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"Minds Are Like Parachutes -- Dangerous If Not Kept Open" --Robert Darrah
By Catherine DeVrye   Printer Friendly Version

Our school principal inscribed these words in my autograph book when I was a twelve year old in Calgary, Alberta. Years later, having lived in Tokyo and Sydney, I have a greater appreciation of the worldly wisdom of this educator who always encouraged us to ask questions, rather than remain quietly passive to the 'knowledge dumps' of teachers and other adults.

As grown-ups, we should still ask childlike questions, rather than simply accept the status quo and have our thoughts molded by the way we've always done things.

We get bogged in previous patterns of behavior because it's comfortable, and seldom worry about paradigm shifts unless we're actually forced into moderating our manner by some external force such as downsizing or a takeover.

When stop signs were first introduced in Melbourne, Australia in 1975, an elderly friend firmly believed that they only applied to those people who obtained their licenses after that date! In spite of warnings, his mind was firmly closed on the subject and you can imagine the danger.

Seldom are we faced with such life or death matters in terms of keeping an open mind. But, would you have liked to be one of the many companies which rejected the Xerox concept, or one of 600 bankers who turned down Walt Disney or one of the girls who wouldn't date a 'geek' called Bill Gates because he didn't fit the stereotype?

More commonly, in our everyday lives, both professionally and personally, how often do we switch off to potential opportunities because ideas aren't consistent with our own? How much more knowledgeable would we be if we could simply listen without preconceived opinions?

I love the old saying:

"If you can't change your mind, are you sure you still have one?"

Often times, new people in an organization will bring a refreshing view only to be ignored and told:

"That's not the way we do things around here."

Yet, the more open we are to suggestions, the more likely the benefits. For example, an airline made huge savings as a result of a suggestion from a new employee in the garbage department. When clearing trays, he noticed that most passengers didn't eat their lettuce and suggested the airline remove that traditional garnish. Doing so saved over $1.5 million, as the lettuce was only adding cost - not true value!

Speaking of savings on your next event -- Participants I addressed, at a recent conference in Vancouver, later asked how a Canadian or US based organization could afford a speaker from Australia when there are many excellent ones in North America? They were surprised to not only learn that they would not be responsible for an international airfare to the West Coast but that, if they had a conference in Hawaii, it actually took less time to fly from Sydney to Honolulu than from New York or Toronto -- and was less expensive!

So, how can we avoid missing good ideas because our minds aren't open? One simple technique is to take a deep breath before responding immediately with our own opinion, which we may have already formed long before others have even finished their thoughts.

Just as it's dangerous to pull the rip cord too early, wouldn't it be wise to do as experienced parachutists do and count 1000-1; 1000-2; 1000-3 before jumping in with our own thoughts. This would allow time to assimilate what others are saying. With a little practice, it's easy to see how effective this can be and recognize that:

"Minds are indeed like parachutes - dangerous if not kept open."

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