Being human is common for human beings

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Written by Tim Baker on 12 March 2014
As an experienced consultant based in Australia, new clients will often remind me that: "Our industry is different ...” 
 
Having worked across 21 industries, I appreciate and understand these differences. Different priorities. Different processes. Different approaches. Different products and services. Different organisational structures. 
 
But I feel like saying this to these clients: "But there are lots of similarities too. People are people. They have the same fundamental needs and interests.” I don't say this to my clients, but I think it; I believe it. Consultants are in the unique position to grasp this.  
 
We all like to think we are special and unique. And to a certain extent that is absolutely the case.  But the things that bind us as human beings far outweigh our differences.
 
The media likes to portray divisions and anomalies and special cases. We tend to buy into this message that the scale of difference is mammoth between human being inside and outside work. But being human is very much a common practice.  
 
Consider this illustration. 
 
People often ask me: "Who do you work with? Who are your clients?"  I reply with this: "At one end of the spectrum I work with police and at the other end of the spectrum I work with several orchestras, and many industries in between these two.” This is my stock answer. 
 
They look as if they are the bookends of all industries don't they? I mean one locks up hardened criminals and the other creating beautiful classical music. Polar opposites you might think. 
 
But the similarities between these two industries are far greater than you would possibly imagine. 
 
For starters, police usually have a distinctive uniform, but so do orchestral musicians before performing on stage. Both organisations have a long and proud history and as such, are very old institutions. As a consequence, both institutions are reasonably traditional, having their own quirky conventions and rituals. Both are hard to change; but both are in desperate need for change.  
 
Police organisations and orchestras are very hierarchical. The commissioner of police and the conductor of an orchestra are like God; what they say goes, unquestioningly. Both organisations are highly unionised. You can't blow your nose without consulting the union in either industry. 
 
Both have very distinct cultures and if you are an 'outsider', it is hard to break in to that culture. To gain entry, you need to go through a long and tough indoctrination process. In the case of the police, it is lots of training and assessment at the academy. With orchestras, you are on what they call a 'trial' for a minimum for six months. If your peers don't like your playing, you’re out.
 
But once you are accepted, you're embraced. It's virtually impossible to get booted out. And if you do, you have messed up big time.  
 
To be promoted in both organisations you need to have done the hard yards. Police can only be promoted from the ranks. There is no shortcuts and sideway entrances. The commissioner was once a humble constable. The orchestra is the same. To be a principal player or section leader, you need to have been part of the 'rank and file'. 
 
And finally, both organisations divide the public. People either loath or love orchestral music and the same goes for police.
 
What's my point?
 
It's simple: People are people and the things that we have in common far outweigh our differences.
I think it is good to be reminded of this when we think about designing and delivering our training. Being human is common for human beings.
About the author
Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and managing director of WINNERS AT WORK. He can be contacted via www.winnersatwork.com.au
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