Explore new ideas in the workplace, adventure awaits

My brother, Jack, and I spent a week in Tobago off the coast of Venezuela in 1998. Every meal of the Caribbean cuisine was impressive and delicious. Some of the fantastic food I enjoyed included flying fish with butter and wine sauce, salmon, kingfish, pumpkin soup, and rotis, an Indian dish that includes beef, potatoes, and other vegetables rolled in pita dough. The fabulous food on this island reflects the mix of cultures going back hundreds of years. Today, 60 percent of the native population is black (descendants of European slave trade) and 40 percent originate from the subcontinent of India (descendants of indentured servants to European settlers). Most of the native population died from diseases the Europeans brought with them.

While visiting the Argyle waterfall we climbed to the very top and swam in the warm pools. We felt light pinches on our legs and realized that small crawdads were feasting upon us. On our way back to our car, I bought an 11-inch fertility effigy carved out of mahogany and a Calabash shell from a local vendor. In the valley below us, a small section of bamboo was on fire popping like firecrackers in the flames. We reported the fire to the local fire station but got no response. I guess it was an everyday event.

We rented a boat and a guide for a snorkeling trip off a smaller island called Little Tobago. Later, we hiked on Little Tobago and were treated with a view of a nesting red-billed tropic bird sitting on chicks sporting a scissor-like tail. Brown bobbie, frigate birds, and blue tanagers were also plentiful. We also snorkeled at Pigeon Point, where the coral was beautiful. It was another great set of experiences resulting from a trip Jack organized and planned.

I believe we often get set in a static view of the world and take the uniqueness and value of our surroundings for granted. For example, I don’t think the people of Tobago understand how great their food is. They may not see that the historical diversity because of the cultural spices used is the main reason for the great taste. Also, few locals hired guides to take them to the Little Tobago Island to see its wonderful sights. No one else was there when we were.

So, for leaders, it is important to first understand that we may be taking our workplace and work processes for granted. Even if we are involved in a lean or other improvement process, we sometimes focus exclusively on changing how people do the work and ignore how they feel about the change. Leaders should ask a novel question of staff members or visit a facility that does work differently than theirs. It is not hard to step back and look at our work with a fresh set of eyes. What limits our tendency to do this exploration is the perceived value in doing it and the time it may take. Find a guide who has had a diversity of experience and let him/her lead you to a fresh view. It will be well worth your time and financial investment.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, And my brother Jack: Everyday Leadership Lessons, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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