Two people are in the same meeting. Both express the same idea.
One gets ignored, while the other is acknowledged as being insightful.
Why does this happen?
The short answer is the person who got seen, heard, and acknowledged possessed gravitas — an executive presence where others take your ideas seriously merely because the words came from your mouth (instead of someone else’s).
At McKinsey, it never ceased to amaze me how often I would get credit for brilliant insights that I actually got from others in my client’s organization.
There have been countless times I got a great idea with a call center operator, a salesperson, or another junior employee. I would then package that idea and present it to the CEO in a way he or she could understand.
I would be recognized by the CEO for being insightful, even though the idea came from the CEO’s own staff.
Consultants get a lot of criticism for this kind of idea arbitrage. You tell us your best ideas. We present it back to you. We collect a big check.
It seems ridiculous, yet CEOs continue to hire consulting firms in record numbers.
Consultants possess gravitas (along with a way of structuring problems and putting them in a strategic perspective) that their own staff can not.
If you have a recommendation, sometimes nobody listens. If McKinsey presents the same recommendation, suddenly the CEO pays attention.
Clearly, the reaction is not based purely on the merit of the idea.
The best idea does not always win in industry.
The best idea from a source with GRAVITAS does win.
To understand why this happens, it is helpful to see life through the lens of a senior executive.
A senior executive has dozens, hundreds or thousands of employees working for her. In a 1,000-person organization, there is no shortage of opinions and ideas.
It is very difficult to sift through so much noise to determine which voice possesses a well thought out, actionable insight.
Executives are human beings. Human beings have biases. One bias all human beings use is the desire to make complex decisions simpler.
This is how we get through the day.
Psychologists use the term heuristics or “mental shortcuts” to describe this phenomenon.
You see a cute furry animal with four legs, on a leash, bark “woof woof” at you. What kind of animal is it?
If you guessed a “dog,” you’re right.
But WHY did you guess a dog?
By some estimates, there are 500 million dogs in the world. Depending on which industry group you believe, there are 150-350 species of dog.
It is doubtful you’ve seen the specific animal in question before. Yet you thought it was a dog.
This is a heuristic or mental shortcut at work.
Another heuristic is the white lab coat a medical doctor wears. The reason doctors wear such uniforms is because you will be more willing to do what he says because he is wearing the symbol of authority.
If a random person on the street asked you to take off your pants, you never would. Yet for some reason when someone in a white coat asks you to do the same, we all do it.
It is why police forces around the world all have officers wear uniforms. We are more likely to obey people with symbols of authority.
These are all examples of heuristics at work.
The exact same dynamic works in industry too.
Only instead of “woof woof” sounds, white lab coats, or police uniforms, your coworkers use something else to determine whether or not to give your ideas any serious consideration.
Whether your ideas get take seriously is based upon your…
When you have no reputation, your ideas don’t get heard or seen. When you have a negative reputation, your ideas get penalized.
However, when your reputation is one that exudes gravitas — rightly or wrongly, your ideas get taken much more seriously.
Is this fair?
Is it true?
Here’s my homework assignment for you. In your next three meetings, pay attention to WHAT is said in the meeting and WHO says it.
You will notice that some people’s ideas get more recognition than others.
The first step to improving a situation is to notice it.
The second step is to take actions to improve your situation.
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