You Can’t Read the Label when You’re Inside the Jar

I don’t the know the origin of You can’t read the label when you are inside the jar but it is familiar enough. Usually it is used to urge people to take a different perspective on innovation and to recognize that sometimes our expertise can get in the way of seeing possibility. How many times have been in meetings and heard “we already know what works” and “we tried that before and it didn’t work” or “the boss will definitely not approve that.” Sometimes cutting-edge ideas do not come from seasoned professionals in your sector but rather from people of different backgrounds and expertise who will look at the situation, from an ‘out-of-the jar’ perspective.

But what if we applied the same kind of thinking to our own development? Is it possible that we don’t always see needs or opportunities in ourselves because we have grown used to, and accepted, a particular assessment of ourselves?

Fixating on One Idea

A scotoma is a mental situation in which one fixates on one idea and excludes all others – known as the “lock on lock out” principle. Sometimes it is necessary and is reflecting our normal, evolutionary response to avoiding overwhelm when faced with too many choices. The challenge comes when we base our decisions on a view of the world that was formed when we were very young when we were physically and psychologically poorly equipped to be properly discerning. The problem then becomes compounded if we get into the vicious cycle of side-stepping something we fear or feel ill-equipped to do, avoid practising a new skill, and convincing ourselves that we cannot do something or just don’t have the talent. For me this played out (until recently) with my view on creativity – for most of my life I based my assessment on what I heard at age 5 my teacher telling my mother i.e. I couldn’t draw to save my life.

Question the Self-Talk

Often we will apply the same kind of thinking to our ability to lead and influence others. These are statements I have heard over the years, and some of them have come out of my own mouth!

  • The only way you’ll get on in this company is to be ruthless and that’s just not the way I’m made.
  • As a woman leader, my ideas tend not to be taken seriously and there is nothing I can do about that.
  • I’m always having ideas but they are a bit off the wall and no-one will take them seriously.
  • I’m not good enough …

Reflection Questions

So here are some things you might do to shift your perspective and explore whether the view you have of yourself is at all be restricted by sitting ‘inside the jar’.

  • Develop a healthy skepticism about your own decision making processes. Ask yourself “What’s the evidence for this?” “Could I be wrong?”
  • Listen to your nearest and dearest. Their feedback might tell you something about which you are not aware. And that could be something great which would be helpful to do more of.
  • Pay attention to those you don’t naturally warm to. Even those you don’t consider as friends can be worth listening to: they will tell you what you don’t want to hear which just might contain an element of truth.
  • Take a deeper dive into your default behaviours, communication style and cultural upbringing. Uncover what you truly love to do not just what you believe you should be doing. With different eyes discover, or rediscover, what your purpose is and how you could bring that to life here and now.
  • Imagine standing outside of the jar and reading the label. Are the words telling you anything new?

Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams on influence and authenticity.

© Move Ahead Global 2016






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