Five men are walking across the Golden Gate Bridge on an outing organized by their wives who are college friends. The women move ahead in animated conversation. One man describes the engineering involved in the bridge’s long suspension. Another points to the changing tide lines below. A third asked if they’ve heard of the new phone apps for walking tours. The fourth observes how refreshing it is to talk with people who aren’t lawyers like him.
It is also no surprise that we instinctively look for those who share our interests. This is especially true in times of increasing pressure and uncertainty. We have an understandable tendency in such times to seek out the familiar and comfortable as a buffer against the disruptive changes surrounding us. In so doing we can inadvertently put ourselves in a cage of similarity that narrows our peripheral vision of the world and our options.
The result? We can be blindsided by events and trends coming at us from directions we did not see.
The Big Sort author, Bill Bishop , provides a compelling view of population movements in the United States over the past several decades. He shows that Americans are increasingly seeking out neighborhoods where people share them same political and cultural values, right down to the cars they drive and the movies they watch. We become more polarized when we hang out with others who act right – like us, often missing the pieces that could give us a more complete view of a situation.
Instead we become more certain we are right.
We are reducing our peripheral vision and creating what Jonathan Haidt calls a more contentious culture. That’s a barrier to the most fruitful, satisfying kind of collaboration: individuals sharing a sweet spot of mutual interest, leveraging value because they view the situation from different vantage points.
That where the richest, most unexpected camaraderie springs up as we experience different sides of our selves, responding to others who don’t always act right – like us.
Worse yet, to generate more value for advertisers, many of the sites we visit attempt to silo us around our similarities. They do this by tracking what we most watch and click on, to most visibly present more of the same kind of topics and people we seem to like. That discovery inspired Eli Pariser to write The Filter Bubble .
Here are five ways to keep honing your talents, growing, staying flexible and open to new ideas and pulling in comrades for fresh adventures.
1. We each have many facets to ourselves, found Rita Carter, author of Multiplicity. Create more adventures in your unfolding life story by cultivating diverse friendships, matching more of your facets with others in ways that bring out the best temperament and talents in each other. What a waste to let parts of yourself atrophy. That’s akin to not using all the features on a favorite product or experiencing other sides of your friends and colleagues.
2. With strangers — especially those who are different than your usual crowd – you can project a different part of your personality, discovered the authors of Consequential Strangers, Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman. As you act differently, so will others will respond differently, than usual to you, sometimes sparking unexpected turns to the conversation and your perspective on a situation.
3. Participate in organizations that feed your diverse passions and enable you to hone your strengths in them. Marci Albohor shared stories of individuals with “multiple professions and multiple identities can converge into a unified–and better–life” in her book, One Person/Multiple Careers, now re-released by her as an eBook.
4. If you are part of a large association, synagogue, civic group or special interest club, encourage the organization to support the creation of self-organized, special interest groups of no more than seven people, providing a few suggestions of they could operate. Provide a private-to-the-organization online community where groups can compare notes on what they are learning, ways to self-organize and offer and ask for help from other groups.
Such loosely affiliated small groups within a larger organization deepen a sense of belonging, help more people learn from diverse others and stay open to growing through that shared learning and collaboration. That’s one way members of Rick Warren’s large Saddleback Church have maintained a close-knit feeling yet continue to grow in fresh ways, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s account of the cellular church. I’ve found that many of Mark Howell’s ideas for how churches thrive through fostering small groups can be adapted to other organizations.
Similarly the innovative outdoor gear company Gore-Tex has nimbly grown by using their version of self-organized teams of 150 or less within the larger corporation. In fact, they give grants to those who further their learning about that philosophy when adapted to outdoor adventure, traveling in compact groups of “close friends who had mutual respect and trust for one another.”
5. Share an experience with a former foe in an unfamiliar situation. Because George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have quite different beliefs and temperaments, they probably learned more from each other during their joint visit to earthquake-stricken Haiti in 2010. They could observe different ways of interacting with people as well as of collecting ideas about how to help the situation.
Leo Tolstoy wrote that, “Once we’ve thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost; but it’s only here that the new and the good begins.” why not seek out opportunities to share an experience with others who have different talents, opinions and ways of operating in the world. I learn more and can hone other sides of myself I’d let slide because of getting stuck in a rut of habit. That’s one of the lessons from Jim Collins: “What often gets in the way of being great is being good at something.”
My goals are more modest, perhaps.
I’ll settle for the sometimes fractious yet often adventuresome times with people who, because they don’t act right like me, spark conversations and experiences where we can see ourselves and this wondrous life in fresh ways. And, yes, we sometimes accomplish something greater together than we can on our own, That makes life more satisfying and more meaningful.