The Little Person Perspective

joe —  Sat 17-Nov-12

Black FridayIt’s Thanksgiving week here in the States.Thanksgiving is one of the safe holidays. No religious affiliation required like Easter, no need to celebrate the dark arts like Halloween, and no need to reveal your pro-rodent support like Groundhog Day. Just gorge out and put up with Uncle Harold for a little while.

It’s also the time when Facebook will light up with everyone’s “I am thankful for…” postings. After a very difficult election season on Facebook, I am really looking forward to this change in visual landscape.

The hard part for me is that one of the things I am most thankful for also scares me. I have a great ability to understand why people believe what they do, and this can be a blessing and a curse.
Facebook empathyIn the innovation space we have this concept called the Little Person Perspective. This is a technique where you imagine you are a very tiny person that can be placed anywhere inside of a design and see things from that perspective. If you are trying to design a new boat engine, imagine what it would like it you were a very tiny person standing on the tip of the propellor. It enables some very creative thought.

I am good at the Little Person Perspective, both in my job as an innovator, and at life in general. I can easily put myself in someone else’s shoes and appreciate a position that is diametrically opposed to my beliefs. I remember having some awesome discussions in the gym with an atheist friend of mine. I totally get his position. We still don’t agree, but I truly understand how someone would believe what he does. I’d like to believe the thought the same of me, but I am sure he was thinking more along the lines of “bless his heart.”

North DakotaI may be one of the few Romney supporters that understood why people voted for Obama. That’s why it was so crushing to watch people call the other side stupid and ignorant. I also get why people want to hug trees, take drugs, live in North Dakota, save an endangered lizard, create a religious state, don speedos at the beach, build charter schools, and wear their jeans below their butts, even though I don’t support any of these.

Even when I can’t quite see their position, I try to create a scenario where what they did would be justifiable. As Marcus Buckingham once said, “Find the best possible explanation for a person’s behavior and believe it.” Maybe the reason that jerk on the road just cut in front of me is because he just found out his wife was in a car accident and was on the way to the hospital. I have faith that people do things for what they believe are rational reasons. My job is to find out what they consider rational, even if it is irrational for me to believe this.

But this Little Person Perspective all comes at a price and it concerns me. I am afraid that by appreciating another’s position it may be hard to go to the mat when it is time to support my own. It’s easier to fight the competition when you believe they are trying to take food away from your family’s table. I think the main reason we build up enemies is to give us energy and motivation to fight the tough battles. How many hours would you donate to your candidate’s election if you thought, “Hmmm, I see where the other side is coming from?”

CanoeHere is where understanding makes a difference. It’s one thing to stand on one side of a river and yell at the people on the other that they must come over to your side to be saved. It’s another to take your boat over to the other side, visit for awhile, then offer to take them to visit your side, even if it means you’ll just be taking them back. That can only happen if you are willing to land on an opposing shore that you believe is real and not fictional.

My worldview of belief is rather simple. I believe in constantly building a better, stronger shore for myself. I believe in always trying to understand why others believe their opposing shore is better. Finally, I strive to always have a sturdy boat handy that allows me to visit the other side with enough room for visitors on the return trip – hopefully some only one way.

I am thankful for this worldview, thankful for always having the Little Person Perspective.

So, as I sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving salivating for some ribs, I now appreciate why I must visit the distant shore of those that love turkey. Thank goodness for Mom’s stuffing and Beth’s cranberry cloud.

Gobble gobble everyone,


Full Disclosure: My family visits my shore as well, delivering ribs for the holidays. YARIAT – Yet another reason I am thankful.