What’s Your “Unconscious Normal?”

What's Your Unconscious Normal business leadership cultureThe other day as I was meeting with a client he was expressing frustration with the differences in cultures within his workforce and the problems it has been causing the company. Although he has tried many things, nothing seems to be able to bridge the beliefs that his employees have about themselves and one another.

Rather than try to solve the problem at that moment, I got to thinking about why this was happening not just at his company, but seemingly everywhere these days. There is so much discord over race, beliefs and politics that there doesn’t seem to be much room for conversation to arrive at solutions. Instead there is a lot of rhetoric about why one view is “right” and another “wrong.” The reality is that at a high level, points-of-view are neither right nor wrong, they are simply different perspectives that each believes to be the right one. I am going to call this phenomenon the “unconscious normal.” We are so polarized these days, (and I believe it has a lot to do with the constant barrage of media in all forms), and we look for justification for our point-of-view, or unconscious normal, and rarely consider any others.

I once heard someone say that rather than change our beliefs or viewpoint, we go to work finding facts to reinforce our point-of-view. This is a result of our socialization which then forms our unconscious normal. Many countries’ populations grow up believing another culture or race is bad or wrong, and because of this focus they will find evidence that validates their perspective. If you grew up with very little money but were happy, this was your normal, if unhappy, that was yours. Even if our experiences weren’t ideal, it’s what we knew. Some go on to learn more, gather more data and realize that what they were taught might have been short-sighted and change their point-of-view. Take climate change as an example, there are some who absolutely refuse to believe the science and there are others who think we’re on the cusp of disaster. Somewhere in the middle is likely the real truth. Until we find the middle, conversations are going to continue to be about who is right and who is wrong.

The Collective Unconscious Normal

In companies, the collective mindset or culture is also an “unconscious normal.” I’ve written about Amazon recently and their culture and how some of the employees don’t even realize how different it is than other organizations and that it might not be right for them. I think we all need to look at our lives, our companies and our staff and see what our “unconscious normal” mindset is and what behavior has developed as a result and determine whether or not it serves us. It shows up when you look at a process and wonder why you are doing it that way and someone says “we’ve always done it that way.” The entire theory behind Lean Manufacturing is to continue to question and change processes with efficiency in mind and involve the whole team in the process. This is a method for breaking “unconscious normal behavior” and look what amazing results it can produce.

Unconscious normal for each of us is different and it’s neither right nor wrong. The real question is – is it in service of your goal or purpose? Maybe it’s time to ask yourself the question.