This weekend my wife and I spent a whole day with three of her classmates from high school and their spouses in the serene surrounds of the lake Sammamish,WA . We were meeting for the first time 49 years after their high school graduation. We discussed a wide range of topics including technology, design, poetry, philosophy, politics and spirituality. The most remarkable aspect of the conversations was the respectful and sincere curiosity for understanding each other’s point of view. These conversations were unlike many other recent experiences I have had where discussions about politics and religion often lead to polarization and hardening of attitudes. In yesterdays conversations each of us was more interested in hearing other person’s point of view than promoting our own. When one point of view seemed at variance with another, we were able to compare the two perspectives and search for why we were seeing the same situation with different lenses. We realized that we have all developed a humanitarian, sensible, and non confrontational mindset from half a century of life experience post high school graduation. This mindset allowed us to find a common ground for understanding, accommodating and respecting each other’s perspectives.
While we were in the middle of our conversations I received a text from a client and a friend in which he commented,
“ My current challenge is learning how not to give in to my ego when I am surrounded by leaders who are ego driven — what is an effective way to show up in that environment.”
“What a co-incidence!” I thought to myself. “I am experiencing a unique moment of finding a common ground with the right mental framework and filters. If we were to create such a dialogue in professional settings we could tap into three core capacities we all have in us- Curiosity, Compassion and creativity.”
Curiosity is our ability to seek new information with the openness to learn and grow from it.
The biggest barrier to being curious is our predisposition to conformity.
We can learn to be more curious if we learn to observe without judgement. The great Indian philosopher J Krishnamurti calls it “complete observation”. In his view our thoughts get in the way of complete observation. On the other hand if we learn to sense and store what is around us and not push ourselves to make sense of what we observe until the meaning of what we observe reveals itself at the right time, we can increase our capacity to harness our curiosity.
Compassion is the capacity we all have to understand someone’s suffering and the instinct that capacity produces to help overcome it.
Our ego blinds us to the suffering of others. It can prompt us to cause or aggravate other people’s suffering and pain. The most “effective way to show up in that environment” is to help create an awareness that cultivating the practice of temporarily shifting the perspectives we each hold and seeing with other people’s lenses can help us all arrive at a shared purpose and a more accommodative mindsets.
Creativity is not an exclusive competency of those trained in creative techniques. It is the ability to recognize possibilities when confronted with problems, status quo or ambiguity.
The fear of exploring the unknown and unfamiliar and of the risk of failure keeps us all from being open to possibilities.
Developing tolerance for ambiguity, a penchant for delving in chaos, and the ability to stay with a question until the answer presents itself will help us cultivate our creativity.
The dialogue and reflections of the weekend have brought to me a few simple insights, which I want to share with you,
- Holding a variety of perspectives enriches a dialogue
- A dialogue creates a common ground for understanding and action.
- Conformity, ego and fear are key barriers to finding a common ground
- We can become more curious, compassionate and creative through observing, shifting of perspectives and cultivating capacity to explore possibilities in ambiguity.