I slept late the other morning. When I rolled out of bed and looked out the window, I noticed it was gray, overcast and looked like it might rain. When I got to the kitchen, the view out that window was partly blue sky, high clouds and filtered sunshine. It didn’t look like possible rain at all! Amazing. What a difference the outlook was from one window to the next.
Here’s an analogy: we all live in the same house, but we each look out at reality through different windows. Based on our
experiences and our particular view, we each determine what reality is. Each view varies from one window to the next. And the views may or may not be even close to the same. And neither represents accurately the full reality in front of us. Not only are we seeing a very small part of an incredibly complex world, we interpret what we see based on a completely biased set of filters.
Perhaps a different analogy would work better for you. I suspect many of you are familiar with the following parable:
Blind Men and the Elephant
The Blind Men and the Elephant is a famous Indian fable that tells the story of six blind sojourners that come across different parts of an elephant in their life journeys. In turn, each blind man creates his own version of reality from that limited experience and perspective. In philosophy departments throughout the world, the Blind Men and the Elephant has become the poster child for moral relativism and religious tolerance.
What if, instead of arguing each from their own individual “point of view,” the blind men instead pooled their knowledge, accepted each other’s information, and pieced together a more complete picture of an elephant?
All Of Us
I am told that Bill Ford worked several years to convince Alan Mulally to join Ford Motor Company. Bill, to his credit, realized two important things: 1.) He, Bill, was not the CEO to turn Ford around, and 2.) Ford needed someone outside the automotive industry to inject new ways of managing and thinking into the organization. Detroit “group think” was no longer an option for Ford Motor Company.
“None of us is a smart as all of us.”
Many small to mid-sized business leaders build formal or informal advisory boards for their businesses. They choose experienced individuals from different industries to inject new ways of addressing challenges and opportunities into their companies. They force their leadership teams to combine their individual window views into a more complete picture of the business reality.
Science tells us that human senses and the brain we use to interpret those sensory inputs do not give us an accurate rendition of the “real” world. The more we learn about the human brain, the more we realize that our experience of the world is unique for each individual. And the more we learn, the more we realize that no one person has a right to claim to have the truth about reality.
As leaders, our only hope at getting close to reality, it seems, is to gather as many points of view as we can. And from as wide a set of experiences as we can. That, of course, includes getting the view of those who oppose us, not just those who agree with us. The implication here is that if everyone agrees on one view of reality, we know we are in trouble. We are experiencing group think!