Peacock or Penguin?

Are you a peacock or penguin?

Today’s Friend of the Firm perspective comes from Janie Schumaker the CEO of BCEN.  

Are you a peacock in a land of penguins? I suspect there are many people that are peacocks trying to survive among penguins. You are likely wondering what on earth I am talking about. Let me explain. 

Imagine you have just secured your dream job. You have worked very hard to hone your craft and gain the necessary experience to be a strong contributor. You are particularly excited about the discussions you had during your interviews with your new boss and other colleagues. During these discussions they all told you things like; we are looking for someone who can think outside the box, we are looking forward to a fresh set of eyes and we are excited to figure out new ways to solve problems. You know  you can bring these valuable skills to the table and are looking forward to doing so. 

As you begin your new role, things go really well. You are deeply engaged and are enjoying the opportunity to put your skills and creativity to use. At first, your new colleagues seem happy with your ideas and progress. But slowly, over time, you begin to sense you have made a misstep somewhere. You can’t quite put your finger on it. As time goes on, your ideas begin to be minimalized and your colleagues start to say things like: “We don’t do it that way here and we have always done it this way – why should we change? You are creating more work for us.”

You are very confused by this. What happened to outside of the box thinking? You find yourself wondering why an organization would invest in hiring a person for their expertise and then tell them to do things the way we have always done them. You know better results could be achieved if you were simply allowed to use the skills and expertise for which you were hired.

As time goes on the situation does not improve. In fact, it gets worse, to the point that you realize you must either conform to the norm in your organization or move on. You can’t help but wonder if there is anywhere you where outside of the box thinking, new ideas and creativity are actually welcomed and allowed to flourish. 

If you have or are experiencing this, you are not alone. Gallagher and Schmidt wrote a story called “A Peacock in the Land of Penguins.” It is available as a book or a video and can be found here. In this story, Perry is a peacock who goes to work in an organization full of penguins. Perry represents the skilled, creative and outside the box thinker. At first, his ideas and perspectives are welcomed. But as time passes Perry’s style gets old with the penguins who represent doing things the way they have always been done. The penguins literally hand him a penguin suit and tell him to put it on. Perry is devastated, but he eventually goes on to find a workplace that appreciates his style, creativity and perspectives. 

This story gives us all hope that we can indeed find a place where our unique skills, creativity and ideas are appreciated. Afterall, who wants to put on a penguin suit and look, act and think exactly like everyone else? The truth is we may have to hunt for such a place, it may take more than one try and a lot of vetting. If you are in the position to create such a workplace, that is even better. If you do find yourself in a role that allows you the freedom to welcome, hear and act on the ideas of your team mates, you must never forget what it feels like to don the penguin suit. You don’t want to wear it and neither do those that you work with. 

In parting, I urge each of you to be yourselves, work hard, hone your skills and find your place like Perry did. Help others do the same. Penguins are marvelous creatures but life is too short to wear the proverbial penguin suit.

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