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It Looks the Same to Me!

Do you tend to see what you've always seen? Do your past experiences prevent you from seeing things from a fresh perspective? Beware: limited perceptions can create some powerful mind traps.

Let me share a few related stories from Robert Pirsig the author of the philosophical masterpieces Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Lila.

The Platypus: The Limitations of Classification

In Lila, Pirsig recalls how early zoologists classified animals who suckled their young as mammals and those that laid eggs as reptiles. This simple split into two possible worlds worked extremely well until someone discovered the humble platypus who laid eggs like a perfectly good reptile but after the eggs hatched, suckled their young just like a perfectly good mammal. The reaction of the scientific community was to describe the platypus as a strange and unusual freak of nature. But the platypus had been laying eggs and suckling their young for millions of years before scientists deemed it illegal. The lesson here is that our classification systems and/or our natural predispositions can be extremely self limiting. Don't create your own platypus with limited thinking. Be open to more possibilities. As Paul Simon observed, "there are 50 ways to leave your lover" so there are probably a few different ways to view what happens around you.

The South Indian Monkey Trap:

This Pirsig example in Zen, describes how monkeys can be trapped by their own value rigidity. A coconut is hollowed out and chained to a stake. A hole is made on the other end of the coconut and rice is placed inside as bait. The hole is big enough for the monkey to get it's hand in but small enough that the monkey can't remove it's hand when it's formed a fist around the rice. The monkey has the ability to free itself from the trap at any time by simply letting go of the rice. But the desire for the rice is so strong the monkey traps itself. Does this remind you of any time when customers, suppliers, service providers or even your organization acted in a similar illogical fashion?

Years ago, provocative basketball star Dennis Rodman made a few disparaging remarks about the ability of Larry Bird implying that he had no real talent and was the most over-rated player in the game. When, then Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden was asked about Mr. Rodman's remark, he replied "we've got to get him a better seat because he's not seeing the same Larry Bird that I am." Sometimes it's a good idea to change our seat so we can gain a different perspective.

In summary, our perceptions and their rigidity limit how we view and perform in the world. Keep your eyes flexible and wide open.