Don’t Work with People Like You


This may seem counter intuitive — but I don’t recommend that you work with people like you. In fact, you shouldn’t work with those that make you feel entirely comfortable. (You don’t even need to like the people you work with, every minute of every day. But, liking all of your co-workers is a bonus.)  What you really need are people to challenge you and help you contribute to the limits of your potential. If you surround yourself with those of the same perspective — or temperament – or even in the same field or function — you are missing out on options for career growth and eventual success.

Most of us have a tendency to drift towards what we know — a completely normal response to an often harried world. We’ll travel the same path to work, and order the same menu item at a restaurant. This process becomes second nature and we don’t often question it. However, if we apply this to the workplace, things become problematical. You require exposure to differing opinions, experiences and work styles to excel.

Let’s imagine that you have the responsibility of forming a team to take on a problem or company initiative. You choose a team of  individuals whom you know and trust. What follows, is that you have a group of individuals that may certainly be strong in certain areas — but there is the possibly that they hold the same perspective or skill set that you possess. Consider the worst case scenario: that your team is just not robust enough to tackle the task in front of them. You now have a very serious problem. If you have indeed formed a team with similar perspective or skills as yourself, your team is now officially limited.

The same premise can hold for your career. If you have contact with only individuals who share your specific perspective, you’ll likely never be challenged. This can handicap you in so many ways.

The next opportunity you have to network or build a team, pause and consider bringing at least one completely fresh perspective to the table. Build your “team” with a wide breadth of both skills, temperaments and perspectives — being sure to represent all related functions. Add a mentor to your life from a completely unexpected background. Find out how that new co-worker, that you don’t quite “get” ticks.

You simply never know. That “odd man” may be holding the piece of the puzzle that you’ve been searching for.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

Problem Solving & Rest: Another Look at the Eureka Phenomenon

Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash

“It is my belief, you see, that thinking is a double phenomenon like breathing.” – Asimov

If you enjoy reruns of the classic television series House — you’ll find that every medical mystery is solved in the most unusual moments. Without fail, House’s uncanny ability to problem solve, kicks in while he sits in the hospital cafeteria, mid-sentence while talking to a team member or any other situation where he doesn’t outwardly appear to be focusing on the problem on deck.

It is always intriguing to watch.

However, we shouldn’t be surprised about why this happens. You see, our brains function in curious ways.

Your Brain Revealed
In the classic essay The Eureka  Phenomenon  (1971), Issac Asimov explores why these moments of inspiration occur when we least expect them. Asimov’s theory is quite simple, posing the notion that thought includes both voluntary and involuntary components. Moreover, opportunities for both types of thought must be present to become highly effective. Essentially, we can be thinking about one thing on the surface, yet ruminating on another topic below — the involuntary part of the equation.

The Eureka Phenomena sheds an interesting light on how we might become more effective in the workplace. As we all have experienced, if you are focusing too long and too intently on one topic or issue, you can be unsuccessful. Asimov would say that involuntary thought was not allowed to flourish and that contributed to the failure.

He recollects that when he was in the midst of a problem he could not solve, he shifted his focus and “shuffled” off to the movies. This action ultimately, allowed him to work through his challenge. He also tells the story of Archimedes — and how a visit to the public baths helped him to discover the concept of volume.

Of course, you may find that taking a walk or baking does the trick, but the process is of no less importance. You must give your brain the “down time” it needs to succeed.

Office Life and Involuntary Thought
There are millions of individuals who have the responsibility to process information concerning people, places and things for a living. Many attempt to accomplish this in an office environment. Of course, working in a traditional office does have merit. There are opportunities for collaboration and serendipity — yet obstacles to productivity abound. As discussed by Jason Fried in his classic Ted Talk, many aspects of office life (such as interruptions), can prove to be huge offenders, curtailing deep, meaningful thought.

During the course of a typical office work day, an individual may complete a multitude of activities and appear outwardly productive. However their brain power may not be maximized, as there are few opportunities to rest, reflect and digest information.

The Eureka Phenomena Applied
You must remember that while thought doesn’t require physical output, your brain is still hard at work. So, while you may not perceive that you are fatigued, your brain may actually be exhausted. As studies have shown, allowing the brain time to rest is critical. In this way, the brain finds the fuel it needs, so that energy can be funneled to the involuntary mechanisms that promote deeper thought. If we can learn anything from Asimov — it is that the brain cannot be bullied into becoming effective. It must be respected and nurtured.

Be mindful to offer your mind a bit of rest and identify those activities which help your brain relax and build them into your day.

Ultimately — don’t feel guilty if you feel the need to “shuffle off” to the movies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and workplace strategist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.