A Lot Of Ways To Be

My husband and I walked into Vic’s Coffee one cold morning and ordered hot drinks.

I asked the young coffee guy, “Are you in school?”

“Yes,” said the guy, “I’m an aerospace engineer.”

“So,” said my husband, “when someone says, ‘It isn’t rocket science,’ you get to say, ‘I’ll be the judge of that’?”

“Precisely!” said the guy.

“You must be organized in your thinking,” I said.

The young man replied, “For sure — I stack my clothes alphabetically by color.”

“Good one!” I said.

“Yes, I’m CDO all the way,” said the young man, and when my husband asked about the unfamiliar acronym, the kid said “That’s OCD in alphabetical order.”

The coffee guy could do stand-up; but I love that he threw out the OCD/CDO reference blithely, something new and encouraging in our cultural march forward.

Whether the guy’s OCD is real or just part of his behind-the-counter patter, it’s a good thing that people can finally say, “That’s my ADD showing itself” or, “I have Asperger’s — I’m not sure I got what you were trying to convey.” This is a great development.

Rather than feeling embarrassed to say, “I have difficulty with this or that,” we can talk about our quirks and differences now. We don’t have to think, “I’d better not tell anyone about that.” We realize that there are 7 billion people on the planet, and millions of different and wonderful ways to be.

Bit by bit, the fiction that uniformity is an ideal state for anything important and desirable — for big ideas, creativity, teamwork or inspiration — is falling away.

An HR leader said to me the other day, “We’re hiring more and more out-of-the-box people, and they drive me crazy at times with their questions and suggestions, but I’m learning to love them.”

The new world of work doesn’t benefit from like-thinking, color-inside-the-lines teammates hunkering down to plow through the work on their desks. The progress that’s possible (and mandatory, if we want to remain in business) these days is progress that comes from breakthroughs and “ahas!,” rather than dogged attention to the work-ways of the past.

If we can’t move out of the mindset that tells us, “That which doesn’t disrupt the Smooth Flow of Business Operations is good, and that which disrupts the Smooth Flow is bad,” we are toast.

People come in fascinating, oddly-configured packages of talents, and the sooner we realize that the brilliance and spark are in the lumps and bumps, the better.

The new hire who does exactly what she or he is told is more likely to be a drain on the system than a value creator for your organization. The person whose brain keeps posing questions about things we’d rather not trouble ourselves to think about, and who asks them — that’s the person who can help you the most.

Can we finally accept that whether you put your faith in science or Genesis, whoever’s running the show created human beings with amazing gifts that we (and they) would be foolish to overlook or to squander?

Employers who’d snap up the CDO aerospace/coffee guy will win, because they understand that the good stuff comes when we celebrate what’s quirky and peculiar about people, rather than denying those things.

Can your organization rise to the occasion?

2 replies
  1. Cari Coleman
    Cari Coleman says:

    Yes! If employers embrace people’s quirks and find ways to utilize them to positive advantage, everybody wins. Humans have differences for a reason; we are compliments, not total opposites or cookie-cutter clones.

  2. Crystal Woods
    Crystal Woods says:

    This article reminds me of a quote I’ve been loving lately, by Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point). “If everyone has to think outside the box, maybe it is the box that needs fixing.”


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