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I recently saw a recruitment agency post a question on Social Media –
“If you had the choice between two similar candidates, would you be more likely to hire the candidate who went to the same school as you?”

The answers were mixed – ‘yes, and I have’, ‘no my school was rubbish I don’t want anything to do with people from there’, ‘yes, but none of them want to work with me!’.

Many different beliefs.

Of course there’s no law against choosing someone or not based on their school, university, or any other background. Working in a previous company with someone is a very common reason for those people to end up working together in the future. It’s about trust and relationships, and safety.

And that’s the point with diversity. It’s scary. Different is scary.

Our primitive brain doesn’t like different. Different means danger. Different means you might not survive until tomorrow if you hang around with it. So given that one of the basic drivers of our primitive brain is to ensure we survive, this ‘diversity’ malarkey isn’t a very sensible option in its opinion.

I heard a great example of this from Pen Hadow, the explorer, who was telling us about the time when a polar bear caught his scent and was heading towards him across the ice.

recruitment polar bear metaphor

As far as polar bears are concerned their world consists of ice and seals. Ice is white and doesn’t move. Seals are dark and do move. That’s it. It’s that simple. So this polar bear had spotted something dark which moved – brilliant! Supper time!!

To fend off the bear, Pen had learnt that he had to do anything possible to be different. He had to make himself as unlike a seal as he could. This involved standing up as tall as he could, holding his skis above his head, waving them around and making lots of noise in any way possible.

The polar bear thinks, hmmm, seals don’t normally look that big, and they don’t normally make that much noise. This different stuff could be dangerous! I’m outta here!! And, as Pen had hoped(!), it turned tail and ran.

So although we might be cleverer than a polar bear, that instinctive part of our brain is still incredibly strong and therefore ‘different’ does still make us feel scared and tells us to run away.

And the reason it feels scared is because of our beliefs.

If your belief is ‘my school was rubbish I’d never hire anyone from there’ – your primitive brain sees that person as a threat and will tell you to run away (maybe not literally. I’ve heard that’s not the best interview etiquette!).

However, all is not lost, we do have a potential advantage over a polar bear so that we can open our minds to different being good.

We have a well-developed human brain too. One which is much more rational and logical than our primitive brain, and which is able to appreciate the shades of grey in the world – for example, it can tell that all seals are unique individuals – some dark, some light, some even mottled!

The problem is, the human brain can struggle to get involved in the decision-making process because it’s too slow. Your primitive brain will get to your beliefs first and react (depending on whether it sees a threat or not) before your human brain’s even got out of its chair.

So, as much as our minds are amazing things, there are some design flaws. These may well get ironed out over the coming thousand years or so but, in the meantime, we can challenge our beliefs to check if they’re actually true. And if they’re not, we can replace them with some true ones to help our primitive brain stay calm, getting us better results all round.

What do you see around you?
Are there some primitive brains running away from different people and different situations?
What about you?
How do you feel about different?
What beliefs could you replace for true ones?

P.S. If you’ve read the Chimp Paradox this sort of story will be familiar to you. And if you’ve not, I highly recommend it; it’s an approach I frequently use to enable clients to overcome challenges and achieving their success.

Photo credit – www.wsu-nature.org

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