Getting Beyond Stereotypes

Greetings.  Let me start this post with the following joke:

What did the Black guy, the Latino guy and the Asian guy all have in common? 

Believe it or not, they all liked cantaloupe.

Probably not what you expected.  Because all of us have been conditioned to think about people in terms of the stereotypes–both good and bad–that we hold.  And these stereotypes tend to come out at parties, picnics, bars, other social events and even at the office when we think it's okay to be funny at someone else's expense.    

Which is probably why I find this joke, or anti-joke, and others like it to be so very helpful in thinking about people, innovation, collaboration, leadership, learning, the customer experience and the real keys to business and personal success.  And I also find it to be more than slightly funny.

Too often we are quick to pass judgment about other people based on their cultural backgrounds, personality types, jobs or roles, training, politics and a host of other things that make them "different" from us and unlikely to be the perfect colleagues, collaborators, bosses, business partners and potential customers we hope for. And if they happen to be strangers we are likely to place even greater emphasis on these stereotypes as instant deal-breakers that keep us from engaging them and gaining their perspectives and insights.

Even though we are all very similar.  Similar enough to connect as humans if given the chance.  And different enough, if also given the chance, to add real value in stretching our thinking about the best ways to solve pressing problems or create new opportunities.  But not different because of our stereotypes.  Different because of the unique richness of who we are and how and what we think.

So just as we should cast a wider net in our search for ideas, we should also cast a wider net in our openness to connecting in meaningful ways with a broader circle of people–in our own workplaces and beyond.

Cantaloupe-vitamin-c-lg 

We win in business and in life when we get beyond stereotypes.  And when we allow our unremarkable similarities to open the door to our remarkable differences.

Cheers!  And if you'll excuse me, I think I'll have a slice of cantaloupe.