It’s an easy concept to praise. Apple made it sexy decades ago. We tell the legends of the people who changed the world with all the great things they could do because they thought differently.
But it’s not as easy to tell the everyday stories where it goes like this: thinking differently is really uncomfortable. For everyone involved. It can involve conflict and friction. It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good to either think differently or to be the person evaluating that different thought.
And really, it’s not always that someone has to be different than the norm. It’s that you’re different from each other. You and your coworker aren’t on the same wavelength. That can feel like being at odds.
But it’s critical for good work. And it’s one of the cool challenges we’ve been experiencing at the office recently.
Here’s how it played out last week: we were in a client meeting outlining messaging for a major presentation. Dan and I got stuck in a section and were there for a good long time. Eventually, we got through it and the outline came together in a compelling narrative. We debriefed that stuck point afterward and realized that we were both trying to get at the same thing in two very different ways. It was messy in the moment, but it made the difference in the end. We figured out the best solution because—and not despite—having two different thinkers in the room.
“This is how we do our best work,” Dan noted.
Just a day later, Dan and I were back at it in another meeting tossing a problem back and forth and just couldn’t seem to move forward. Jeff stopped us and said, “You two are really saying the same thing.”
We paused and began to laugh. Yes, we were saying the same thing—we just came at the problem and, therefore, the solution with different language and different understanding. And that was important to making sure we covered every base in the conversation.
Because here’s the thing: it’s too easy to find people who think like you do. It’s easy to check with the person who will agree with you right off the bat and who acts like an extension of your assumptions. Good work emerges from difference and from communication—it doesn’t emerge from thinking the same. Even when you have the same goals, if you come at it from a slightly different perspective, it can feel like disagreement instead of illumination. Some days, we just want to ask why it can’t feel easier!
Instead, we’re embracing the diversity of our team and thinking differently through the confusion and discussions—because this is how the best work happens.