The problem and opportunity: We seem to be experiencing a crisis of misunderstanding in too many workplaces and society overall. Today, it is too convenient and comfortable to stay in one’s “bunker,” looking at the world exclusively through our own perspective. Wonderful internet based tools like FaceTime, or other live streaming apps are helpful, yet we are limited by the chair we’re perched on. We see what the camera angle allows us to see. Our body and mind works as such a powerful observation machine, the more sensual context the better. If not, we can spend a lot of time communicating with a blow horn, hoping the other “gets it.” Sometimes the screen is just not enough of a connection.
Story: This past week I went to a board orientation where I visited people working in the “field,” and the control center where the network brains of the operation blink and flash. I listened in on a customer service call and I could not have fully appreciated this customer’s positive surprise unless I actually heard his voice exclaim, “you mean you can fix it today? Wow, that’s great!” I also attended Singularity Summit Canada, where 1,000 plus people gathered and then went over to our office where people watched the same event via live stream. The fact that people around the world can virtually participate is pretty cool, yet each experience is obviously quite different. We can’t (so far) transport 1,000 people’s collective energy, and that leaves a presence gap. This weekend I also read a wonderful journalist’s story about his learning adventure to really understand what the average American was feeling about the state of the country. He visited and talked to people in bars and other watering holes through the middle of the country. Having a beer and crawfish with a stranger miles from home builds a bridge that one can’t get from reading the New Yorker, and sipping a macchiato on high street. These collective experiences reinforced my need for more intentional personal grounding. Maybe you need a little more too?
What we can do about it:
- Whenever possible, we need to get out of our chairs and do what the Japanese refer to as going to Genba (現場, also known as Gemba), a term meaning “the actual place.” The idea is that to really understand someone’s situation, going to Gemba (where they actually are) and using all of one’s senses to observe and listen is usually an eye opening journey.
- Whenever we want to better understand each other, we need to see and visit each other’s “actual.” Invest in being WITH the other, whenever possible. Do not limit yourself to statistics, data, and other facts. Go to Gemba. Look and FEEL from the other’s perspective. It is a vital part of learning and understanding, not just about the other, but ourselves as well. Decide to do that with someone you are trying to better understand this week! Don’t put it off.
Think BIG. Start Small. Act Now!
One Millennial View: You might be thinking, “well where am I going to find the time or resources to attempt to access any sort of Gemba?” Which I think is a fair question. I suppose the idea is that we don’t need to sleep outside in the streets to visualize the perspective of a homeless person, but at least the idea of THINKING about another person’s point of view is more valuable than staying in our own bubbles.
Edited and published by Garrett Rubis