Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 21;   May 25, 2016: Wacky Words of Wisdom: Part V

Wacky Words of Wisdom: Part V

by

Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" are true often enough that we accept them as universal. They aren't. Here's Part V of some widely held beliefs that mislead us at work.
A bottlenose dolphin

A bottlenose dolphin. Humans aren't the only species that exhibit complex, cooperative behavior. Bottlenose dolphins have been trained to do complex tasks, such as locating marine mines, or helping commercial fisherman by driving fish into nets. They're also known for complex cooperative behavior in the wild. In the Southeastern United States, they've been observed cooperating in small groups by driving shoals of fish onto the beach, where they can then easily catch and eat them.

We've all heard them, starting before we could talk. We call them adages or words to live by. Outside our awareness, we do try to live by them, even though we know they aren't 100% true. To free ourselves, to open new possibilities and to recognize choices that might otherwise remain hidden, let's examine some of these slogans carefully. Here's Part V of an ongoing series.

Names can never hurt me
Possibly true in the schoolyard, but surely false at work. Perhaps the name itself can't hurt, but if the name enhances the distribution of a false belief about you, and people act on that belief in ways that harm you, then the name can hurt. False assertions, rumors, aspersions, slurs, and slander are harmful and dangerous.
Ignoring rumors and other falsehoods can appear to others to be a tacit admission that they're true. See "Responding to Rumors," Point Lookout for April 24, 2002, for suggestions for dealing with rumors.
Never give up hope
Remaining hopeful can be a successful approach to life, if what we hope for is always realizable. But most people, at some point in their lives, hold out hope for something that isn't realizable. For example, I found myself at one point hoping that my boss would stop being such a jerk. Despite my most fervent hopes, he remained a jerk.
Giving up hoping for something that can never happen is wise. Be willing to adjust what you hope for if you're certain enough that what you've been hoping for is no longer realizable. Pick a new hope — something even more wonderful than the old hope.
No committee ever created anything truly innovative
A hint that this adage is false is its breathtaking generality. But even if we were to tone it down, we can easily imagine developing a powerful group ideation process that properly trained groups could use effectively.
We humans "Names can never hurt me"
in the schoolyard, maybe.
But they can certainly
hurt at work.
have a long history of superior performance when we work together. It's a defining characteristic of our species. What doesn't work so well is unstructured problem solving by loosely defined groups. If a group finds the right way to work together, its performance can amaze.
Competition is the only path to superior performance
Healthy, respectful competition can bring out the best in us. Unhealthy, cutthroat competition can bring out the worst. Some people thrive on competition; others don't. Certainly some competitions have produced results of unquestionable value, while others have produced results of significantly lesser value.
Competition isn't inherently good or bad. Whether it's a good choice for a working environment depends on the objective, the resources available, and the people involved. When the objective is challenging, when resources are limited, and when the people know how to cooperate, collaboration will likely produce better results than competition.

Subscribing to over-generalized beliefs is like closing the doors to the rooms in your home. If you open the doors, you magically get more space. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Workplace Anti-Patterns  Next Issue

For more examples, see "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: Part II," Point Lookout for June 6, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: Part III," Point Lookout for July 11, 2012, and "Wacky Words of Wisdom: Part IV," Point Lookout for August 5, 2015.

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