Are You Stuck In Conventional Thinking?
What are the assumptions and beliefs that guide your responses at work? Is your course set by a conventional mental map that believes people are self-interested, that resources are scarce, that conflict is natural, people are fearful of organizations and learning is limited? Or do you navigate with a positive mental map with the view that there are resources all around you that are not being utilized, that people are willing to sacrifice for the common good and that emerging systems of cooperation are around us all the time?
Chances are if you're really honest with yourself, that although you might aspire towards the more positive mental map, that conventional thinking has you stuck firmly in it’s grasp. Why? The reality is your brain is wired for survival and that means when negative fears about your workplace grab your attention they tend to dominate the ways you think, feel and act.
So how can you free yourself to embrace a more positive mental map at work?
“We make these conventional assumptions because they’re often accurate and it’s how we see people behaving at work,” explained Professor Robert Quinn from the University of Michigan, when I interviewed him recently. “So unless we do work to the contrary, which I call leadership, then organizations naturally drift towards the negative. But when we take fear away and we build confidence and hope and vision and orient people towards purpose and the future, the brain functions in a different way, and performance is different.”
For example, most organizations approach downsizing with a conventional problem-solving map that results in security quickly escorting the suddenly unwanted staff out the door, with no thought to the long-term fear, mistrust and self-interest this breeds for remaining employees. Despite these potential costs, in an effort to minimize the risk of a difficult decision, conventional thinking has us believe that this is simply the way these business matters need to be handled.
But what if a positive mental map guided this process?
“Several years ago I interviewed a successful, life-long entrepreneur who believed in rigorous business discipline and also strived to live at a higher level of consciousness,” shared Bob. “During the interview, he shared the story of the hardest thing he ever had to do. He had an organization of eighty people. A recession hit and it was necessary to let twenty per cent of his people go. He eventually gathered them and shared the dreadful news. When he finished, all eighty gave him a standing ovati