Quite some days ago a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt came into my focus:
Great minds discuss ideas,
Average minds discuss events,
Small minds discuss people.
Nice, isn’t it? I personally prefer open discussions where everybody is free to address his or her ideas, whatever comes to his or her mind. I expect almost everybody will agree. The question is, what happens if you select a couple of great minds randomly from our planet put them together in a room and observe how things are evolving. How do they know that it’s safe to share their ideas? How do they know that the others in the room are also great minds? This question does not come out of the blue. Let me share an experience with you I made some years ago.
When I entered that specific organization whose name I’m not going to disclose, they were discussing people. They were literally discussing people in the boardroom. Whenever something went wrong or any outcome was below expectations somebody was blamed, preferably blue-collar staff. It was not the “Hey we have a problem – How can we solve it – How can we make sure it’s not going to hit us a second time” kind of approach. It was always a he or she who was the root cause and was accused and needed to change behavior. And guess what, what happens in the boardroom happens at all other levels and locations within the company as well. Sooner or later it will permeate into the entire organization.
This is the point where the question arises. Does that imply that the entire organization consists only of simple or small minds? Was it the fault of the individual people? What would have happened to my mind if I had stayed long enough and listened? In fact it was the company culture that over the years drifted away and made room for such kind of behavior. It was an old habit. The company culture drove the individual people’s behavior. It was the answer to the “What makes the people behave the way they behave?”-question.
It was a stony and bumpy road to change the culture and to get them to a habit of open discussions, an atmosphere where people are safe to speak and share their ideas and raise their questions. It was worth each extra mile! Besides a much more relaxed and fun working atmosphere it did pay off in other areas as well. It helped to increase the quality and to foster innovation as ideas where shared and discussed, tested and rolled-out.
Why is it important for me? I have tons of ideas and as well questions. And I am far from being an expert in every topic. In fact I am more the exploring kind of guy, looking for fresh input, new experiences meaning new businesses and industries all the time. Very likely I’ll step into something as a rookie with ideas and questions on top of my head.
Early on in my professional career I experienced this open culture at The Boston Consulting Group aka BCG. It was a supportive environment, where ideas could be openly discussed, questions could be raised without any fear of failure. Was that due to the fact that we were surrounded only by great minds? If you would ask anybody at BCG, I’m sure they would immediately confirm that there are only great minds. But it was also a cultural topic. Since then it is hard wired to my leadership style and closely related to my personal WHY.
If you want to build a lasting business which creates sustainable value, you need a culture of open discussions, a culture of trust. That is enabling an organization for agility and to create continuous innovations. Great minds are less a matter of their brains and the IQ of the people, it is more about their behavior and attitude. Foster a culture of great minds which are open to discuss ideas, and you will automatically create a sustainable organization.
It is as easy as this, but also quite tough in reality. Isn’t it? Did you ever try? It is worth trying.