Be the person your intern hopes that you are
Do you remember how it felt the first time you stepped into your office? Or any office? Do you remember when all of the things you take for granted now were new and confusing and you weren’t sure if you were allowed to ask questions? There is an old saw that we should try to be the people that our dogs think we are but I wonder whether our reputations might benefit if instead we tried to see ourselves through the eyes of our graduate selves, or perhaps the current office intern. After all, your customers, investors and potential employees don't see the world in the same way that you do.
As we create careers in the corporate world, there are foundational truths that we accept. Heuristics that we absorb in order to speed up our reasoning processes The reasons why companies are structured as they are – totally mystifying on that first day – become ‘obvious’. Depending on your role, you have also layered on ‘facts’ about how recruitment is conducted, the way the financial system keeps running, how press releases are written, the way in which procurement proceeds… Each fact contributing a thin layer of shellac to your corporate armour, each corporate reality painting you into a world where it is really hard to see things from the point of view of the intern, or the customer, or the journalist. They don’t understand. After a while it is difficult even to remember that the armour is there. This is when blind spots form and communication breaks down.
So here is a short exercise to try:
Pause. Forget the ‘line to take’ and put yourself in the shoes of your graduate intern, or your customer, or the woman who sold you coffee this morning. Remember what you thought when you were still at university before you had been told what things were like in the real world. When you look at the world from this point of view, everything and everyone looks a bit different. Maybe it all looks a bit more distasteful. You know about the compromises and so do your colleagues but often they have become so commonplace that we forget the human impact, and forget that to an outsider with fresh eyes the ‘challenges’ of cleaning up our act seem more like an excuse than a justification for the status quo. Tune in to that feeling. Is there anything that makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable? Anything you wouldn’t want to explain to that intern?
You are back in the room.
Now go fix it.