When We Don’t Have the Answers

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From My Column “What if…..”  January 25, 2014 7:00 am  •  Deborah Maher,

Have you ever noticed that the contestants on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” can ask others for help and that quite often the most helpful and reliable source is the audience? The wisdom of the group demonstrates that contestants consistently get more right recommendations from the audience because the wisdom of the whole is better than the talents and abilities of just one person working alone to solve a problem.

Scott Page, Ph.D. author of the book “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Society,” has done a ton of work on the value of cognitive diversity, showing that random collections of intelligent problem-solvers can outperform collections of the best problem solvers of only one type.

Cognitive diversity comes from our DNA, background, and life experiences, and according to Page we all have different toolboxes that, when combined, enable solution-finders to create novel breakthroughs.

Of the key messages that can be taken from Page is that gaining input from diverse citizens, employees, team members and classmates when working on projects of common concern leads to greater than expected outcomes.

Individuals must strive to be their best but it is not done in a vacuum, it is done in relationship to those around us in our everyday life. Life is a team sport and we see examples of this all around us. We increasingly see the value of team accomplishments. Just look at how the Nobel Prize has evolved. Now instead of the prize going to one scientist, it goes to a team. Even when an actor is accepting an Academy award they acknowledge they did not do it alone. None of us can do it alone. We are living in a time a change where we can no longer rely on the “hero” who will save us.

The difficulty is that it is often hard to ask for help, for a number of reasons. But one that really stands out is the fear of appearing vulnerable. Somehow, we have come to believe that we must have all of the answers and if we don’t, then we are not good enough, smart enough, strong enough or worthy. These are universal fears and now, with the ever-increasing complexity we see around us, the world is calling for us to collaborate and find people with strengths that balance our strengths for the good of the whole.

Being open to ideas different than our own can be difficult because it may cause us to change, shift a perspective or even relinquish some perceived power. However, if we are open to new ideas, inputs and viewpoints, we may find our greatest insights; our “a-ha” moments.

And maybe if we are open, we might even say, “I never thought about it that way!”

The shift begins with willingness; the simple act of being willing to see different viewpoints can lead to unexpected possibilities.

Bell Hooks encourages us to go beyond our fears in her book “Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope,”  as she tells us that our “Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.”

Effective leaders are conveners who demonstrate a willingness to be open to a range of perspectives and are comfortable with not having all of the answers. They understand the importance of posing the right questions. They are inclusive, welcome new ideas and are willing to act on them.

In times of change, we must turn to each other and chart a new path together because we are going to a place we have not been before.

I wonder when you have had the opportunity to work with an inclusive leader and have experienced the power of diversity in creating a solution to a challenging problem. Drop me a line and tell me that story; what was the situation, what types of diverse people were involved, what happened?

It would be great to hear local stories of success. Thanks for your contribution!

Deborah Maher, President DFM Consulting Inc., specializes in positive organization change and leadership coaching. She is teaching a series on Positive Change at SWOCC and is currently a commissioner on the Bandon Planning Commission. You can email Maher at news@theworldlink.com.

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