Perusing Reddit this week, I found this delightful image of a baby goat, embodying the essence of stubbornness. All at once, the cuteness warmed my heart and reminded me of a certain little boy who often made similar faces.
When I was about eight years old, I spent a cold winter’s weekend by myself at my Grandmother’s house. It was just after Christmas and I was excited to play with my new Cowboys and Indians play set. It was complete with horses, cacti and red stone boulders — the works.
For this particular playdate, Grandma selected the cowboys and I chose to play the Indians. Right away, I noticed that she was not playing the way I thought she “should.” It was the late 1970’s and I imagine nearly every young boy had watched hours and hours of Westerns on TV. Wanting to emulate what I saw, I became demanding and attempted to force her to play according to my vision.
Grandma, of course, wasn’t going to take any of that. She suggested that we take a break, get bundled up, and go on a little walk. A massive snow storm had just rolled through our area of western New York state. The snow drifts were high, and the air was crisp and cold. We hiked quietly through her massive backyard, Grandma setting the path and I walking behind.
We headed toward what looked like a veritable forest of trees in her backyard. Due to the storm, many of them looked worse for wear. Branches were strewn everywhere having been broken by the heavy weight of the wet snow and ice.
My Grandmother eventually stopped and pointed to two trees that were standing side-by-side. One of them was a young and healthy tree, the other was an older, damaged tree. She explained that when trees got older they became more and more rigid. When the thick wet snow landed on their branches, it weighed them down until they eventually snapped. She then pointed to the young tree with all its limbs intact. Taking one of its branches, she bent it with great force and allowed it to snap back into its original position. Grandma told me when the snow landed on the young tree, its branches also bent under the weight. But instead of breaking, the limbs had the flexibility to bounce back.
I remember looking up at my Grandmother in that moment and having one of my first “ah ha” moments. There was an instant understanding of what she was teaching me (and, to this day, I also marvel at how cleverly she did it!). Back at her house, after some hot cocoa, we played Cowboys and Indians again. This time, however, I didn’t object to how she chose to play. I remember being delighted at the creativity and fun that came about from the combination of our two styles.
As adults, it’s easy (and sometimes feels safer) to stick to our familiar systems, processes, habits, and thought patterns, to surround ourselves with people who we know will always agree with us, or act in a manner we expect. But being too rigid might cause us to lose the best people in our business, miss an opportunity for a new revenue stream, or lose a quality friendship. Rigidity also prevents us from benefiting from all the diversity that comes from creativity, new ideas, and new experiences.
Flexibility, on the other hand, regularly rewards us with surprises and discoveries. When we are less concerned with holding onto our position, like those old tree branches, we are more willing to bend and look at things from another perspective, we become more open to the plethora of options that surround us.
Even though some aspects of our society seem to encourage tribalism and siloed thinking, scientific research consistently delivers evidence that diversity of people, experiences, and perspectives delivers improved outcomes.
- A study from Tufts University revealed that mock juries of people of mixed races (white and black in this case) deliberated longer, raised more facts about the case, and conducted broader deliberations than single-race panels.
- In a study from Northwestern and BYU, researchers created two groups of participants to solve a murder mystery. One set of groups knew each other from the same frat or sorority, and another set of groups were new people with either a similar background or an unfamiliar background. While the more diverse groups reported feeling less confident in their opinions and outcomes, due to the need to evaluate new perspectives, they were more likely to correctly identify the murderer than those with uniform members.
- Research out of INSEAD, a global business school, revealed living abroad, and not just traveling, could be a significant predictor that a one-to-one negotiation would result in a creative agreement
Often this stubbornness disguises itself as “I know what’s best for me,” “I know what’s right,” or “I’m strong enough to go it alone.” However, when we have these thoughts, it’s important to stop and evaluate exactly why we are reacting that way. Even to this day, when I notice myself being resistant to opening up to a new idea, or way of doing something, I think back to that time in my Grandmother’s backyard and do my best to practice the insight she revealed to me.
In what aspect of your life are you thumbing your nose to the world, like that little goat in the photo? This week, take a moment to evaluate how this approach is serving you, and how it is holding you back from gaining what you want. Then, explore the people or resources available to you that could help you improve the diversity of your thinking, and gain a new outlook on the situation. Put what you learn into practice and observe what improvements result from it.
“The stubborn listens [to] no one’s advice and becomes a victim of his own delusions” — Aesop
“Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds. I have always kept an open mind, a flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of the intelligent search for truth.” — Malcolm X