So, I’m sitting in the hotel cocktail lounge having a drink, watching the attendees of a conference mix and mingle, connect and commiserate.
In my line of work, I have seen this a thousand times — it happens at every business function. Each convention requires a time to get the troops together and socialize.
(It’s one element of why online meetings will never completely replace in-person ones. You cannot shake hands over a video screen.)
As I observe them, I notice absolutely zero difference between this group and others I see in my business many times each year — and have for the past thirty years.
Yet, there IS something different. I am in Australia, not the U.S. I am over ten thousand miles from my home. And, quite candidly, except for the attire, it was exactly the same when I was in Bahrain earlier this year.
(At the Crowne Plaza there, the band in the lounge played cover tunes of all the familiar songs of the day — and days gone by — and people talked, laughed, and shared. Exactly like every other meeting — or hotel — you have ever been to.)
I have to admit: I would have had an infinitely smaller grasp on how much people around the world have in common if I had not had the opportunity and privilege to travel and see it for myself.
Good grief, during the time and at the place where I grew up, we thought — and were taught — people from thirty miles south — the Kentuckians — were different from Hoosiers. (I am deadly serious. And, based upon where I lived, guess which group I was taught was superior?) The Arabs or the Aussies had to be practically Aliens if the people from Frankfort were so dissimilar from us…right?
And, while I am somewhat reticent to admit it, in my house it was also presented as a “fact of life” that the Nazarenes were “not like us Methodists” — and for goodness sakes, don’t even think about the Catholics. As a kid in Kindergarden, I still remember my parents — “yellow dog Democrats” to perfection — really having trouble voting for John Kennedy because of their incredible belief (held by many back then) that he would be required by his faith to follow the Pope rather than the Constitution.
Believing people are “different” simply because they live somewhere else, believe something else, work someplace else, or desire somewhat more has the “genes,” so to speak — the same foundation — as racism. It all springs from an identical, hideous place: If it is not like us, it must be either inferior…or feared…or, even worse, both.
Similar reasoning is often used to explain why we would refuse to learn from a company outside our industry (“You don’t understand, they’re not like us!”)…listen to someone twenty years younger (“She doesn’t have my experience, what the hell could she tell me?”)…grow from innovation. (“We’ve ALWAYS done it that way.”)
Somehow, we have developed a belief that to invite alternative perspective threatens our core. Instead, we should understand that if our core is so weak it cannot survive opposing concepts, we must be flawed in the first place.
Hopefully, this world in which we are now living — with easy travel and online connectivity — is teaching us the vastness of our similarity and the minuteness of our differences.
Yet, there is also a business lesson here. In most ways, your customers are no different than you.
When YOU are the customer, you want to be served and to have a compelling experience. Yet, it seems many want to run their business based upon reams of data and an internal focus that fails to serve the very people and organizations responsible for their existence.
Stop it. It’s silly.
The Kentuckians aren’t all that different from the Hoosiers, as much as it pains me to say it. Arabs, Aussies, and Americans have infinitely more in common than any differences that separate us.
An old boss of mine used to say, “You want to focus on the donut…or on the HOLE?”
Your business is about customers. And they are the same as you, regardless of their culture, location, or industry. Find ways to serve them better…don’t major in minutiae…quit focusing on the hole.