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Winning At Working: Thought Conformity
by Nan Russell

As I turned on the national news, two "experts" were debating one of the societal issues that divide this country. For minutes their ping-ponged comments volleyed about a controversial book and a soon-to-be-released movie.

Then, the commenter asked both guests if they had either read the book or seen the pre-released movie. "No," answered the first man "but I've heard from people who have." "No," answered the second, "but I've read about it."

What surprised me most was not their lack of personal experience with the issue they were debating, but their aggressive expounding of someone else's opinion. Regurgitating another's thoughts is not thinking.

That same situation happens at work. People pass off others' thinking as their own. They parrot others' issues without personal analysis. And they embrace others' perspectives as if it was their original thought. But these repackaged perspectives hamper innovation, personal growth, and business results.

Psychologist Rollo May put it this way, "In modern society, the opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity." And thought conformity hampers more than careers.

I ran across an article recently advocating that you should, "Tell your boss what she wants to hear." Having been a boss for over twenty years, I know first hand that's bad advice. Independent thinkers are a prized workplace commodity, and thought conformity will not help you to be winning at working.

Regurgitating others' thoughts is not thinking; repackaging others' opinions is not thinking; conformity in thought is not thinking. Thinking is using your judgment, reasoning, and inference to attain clear ideas and reach conclusions. Thinking is work. And people who are winning at working know how important it is to their results, their careers, and their engaged endeavors to do that work.

You won't be winning at working if you don't develop your independent thinking muscle. Packaging opinion as fact, passing off rumor as truth, and fueling speculation with personal belief is not substantive thinking. But it's substantive thinking that builds your future.

People who are winning at working recognize that just because something sounds credible, certain, and believable, doesn't make it true. They question, challenge, and probe, just like that news commenter. They embrace alternative perspectives, conflicting input, and divergent information. They welcome thoughtful exchange, debate, and dialogue. And they're opened to being challenged and thoughtfully engaged.

You see, for people who are winning at working thought conformity hampers their creativity, independent analysis, and reflective judgment. When a boss asks them what they think, they're ready with coherent and reflective thoughts. That thinking difference makes all the difference.

(c) 2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell may be contacted at

Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at



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