What is it I Don’t Know?
For Easter, when our son was three, we gave him a viewfinder. Ever since his grandma bought him a broken robot at a garage sale when he was two, our kiddo was totally obsessed with robots. So naturally, when the Easter Bunny left a viewfinder in Jeremy’s Easter basket, he immediately started calling it his “Robot Eyes”.
For a solid week he wouldn’t go anywhere without his Robot Eyes. He’d be sitting in the backseat of the Prius, on the way to pre-school, with a kid’s cliff bar in one hand (hey, we were running late) and the other holding up his Robot Eyes, through which he claimed to see a whole new world.
I think in a sense that’s what we all do. We all have our invisible Robot Eyes plastered to our faces. We’ve held them up for so long that we don’t even know that they’re there. And it turns out that we only have one disc, the one that came with the thing. We flash through the pictures on that disc only seeing the same old pictures flash in front of us again and again. We forget that we can take them off. We forget that we can go to Target and buy a new disc, or ten new discs, or borrow someone else’s disc. We only see what we see. That’s what the world has become to us. We don’t know how to look at the people we meet, and the things that happen to us, as they really are. We only look through our Robot Eyes.
Professionally, I’ve found this to be a tremendous barrier. I’ve decided, erroneously, who would benefit from working with me and who wouldn’t. I’ve not had important conversations that need to be had, because I didn’t think it was possible to be understood. I’ve not brought ideas to the table, because I didn’t think they’d be valued. And, after working with hundreds of leaders, I find I’m not alone.
For leaders, this is a particularly tough challenge. With the intention of communicating authority, confidence, and credibility, we stop asking ourselves the questions. “What is it I don’t know? Is there another way of doing this I haven’t thought of? Is there another perspective that might be useful?”
What is it I don’t know?
Bill Gates once said, “I’m not paid to know, I am paid to ask.” And I think the richest man in the world might be on to something!
Personally, I have to work daily to remind myself to pry my Robot Eyes from my face. It’s not something comes naturally. When I do, I feel a bit vulnerable and exposed, without the familiarity of my own world-view. Yet when I do, I’m able to more fully connect. Connect with the people around me. Connect with opportunities I didn’t know were there. Connect with solutions to problems I couldn’t solve on my own.
The mind is such a funny thing. We think we’re seeing things clearly. That we’ve processed all the evidence and have come up with the most logical conclusion, and yet we come to find out that our own perceptions might be terrorizing our life.
Consider that many of our biggest challenges exist simply because of the way we’re looking at things. Maybe we need a new disc, or two, or ten, for our viewfinders. Perhaps playing the same old disc over and over is what keeps us from the very things we most long to have – connection, opportunity, solutions.
This month I challenge you to focus more on what you don’t know, on looking for a different way to see. With an open mind, ask your direct reports and colleagues, particularly those who don’t typically agree with you, about their ideas and perceptions (be sure to make it safe for them to share honestly, and be mindful of appreciating what they have to say).
Removing your personal viewfinder isn’t easy. But don’t worry. It’s not like getting a bad sunburn wearing strange glasses. Nobody can actually see the big white rings on your face where your “Robot Eyes” use to be. Only you know that they were there. And I won’t tell if you don’t.
©OnStage Leadership, 2011
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