When was the last time you had a team meeting with someone outside your usual circle of colleagues?
This is a question – and a challenge – laid down by Peter McDonald, a collaboration expert that I met with last week.
Peter works for a consultancy that focuses on helping people collaborate. And they go about it in a pretty radical manner.
One of the things they do is run workshops with people with different profiles, roles and jobs (and often diametrically opposed perspectives). Many of their workshops involve going into charities and finding solutions to their most challenging business problems.
The results are fascinating. Given often really difficult and complex challenges to resolve, often the more diverse and potentially conflictive the group is, the more disruptive the thinking. And the more creative and interesting the ideas, suggestions and solutions are.
Maya Lin, creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was commissioned to design the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lin found her inspiration in the words “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” a paraphrase from the Book of Amos that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used in his “I Have a Dream” speech and at the start of the Montgomery bus boycott. Photo used with permission from this source.
It was a printer jam that made me realize the full power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech.” Growing up in the United States, I had studied Martin Luther King Jr’s outsize impact on civil rights and American history. That said, I had never heard the entire speech he gave in 1963 to 200,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Then, a few years ago, the printer at work jammed. I pulled out the crumpled paper and power cycled it. While I was waiting, I started reading the poster hanging in the hallway. It was the full text of the “I Have A Dream” speech. I was truly moved by the strength of the writing and the ideas it put forth. I couldn’t believe that I had missed out on this powerful work for so long. Kudos to people that put up guerilla art in offices!
This week the world celebrated the United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities.
So let me ask you a question. What does disabled mean to you?
If you say the word aloud, what comes to your mind? Wheelchairs, white sticks and hearing aids, maybe. Go a little deeper and you might think of less visible disabilities – autism, learning difficulties. I’ve heard disability described as a “long-term impairment that makes it hard to accomplish daily tasks.” If you think about it this way, then conditions as varied as depression, asthma or eating disorders might be described as disabilities.
How many people do you know that might be considered disabled in this sense? My guess is that that number is much greater than you might initially have thought.
” We do not see things as they are, we see things as WE are” -- Anais Nin
A bias is a simplification that our brain goes through when we are in front of a situation we’ve been before. In that instance we rush decision and even behave inappropriately based on different elements like sex, age, abilities, workplace environment and so on.
Biasing people and situations is HUMAN, it’s a part of your brain that activates and respond to danger.
We just need to be aware of it so we can adjust our behavior accordingly: it’s very easy to fall into “fortune telling” -- e.g. I know what’s going to happen- and “mind reading” behavior , e.g I know he doesn’t like me .
How many times we’ve been introduced to new people and instantly categorized people in pre-built boxes.
What’s the impact in a working environment?
Well funny enough the first impression is the wrong one, most of the time.
It might have happened to you too, you might have underestimated somebody that later on revealed himself like a bless for the team, the ideal candidate for a job or somebody who became your best friend.
Today I want to tell you 2 stories. These are stories of people that have been impacted by the bias more than anybody else and have been shining for what they’ve done and the persons they are.
The first one is about a young lady, who achieved a senior marketing position very early in her career, got 3 degrees in business and suffers from cerebral palsy, a diseases that cause physical disability in human development. I’ll call her A.
A. has got a well structured career now at Cisco, but it has not always been like that.
She got several awards for her outstanding performance, but back in time she hardly imagined it could be so, as some individuals would have misjudged her capabilities on the workplace due to her physical condition.
Sometimes, movements for her are difficult and even a simple one like walking to the restroom from her desk, could be a challenge.
Flexibility to work from home and technology like video, did the trick. And the beauty of it is that she didn’t receive even a special treatment: she has exactly the same possibility as just everybody else.
Cisco employees are empowered to work from anywhere and from any device, while home or travelling on the train as if they were at their desk.
A. allowed Cisco Marketing to shine and Cisco trusted her and allowed her to make this possible.
The second story is about an engineer, his name is Sean.
He’s another successful Cisco employee working everyday on troubleshooting and configuring Cisco equipment. Sean is blind.
He has done several different jobs from developing camera films, to being a manager in a satellite networking company and now he is a multi-recognized engineer in cisco TAC.
Sean delivered a presentation to his team about what would have worked for him and what wouldn’t have worked and in short time he’s been able to successfully build strong relationship with them.
Of course technology plays an important role in Sean’s everyday job, but seen the result, does it matter?
Getting around the bias is about establishing a human contact, finding commonalities, reframing the situation, it’s all about people trying to understand other people.
At the moment, 1 out of 5 people is visually impaired and 70% of them are unemployed and among them only few have professional careers, like Sean.
Did you know that Louis Braille, Galileo Galilei, Claude Monet and even St Paul were all visually impaired?
Lesson learned is that when you are in front of a bias, you just need to be aware of it.
Sean and A. have had the guts to push themselves to their limits, working harder than anybody else and achieved success, nevertheless their physical condition.
They have taken the risk and have proven many people wrong, the very same people that didn’t trust them.
Meeting Sean and A. has been an enriching experience, they are special people with different perspective on the world, they certainly deserve all the success they are having and to shine as the brightest starts in the sky.
Hopefully their story is a confirmation for many and a discovery for few others.
My question to you is: how do you get yourself more aware of your bias behavior? And if you haven’t before, how are you going to control it?
Video of the 2011 Veterans Corporate Technology Day
Veterans Corporate Technology Day (VCTD) at Cisco Systems will take place this year on November 13, 2012. The day brings U.S. military personnel, spouses and caregivers to Cisco campuses and exposes them to available resources as they potentially transition to the civilian workforce. Events will be hosted at the following locations:
San Antonio, Texas
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
San Jose, California
The multi-site event introduces mentorship programs and educational resources. There will be a sessions on Read More »