Challenging but also Valuing our Prejudices


We all have prejudices and challenging and even changing them gives us a way to see the world differently. But do we do this at work as well at home?

I was watching a triathlon the other week, not the World Series but an open event with many first timers, charity participants… A friend and I were cheering on competitors as they climbed out of their swim and headed off to start their cycling stage and we observed a lady emerge who could most politely be described as somewhat larger than most. At this point she had already swum half a mile in open water, she had a 30km bike ride and a 5km run to do – and I later discovered that she completed the lot.

My admiration was unbounded. It is fine for those of us that have always participated and fit easily into all the right kit to take part in these events, but there are always participants for whom this is more of a challenge, who must brave potential ridicule and overcome much greater barriers in order to achieve their goals.

And this was no one-off. In triathlons, fun runs, cycling events… all across the country there are people completing these events that if you met them in any other circumstance, from their appearance alone, you would not believe they would ever consider such activity. No matter how open-minded we think we are, however liberal our views, we are all susceptible to prejudice, to jumping to conclusions and to categorising people with minimal information available to us.

We should be cautious about criticising this tendency, it is a skill that allows us to make sense of a very complicated world, one that is based on our experiences – as well as our cultural prejudices – and evolutionarily has helped us recognise danger often before the threat itself becomes truly apparent. (I advise my teenage children when on the way home late at night to cross the road and avoid the rowdy mob rather than walk up to them and enquire whether they are friendly or carrying knives).

It is not that we have prejudice or our tendency to categorise that is wrong, it is when we do not recognise – or acknowledge – these that we err. If we convince ourselves that our categorisation (our view of the world) is always accurate and we pretend that we have no prejudice we are fooling ourselves and undermining the value and usefulness of our categorisation. We all know people who see the world differently to ourselves and we are aware that this is due to their prejudices being different from ours – we may see this as strength or a weakness, in truth it is a difference.

The same is true at work. We group our consumers into categories and these categories are based on assumptions, if we change the assumptions we may view our consumers, and our markets, quite differently. Different is not always better or worse, often it is just different. But when we look at great innovations, disrupters that become great leaders, we invariably see people who view the world differently.

Difference can so often give us the edge. So why do so many companies use the same categorisation of their markets, the same groupings of their consumers. As long as we continue to use the same assumptions about our markets and our consumers we will all continue to approach them in the same way.