On our hut-to-hut trip through the Dolomites of Italy, Reka and I befriended a couple from Scotland. Jasmine is a teacher and her husband, Ioan, is a professor. Ioan is a Welsh name for John and one that I struggled with pronouncing correctly. The primary reason I enjoyed his company so much wasn’t because we thought alike, but because we thought differently. We shared both the trail and a table several times and had the opportunity to have some very thoughtful and engaging discussions. These conversations had no agenda or time restrictions. There was no right or wrong – other than the mild display of the competitive nature that exists between two guys. We’re both highly curious, enjoy thinking, and value learning from those we view as smart, but who sees things differently.
Ioan is a tenured professor who teaches graduate students about climate change, as well as how to think differently. Truth be told, if I hear the words “doctorate,” “academia,” or “climate change,” I’d traditionally go to a reactionary space of thinking about bureaucracy, inefficiency, or what a blowhard the person’s going to be. For him, hearing I was a business owner, advisor, and proud entrepreneur, he may tend to regard me as “money-grubbing,” “a capitalist,” “a polluter,” or “narrow-minded” (*these are all my words and assumptions, not his…but you get the picture).
One day on a particularly long, rocky trail, we had plenty of time to talk and listen – and it was during this discussion that I started noticing how more often than not, we shared the desire for similar outcomes. Where we differed was on how to achieve those outcomes. The key difference between our ‘how’ sprang from our biggest stereotype. For Ioan, his challenge was to be receptive to the thinking that capitalistic profit-driven goals weren’t always at odds with sustainability, health, and positive growth. In fact, I’m a huge believer that with the right focus, more profit and success drives comprehensive success-based outcomes, thus the business model becomes more sustainable and profitable. In short, figuring out a profitable way to do the right thing is good business and I’d suggest it has a much higher potential for long-term sustainability. For me, I needed to get out of my own way to try and understand how a government policy or program could potentially help achieve a designated outcome. In my current thinking, I have a hug disdained for anything that involves the government or any form of groupthink bureaucracy like traditional academia. Opening up my thinking during our talks provided me with the opportunity to see a different perspective that had merit and good intentions.
In both cases, where we wanted similar outcomes, the execution and process to attain these goals was often very different.
Here was when the fun began. Because we approached the solution from different perspectives – but with the same desired outcome coupled with the fact that we were willing to listen to each other – both of our thinking patterns began advancing in different ways…ways that we likely wouldn’t have achieved on our own. In other words, we got out of our own heads and both of us were better for it.
I believe I made a friend for life and I look forward to our future discussions.
As a leader, embracing that there may be hundreds of different ways to solve a problem is important. Being able to take a step back and have a desire to understand how someone else looks at things can often help you to advance your own thinking and solve problems with previously disregarded approaches. Embracing this and leading by example for your teams may be one of the greatest skills you can teach.
Do you want to learn more about thinking differently? Are you in need of a fresh perspective in your everyday or professional life? We can help with that! Contact us today.