My Way or the Highway-Is Your Thinking Too Rigid?

                                                                                                        Rigidity

Rigidity can be described as holding the attitude: My way or the highway. It can also be disguised in such sayings as: “That’s just the way it is,” or “Those are the rules, mam,” or “That’ll never work.” Do those kinds of sayings ever come from your mouth? Those statements are indicative of a kind of mental paralysis. No new information is being allowed in.
Rigidity can be cloaked in a variety of ways that appear attractive, on the surface. You may value the fact that you’re a high achiever, a perfectionist, and a take-charge or no-nonsense person. And you should take pride in your accomplishments. But an inflexible, rigid attitude can get in the way of even greater accomplishments and a larger sphere of influence. Maybe you pride yourself on being cautious; you don’t like to leap before you look carefully. That’s fine except when your caution turns into an aversion to taking any risks at all.
Maybe you believe that you know the best way to get from Point A to Point B, or the best way to make a chili barbecue, or the best way to solve the recycling problems in your community. Everyone wants you on their committee – except when it turns out that “the best way” is the only way you know how to do that particular thing, and you’re not willing to learn anything new about it.
One of the things we can say with certainty about life is that everything changes. It’s a task for all of us to keep figuring out where we need to hold the line on what we know and where we need to let go of the rigidity that keeps us from learning new things.
The fact is that at least since the beginning of the decade, there’s been a greater emphasis on the value of collaboration, cooperation and interdependent networks of people. Who would have ever thought that archrivals IBM and Apple Computer would ever collaborate? But they have! Remember the hi-tech commercials during the Super Bowls in the mid 1980’s? Everyone watched to see what new outrageous ad Apple had come up with to sling at IBM. They weren’t rivals, they were enemies. Then they began to see the value of collaboration. At least to the point of being able to work on joint projects.
More and more companies are seeing the value of breaking up departments that used to compete against each other. Instead they’re putting people into teams with shared leadership and a mandate to cooperate with each other. As those companies move from a hierarchical structure to one that’s team-based you hear the same lament over and over: “Some of the people who’ve been around here for a while can’t seem to make the transition. They’re too “set in their ways,” they have too much of the old “command and control” style in their veins.”
If you suspect that you may have an underlying layer of rigidity in your personality that prevents you from being flexible where flexibility would be an asset, here are some tips. First and foremost, concentrate on listening to what others have to say. Not just passive listening, that is, hearing the words. But learn what’s known as “active listening” where you do more than simply pay attention. Active listening means you suspend your judgments about what the other person is saying while you listen. Active listening means that you are so clear about what the other person is saying that you could paraphrase it back to them in a way they would agree that’s what they said.
Being willing to listen without making judgments takes work. You can tell you’re NOT doing it when little thoughts like “that’s crazy,” or “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about” pop up in your head as you listen. But if you’re able to achieve the ability to listen first, and then decide how you feel about something, much more information and new insight will filter into your brain. That’s because the rigid guard at the door of your mind has been asked to take a break.
Another way to combat rigidity is to admit a mistake when you’ve made one. That’s so easy to say, and so hard to do! Start by admitting it to yourself. “Darn it, I made a mistake!” That’s the first step. Some rigid people can’t even do that much. The next step is to say it out loud to someone who’s affected by that mistake. “Sorry, but it looks like I’ve made a mistake here.”
And one more tip: remember that in many things, the process is as important as the goal. HOW you arrive at a result in a work project or on a community committee or in your family affects everyone involved. And the process has a direct impact on the success of the next undertaking. Your ability to be flexible, to let go of rigid expectations, to allow for disagreements, are all measures of your maturity in those situations.

Ambiguity-How do you deal with it?

Difficulty in Dealing with Ambiguity

 

“Ambiguous” means having several possible meanings, interpretations or outcomes. Some people don’t like ambiguous situations where new variables can pop up any time, or where novel outcomes emerge rather than being designed from the beginning. It has to be either/or. One way or the other. They get nervous in the face of the unknown. They’ll say: “Let’s nail this down.” “Let’s choose one and go for it,” way before an idea has been fully developed. At some point that approach may be necessary. But rigid people like to get closure on one meaning, one interpretation, one outcome, as early as possible. And often that approach leaves out the contributions of other people. It certainly leaves out the possibility of novelty and serendipity.

We’re all being asked to tolerate more ambiguity these days. Technology is changing the nature of the work we do, or in some cases, whether we have any work to do. For the past 20+ years we’ve been experiencing tremendous ambiguity in gender roles – what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman.

If you’re in a role of leadership or responsibility, there’s no doubt you must make room for surprises and uncertain outcomes. Imagine being told in 1962 that the Soviets had nuclear missiles positioned on Cuba aimed at the United States, and that they might fire them, or they might not. John F. Kennedy faced that ambiguity. Imagine yourself on March 9, 1965, leading several thousand demonstrators in a march for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, where only two days earlier, hundreds of people had been beaten and attacked by police dogs for doing the same thing. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced a very ambiguous situation.

Fortunately, most of us don’t have to deal with THAT level of uncertainty. If you’re a person who has trouble dealing with ambiguity, you like to do routine things with familiar people who behave in traditional ways. Changes and surprises make you uncomfortable because they alter the routine.

If you recognize yourself in this discussion and feel that developing a greater tolerance for ambiguity would allow you the flexibility you’d like to have, here are some tips. Begin to stretch yourself a bit by taking on different duties and activities beyond your comfort level.

In other words, consciously introduce some novelty and ambiguity into your life.

  1. Avoid doing things the same way every time.
  2. Realize that there’s almost always more than one way to accomplish a task.
  3. When you encounter a situation that has several possible outcomes, don’t try to avoid it.
  4. Take the time to consider each possible outcome, from the most optimistic to the most pessimistic.

Tell us, how do you deal with ambiguity?

 

It’s A New Year, A New You-What is Your Vision for the Future?

VISION

 

I think it’s easy to see why someone who has the power to imagine, to be creative, to posit alternatives in a coherent way that others can understand, is going to be more influential than someone who can’t. There’s been a lot of discussion and refinement of the notion of “vision” in the past ten years or so. A vision is your picture of a desired state of affairs at some point in the future. A vision provides a way for people to agree on goals and how they’ll be met. With so much change going on, it’s become more and more necessary to envision the way we’d like things to be. Without a vision, we get lost in the trivia of daily life, or swamped by the feeling of being out of control. Let’s imagine there are 3 people looking at an open field just outside the city limits.

 

  • One person sees a baseball diamond for kids to play on.
  • Another sees a mini-mall with convenient little shops to stop at on the way home to the suburbs.
  • The third person sees the perfect place for low-income housing.

 

Those 3 are very different visions. Yet, assuming that this plot of land is waiting to be developed, someone’s vision will win out.

My point is, nothing happens without a vision to guide the way. We all have visions. They’re usually born from some need. You have books and papers lying all over the floor, and you envision a nice new bookcase against the wall.

You can see that your mail room personnel are very busy at certain times of the day, and at other times they’re all sitting around telling jokes. So you envision a system where their work is scheduled in a much more productive way.

When the senior management at the Steelcase Furniture Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, decided to reorganize their company, they began with a vision of a company where everyone’s talents and energies were fully engaged. They decided that the traditional corporate building they were in wouldn’t allow for that, so they envisioned a flat, spacious headquarters. Construction on the Corporate Development Center began in 1986. When it opened in 1989 it had seven levels with large areas where multi-discipline teams could meet. There were no separate departments for different functions. Executives are clustered around the center of the building where everyone has easy access to them. And there’s even an escalator so people can talk to each other while changing floors. What’s important to note is that the Steelcase’s Corporate Development Center began with a vision of how they wanted things to be.

How would you go about developing a vision that would be attractive to other people? Here’s the starting point: “What-if” questions. “What-if questions get your imagination and thinking going. One thing that all creative thinkers know is that you don’t limit yourself at this first stage. Don’t assume any rules or limitations. Don’t say: “What if we could pull off this project with only 4 people,” and then immediately stop yourself by saying: “No, that’s stupid. It’ll never work.” In A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech suggests you start the juices flowing by asking yourself: “What if gravity stopped for one second every day?” What would happen to oceans and rivers? How would houses be designed? What would happen if you were eating an ice cream cone during that one second?

That’s a great example of suspending the rules and allowing yourself to play in the realm of the possible. Von Oech calls it “getting into a germinal frame of mind.” That’s like a garden bed with rich, black dirt where seeds get a good start on germination. What-if questions allow you to free yourself from deeply ingrained assumptions you have about how things are usually done.

Von Oech also addresses the issue of the impractical. Sure, a lot of your early “what-if” speculations are going to be utterly impractical. But embedded within the impractical is often a seed of practicality. He cites one example where an engineer at a large chemical company did a “what-if by suggesting that they mix gunpowder into their paint products. Then when the surface needed repainting, they could blow the old paint off of it.

Now that’s not very practical. But it did open up the idea of having something within the paint that allowed for it to be removed easily. The engineer’s what-if question opened up everyone’s thinking about putting additives in the paint. One additive would be in the paint when you bought it. It would be inert until another substance was spread on the surface. When the two chemicals interacted – bingo (!) the paint would come off easily. The company went to work on making that vision a reality.

Again, the point is stopping your critical judge from coming in too early on the process. The part of each of us that says: “That’ll never work,” is always present, ready to speak up. Let the creative, innovative visionary in you come out and play.

Visions are born for all sorts of reasons: to make money, to end a problem, to improve a situation, to create an alternative, to have more fun. Some people have visions where other people see only problems or nothing at all.

What would you build on that empty field outside of town? Let’s help each other this year-what’s your vision? Share and we’ll pass along a gift to the first 10 who do!