A common purpose – the antidote to division

I sincerely doubt that any mainstream politician actually wants people to starve, have an unhappy existence or suffer ill health. However, many politicians portray each other with these warped ambitions.

Left or right, conservative or labour, republican or democrat; these terms are created to divide us. People spend years of their lives hurling insults at each other, endlessly debating ideological differences, but achieving very little. Agreement is difficult and positivity is futile.

The same happens in business.

Everyone has an opinion and they’re usually different. Added to that, a mix of cognitive responses ranging from fast and reactive to slow and analytical; committee-based decisions rarely get the full support they need to be successfully executed. Businesses talk a lot about “teams”, “communities” and “matrices”, but forcing people together is not going to build productive relationships.

Books such as “Thinking fast and slow” or “The Chimp Paradox” explain these phenomena better than I ever could.

How do we heal the divisions in business or politics and get stuff done?

If we assume that most people want a better quality of life and wish the same for others, that is a great starting point. We can probably help each other achieve that, which becomes a common purpose. No left or right dogma, just something tangible and universal.

In business that might mean providing a great customer experience that is also profitable to those who provide it. We aim to make the lives of others (and our own) better. Who couldn’t get behind that common purpose?

I spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring; something I find enjoyable and rewarding. I’ve observed a lot of different behaviours and approaches to team-building/bonding, but I’ve never observed an organisation that has succeeded by simply defining a common purpose and expecting people to just abandon their current opinions and beliefs.

There is a step we need to complete before we can even hope to achieve that harmony. We need to accept that we may have beliefs that might be wrong. We also need to give ourselves permission to challenge and possibly change those beliefs, without feeling shame or awkwardness.

When we first learnt how to do something new; such as riding a bike or playing a musical instrument, we had to challenge the reactive part of our brain with something new. We needed to accept that yes, it felt unnatural to ride a bike as our brain was telling us we didn’t know how to, but we wanted to challenge ourselves that maybe that was wrong and we could learn. It was scary, potentially embarrassing, but we were willing to accept those risks for the sake of a better life.

In business, as in politics, we should try to keep a bit of our younger selves alive. Every conversation being an opportunity to learn, to challenge our own beliefs and to strive for that common purpose we can all work towards together.


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