General George S. Patton once said “If everyone is thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking.” I think a key trait of the truly STRATEGIC human resources professional is to be a nonconformist in a conformist role. That to me is the essence of “thinking outside the box.” But to be able to do that you have to be exposed to more than just your way of thinking. You need to be exposed to other people’s thoughts. You especially need to seek out and read or listen to things that people say that are contrary to what you think. That is how you become a better strategic thinker. As a strategic thinker you need to look at situations from all angles, but how can you do that if you have not reviewed differing points of view or considered opinions that are different from your own?
I write about this because recently we had someone sign up to get our blog announcement and then immediately unsubscribed. She sent an email explaining “…I just subscribed to this list, but didn’t realize the anti-labor and conservative bent of the organization. I do not wish to receive the newsletter. ” She is of course correct. I do write anti-labor posts. I don’t think labor unions benefit business at all. And if by conservative she means that I don’t like as much government regulation as there is, she is again correct. That doesn’t mean I am against it all. Socially I am not so conservative, but no one sees that as I do not write about my social point of view. What I wondered about however, was that this attorney did not want to have any exposure to ideas contradictory to hers.
If you are a regular reader at all you know that I several times quoted or written about Robert Reich, the Secretary of Labor under President Clinton. In fact here is a link to his blog. I read his stuff all the time yet seldom agree with his point of view. BUT, I want to know what it is, because only by knowing opposing points of view can I judge the veracity of my point of view. As a result if my point of view is found wanting then I have an opportunity to change it if I deem it necessary. (BTW, this is one of the things that bothers me about the current political debates. Candidates are being dinged for expressing a point of view that is different from one they expressed 20 years ago. Hell, I want a candidate whose ideas have evolved over 20 years, not someone who is stuck in a 20 year old rut.)
So getting to my tip on how to be a better strategic thinker… seek out ideas that are different than the ones you hold and learn about them and learn from them. Seek out the contrarian. Be, or at least find, the nonconformist in a conformist profession. To my attorney reader, I am sorry you are not reading this because you will not now get exposed to things that might have made you a better attorney.
I will end with these two quotes, the first from writer Chistopher Morley and the second from writer and scientist Carl Sagan:
Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.
Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us – and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along.
Are you a nonconformist in the conformist HR world? BTW, what better day to post this on than February 29th!