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Change Work April 2010

People are all the same - as well as being completely different!

Have I mentioned that this is my fiftieth newsletter?  Now I know that this milestone probably doesn't matter to you, the reader, so why does it matter to me?

We measure our lives by such events - even though the number fifty is only significant by virtue of the accident that we use a number system based on ten, so any multiple of ten feels like an important number.  And fifty is halfway to the very special number: ten tens.

Apart from numbers, we respect certain periods of time.  So, the notion of an anniversary is very important in our culture, reflecting as it does our ancient preoccupation with the seasons.  Counting the number of complete cycles (years) since a significant event happened is a way of measuring large chunks of time, perhaps comparable with a lifetime.

It so happens that this month, as well as a milestone, also sees an anniversary for me.  It was April 2003 when I left my full-time job and started my own business.  Another key event for me that doesn't matter to you!

Which just goes to show that we each focus on a different aspect of what's happening at any moment.  And this is the basis of the title of this article:

People are all the same

 ... by which I mean that any individual is just as likely to exhibit a particular behaviour, prefered thinking style or preoccupation as any other.  So, in this sense we are all the same - and this is true irrespective of background, race, education or job.

 - as well as being completely different!

... by which I mean that when you compare two individuals they will most likely differ in many of these characteristics.  So, in that sense we are all different.  And unless you're very well acquainted, it's usually a mistake to assume that you know how or what another person thinks about anything.  And I'd go so far as to say that it's ALWAYS a mistake to assume they think the same as you!  Or that they are interested in the same things you are.

There's an old trick in management training to ask a group of inexperienced managers to write down a list of factors that motivate them in their jobs.  You then get them to list what they think motivates their team members.  When you reveal their lists you usually find that most claim to be themselves motivated by "job satisfaction" and similar concepts whilst they assume that those "beneath" them are mostly interested in money.  On reflection, most will accept that motivating factors are not job-specific.

In coaching, I've also found that essentially the same problems and barriers arise for all individuals irrespective of their position in their organisation.  In retrospect this is completely obvious but even now I still find that my initial expectations are coloured to some degree by the context.  I have to stop myself assuming that a director will have different problems from a junior.  The different context hides the underlying structure.

So people don't fall into neat categories, defined by their jobs.  What separates us into groups to some extent are our ways of doing things - the processes and patterns that we have learnt and use habitually.  These are the things that tend to select us for particular roles.  Even though these patterns can be changed, most of us assume that they can't be and treat them as in-born, permanent characteristics of our "type".

By analogy with genetic make-up, people draw from the same pool of possible behaviours, preferences and interests - but end up with a unique, different mix.  I would argue that "personality types" cut across so many of these attributes that no two individuals can have the same "type".

(Of course, the gene analogy breaks down when you consider that the attributes we're referring to are virtually all learnt rather than inherited!)

Now, looking ahead, by the time the May edition of Change Work appears we'll have a new government in the UK - or perhaps the old one trying to look new!  Whatever the outcome of the election, there's plenty for our representatives to do so let's hope that some of them at least turn out to be of the "right type".

We already knew that "politicians are all the same".  Strange to think that we all are - as well as being completely different!