co-operation and community are what help us to achieve, learn and grow as people and as organisations. Organisations are after all, just groups of people. All human growth relies on overlapping but different perspectives – our thinking must overlap enough for us to be able to communicate with each other – yet it must also be different enough to bring in new ideas. The best collaborators both support and challenge each other, exploring similarity and difference.
For example, what could a business leader possibly learn from work with horses or choirs? Surely they are “other” sharing nothing with the world of business and organisations? Yet every day, leaders are learning that how horses react to them has parallels for how people do. Conducting a choir is a leader-focussed production of an outcome, not so different in principle from making a car. Albert Einstein suggested that problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that generated them. The problem with “making other” is that it leads us to define our thinking narrowly, meaning we miss the new perspectives which could have set us, and our organisation, on the path to authentic growth and change.
We all find ourselves in a tight spot from time to time – a situation in which we are challenged to change and adapt. Charles Darwin noticed that those who thrive are not the fastest or strongest, but those most adaptable to change. So next time you find yourself needing to make a change, wanting to improve, or needing to evolve your organisation – don’t stay narrow in your thinking, reach out to different ways of learning – it can revolutionise what’s possible.