'Difference' – The Key To Effective Dialogue
The video below is one of the most famous experiments of human perception in history. For those who haven’t seen the video before please watch it before you read any further…
Obviously once you’ve done the experiment once you can never ‘reset’ yourself to watch it for the first time again. Still, each time I rediscover this experiment I can clearly remember the first time I watched it.
To me now and to anyone watching the video for the second or any subsequent time it seems impossible that something so obvious could escape attention, but 50% of participants fail to see the gorilla march straight through centre-stage!
Of course the reason it can happen is because we are all wired to notice different stimulus. What attracts me as I interact with my surroundings almost certainly will not be the same things that attract you. Or as the creators of the experiment describe:
"This experiment reveals two things: that we are missing a lot of what goes on around us, and that we have no idea that we are missing so much." (Daniel Simons & Christopher Chabris)
The Gorilla Experiment & Collaboration
If we are all attracted to different stimulus and (as the video demonstrates) we are all missing a lot of what is going around us, then it stands to reason that at any given time whatever I am missing is being noticed by someone around me.
When you really stop and think about it this is the essence of collaboration – if you notice what I miss and I notice what you miss, why don’t we share our perspectives and notice it all?
The ‘Useful Outsider’
Movies love to back an underdog. One of the ways they do it is by showing us characters who spend most of the story as sidekicks, second-stringers or outsiders who ultimately save the day through their tendency to look at things in a different way from those around them. They notice things that others don’t which almost always proves crucial at vital times.
All of the characters shown in the graphic to the left are evidence of that. ‘Kung-Fu-Panda-the-clumsy’, ‘Robin-the-thoughtful’, ‘Samwise-the-simple-thinker’ and ‘Donkey-the-pest’ all save the day in their own ways by thinking or acting differently from the stars of their team.
Hollywood often feed us clues throughout a story, tipping us off to the fact that we should be heeding what the black sheep of the group is doing and that he will be invaluable in the time of need.
How To Include The ‘Black Sheep Thinkers’ In Your Team
The phrase ‘collaboration by difference’ was coined by Cathy Davidson, professor at Duke University and author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. She has an excellent video which explains the concept here.
In a nutshell collaboration by difference is about structuring meetings and group conversations so that the outlier, black sheep or oddball can be heard. If they are drowned out valuable and constructive thoughts and suggestions will continually be overlooked. This translates to groupthink and ultimately to opportunities lost. In a Team Alchemy setting ‘collaboration by difference’ falls under the Dialogue section of our TA Model.
So how do we make sure the quiet, dissident or disruptive voices have occasions to be heard and to share the opportunities they possess? Here are three key ways…
- Air Differences Democratically: Ensure that everyone in the meeting uses the same method to present their thoughts. Davidson recommends using cards labelled ‘worries’ and ‘opportunities I can provide’ which every single person in the team fills out and returns at the beginning of the meeting. No names are attributed to the cards, and in this way every individual has equal opportunity to express their concerns about the project and any ways in which they see they can personally add value.
- Let Non-Experts Speak First: Davidson cites an example of meetings she facilitates between children and technology experts about technology in the digital age. She says the tutors and administrators always spend the first half of any meeting listening to the students first. Davidson says when she flips the relationship between the expert and the novice she realises the kids can teach her and her team much more about the opportunities of the digital age than she ever expected.
- Have a ‘Tell Us What We’re Missing’ Officer: Immediately prior to the commencement of a meeting the facilitator draws a name from the hat of one person in the group who must reflect at the end of the discussion and raise points that have been missed. The intent is to deliberately place a focus on things that have not been addressed. By selecting the Officer randomly it ensures that the role won’t just be left to the most vocal and outspoken of the group as is often the case.
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All of us would like to think that we would notice if a gorilla walked straight through our line of vision. It has been proven that 50% of us don’t.
While that is shocking what worries me more is this…
Of the 50% who don’t ‘see the gorilla’, 100% of them don’t even know that it has been there, and so therefore it doesn’t even occur to ask those who have seen the gorilla about it. How much are we missing at any given time that those around us could make us aware of?
The skillset necessary for 'collaboration by difference' is underutilised, yet when done successfully they give an essential wide-angled view of the collective experience. By learning to structure ways that the 'Kung-Fu Pandas' or 'Robins' in our teams can be heard we learn to tap into the often wasted resources of the quiet, dissident or the disruptive.
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© 2013 Team Alchemy. Click here to read about the Team Alchemy writers.