The New Normal

20 Apr

Nine youth students are standing in front of me, each wearing their nice, white uniforms and colored belts. They are standing attentively in a nice, straight line, eagerly waiting for my next instruction.

Just kidding.

It’s actually nine 5-7 year olds. They ARE in white uniforms. The line has more zig and zag than I wish. One newer student rotates her eyes around the room. Another stares blankly forward and doesn’t respond even after saying his name for the fourth time. Another is standing full sideways, apparently staring into the ear canal of the student next to him. Yet another is actually starting to turn around backwards; I think there is an invisible unicorn in the back of the room that only he can see.

Ah! One small, blond, no-front-teeth, 6-year-old on the far end is looking at me with reasonable attention, waiting for my next direction. An orange belt, the highest rank in the class. A year ago he used to look in ear canals. Now he is my shining example much of the time. One year from ear canal watcher to little Marine.

We take our students of all ages and work to shape them, replicate them, not so unlike a military culture. We have them both wear a, and work to become, uniform. Particularly when I’ve spoken about unicorn watchers, I’ve sometimes said that we eventually normalize them.

When parents of children with various diagnoses come in, they often ask how we work to accommodate someone like their child.  I generally tell them that what we do to succeed is treat them the same as everyone else. And that is actually very true. Yet, we do work to acknowledge, appreciate and capitalize upon each student’s unique self. That self includes physical attributes, but also their personalities, motivations, and diagnoses. There is a fluctuating balance of actions and expectations that happens in guiding a student to operate within a common culture while accommodating their individuality and unique needs. Yet, the goal is the same: turn them into a black belt, with all that entails.

 Whether we’re talking about a Taekwondo student, one’s own children, team members, colleagues or coworkers at any level, the minute we simply deal with everyone the same is when we toss many others aside. As soon as we simply say, “I’m going to just deal with everyone in the normal fashion,” we are then not at all dealing with many people.

Normal distributionThe illustration on the right, if you don’t know, it is called a normal distribution. A lot of occurrences in nature match this distribution: most occurrences cluster around the middle, with the rest all having varying amounts of deviation from the middle. It might pertain to height, average winter temperatures across time, or even personalities. So, what personality, or what combination of gifts and tendencies, is normal? Well, aside from outliers — extreme deviations — it’s ALL normal. It is a normal distribution of types/people. All normal, but very different.

Given that, if we treat someone in the normal fashion, how do we do that? Are we truly targeting everyone in the entire normal distribution, or are we simply targeting the people in the center? Or, are we targeting people most like us (our own normal)? Are we trying to shape and expect everyone to be and behave like the middle folks? Or maybe we expect them to be and behave like us, or our area under the curve. That’s what normal is, isn’t it?

Normal Doesn't ExistIn fact, when you look at behavioral types as identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the variation of the sixteen combinations of types according to their percentage in the population looks something like this: 1-1-1-1-5-5-5-5-5-5-6-6-13-13-13-13. Quite a bit of variety, with a lot of people being types that are a small percentage of the population. They is a lot of uniqueness of preferences and tendencies in there. In fact, types are VERY different from each other. Personally, I’m borderline between a 1% type and a 5% type.

To maximize the use of our people, to maximize our efforts with our colleagues, to help empower people to their full potential, we  need to understand, respect, embrace and engage with the unique entity they are. Short of that, we are taking the path of least resistance, the easy way out.

Because of this predominant tendency, minimally (or maximally) we  miss out on lots of potential. Perhaps worse so, we might disregard and disrespect others. Worst so, we may cause damage and hurt. When we choose to simply deal with everyone our own usual way — OUR normal way — and expect them to act or respond in some particular way we consider normal, we are choosing to engage a particular slice of the distribution and crap-shoot with the rest. It’s as if we are trying to get our collective vehicle up a challenging incline of progress and are only engaging a couple of cylinders.

How do we more fully engage more people? That’s beyond the intent of this blog entry.  However, minimally and broadly, I think it takes T & E.  And C & H. Time and Effort. And Courage and Humility. Take the time and make the effort — show the courage and have the humility — to listen. Take the time and make the effort (and have the humility) to let go of our definitions and expectations and understand the others’ tendencies, preferences, perspectives, situations and feelings Have the courage and humility to take the time and make the effort to engage in the way people need, not in the way you prefer or want to.

Courage. Humility. Time. Attention. Effort. Risk. Crap, that’s a lot. Yep. It takes a lot of work to keep an engine firing on all cylinders. And why it rarely happens.

When I think back to students who dropped out, disappeared at some point, I see how we often failed to really engage them. I’ve put it on them at times to satisfy my own ego, but really it is I, or us, that often somehow failed to sufficiently engage them, value them, let them know how important they are, make them feel that if they were not in the room, they would be missed. I read a bit ago that one of people’s greatest desires is know or feel like they would be missed. How true that is.

Every student lost, every employee resigned, every team member alienated and not engaged, is a waste, a loss. It’s a loss of productivity. It’s a loss of money. It’s a waste and loss of unknown and unfulfilled potential that our organizations, our companies, our families, our world desperately need. There are big hills to climb and conquer but we can’t do it with only one or two cylinders of power. We need to engage all cylinders to power us to be where we need to go.

A vehicle is designed to have all it’s cylinders firing. It’s normal.



One Response to “The New Normal”

  1. Kathy E. April 21, 2014 at 14:29 #

    I really appreciated this insight as a “reminder.” ‘Been “teaching” Sunday School with middle schoolers for 18 years and always want to engage in connecting teachings with their real world … discussions can quickly go on many tangents … and it’s ok. I just may need a Tune Up to keep all my pistons firing fully. So then it’s not the students.

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