Sunday, June 21, 2015

It’s a Matter of Perspective

Sometimes, it is hard to remember that not everyone comes to the table with the same information, the same background, and the same ideas of cause and effect or automatically draws the same conclusions when presented with the same data.  Today, I had a fun example of that at the grocery store.  But it made me think—what are the assumptions that I have, what are the assumptions others bring to a discussion, and if I miss or fail to anticipate the differences what could be the impact.

As it is Father’s Day, I have three things that happen almost every Father’s Day: I run the 5K that benefits the NICU at GBMC (a local medical center at which my kids’ pediatrician is the Chair of Pediatrics); we take my middle son to his boychoir’s summer camp; and I wear my “World’s Greatest Dad” t-shirt, that really isn’t appropriate to wear any other day of the year. 

The day started off as usual.  A solid 5K run.  I was second in my age group to a guy I had been running with since the 0.5 mile mark but I couldn’t shake him and he had more than I did at the end.  My youngest son ran his best race ever by over 2 minutes and came in third among boys 10 and younger.  My good friend and training partner was second female overall.  And we won a team trophy for the second year in a row. 

And, after this entry, we will take my son to camp.

But this is a story about the shirt.  Walking to the milk/cheese/egg/yogurt aisle of the grocery store, I was greeted by an employee who mentioned that he had the same shirt (minus the foot and hand prints of my kids).  We got to chatting, and I pointed out that the shirt has only two sets of prints.  I now have three sons.  And the son whose baby or toddler feet are on the shirt now has his driver’s permit. 

I thought it was a comment about growth and long-term parenting goals and how long items of clothing that only get worn once a year last.  The employee said, “That’s a testament to you that it still fits so many years later.”  The employee was a little hefty.  I thanked him and moved on.

But I really thought about it.  I just take for granted my running and my fitness and my weight.  But there are plenty of guys my age who have put on a few pounds since their now 15 year olds were 2 or 3.  So, the fact that I have a shirt that still fits from when my kids were little makes a big impression.  Maybe he has had to replace his entire wardrobe.  His experience and assumptions are a lot different.

As an employee at the grocery store I may never see again, understanding his assumptions and impressions is not that important.  But when this happens in the workplace and people cut off conversation early and don’t explore that they may have drawn different conclusions about the same piece of data and then understand why—bad things can result. 

It’s a reminder to me to make sure that I always ask what conclusions my colleagues have drawn and if we’ve drawn different conclusions follow up with an effort to uncover what their beliefs and assumptions are and ask “Is there more” until we understand how differently we are approaching things. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

First Impressions are Key

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting a member of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Immunology for the first time.  He came to visit me in my office at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and was impressed by the view from the 12th floor of the building in which we rent space in the Harbor East area of the city.  He was visiting from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  While we had been colleagues (in much different departments) for 7+ years in public health before I changed schools, we had never met.  It actually turned out that our commonalities went much further back--having graduated from the same College at Penn State in 1991.  That was how he started the meeting.

Then, I took my turn.  As an economist, I am not sure if he had any idea of what I brought to the table in terms of understanding the science and the underlying topics that he was about to discuss.  Or that I would have much room on my plate for new activities.

However, I shared with him all sorts of different projects I had worked on.  Pancreatic cysts.  Wegener's granulomatosis--studied by someone in the vasculitis center.  Surgical treatments for dysfunctional uterine bleeding and the different between ovulatory and anovulatory bleeding.  And my eye care work.  And I could speak about some of these with some degree of authority.

After I closed my 5 minutes of "isn't cost effectiveness with any type of condition fun?" I made the comment that I wasn't sure if I had told him more than he had ever wanted to know about my background.

He said, "No."  And he commented that it was actually good that I had worked on a lot of different things that obviously fascinated me and kept my attention.  It suggested to him that I might not shy away from yet another new topic.  He was coming to talk to me about genetically engineered mice.  That was new.  But it was exciting.

It was part of a two day period in which I heard about everything from mice to HPV to worrying about a student's dissertation to admissions issues to our online MBA to accreditation and many other topics. It is part of what I like about my job--so many different aspects constantly shifting.

Sometimes colleagues think I should be more focused.

But I learned (as I have many times before) that sometimes colleagues are looking for those who can be open to new ideas, think about new things, and expand their horizons.  First impressions are key.