You can’t hire that guy because he’s not as good looking as George. And you can’t believe that speaker because he doesn’t present as well as George. And that guy? He’s short. Short? Well, shorter than George. And you can’t trust him to make good decisions because his skin is much darker than George’s.
You can’t date her because she’s not as good looking as Jennifer (whichever Jennifer you want to set as the standard). And her? Well, she stutters, and Jennifer doesn’t. And Jennifer herself, of course, is not nearly as smart as George.
Jennifer and George may be extraordinarily good looking movie stars, but you don’t get to work with them. By buying into a standard of expectation for what’s normal (or great or very good or trustworthy) we shortchange ourselves every single day.
Organizations (bosses and teachers and colleagues and buyers and sellers) that manage to get past the George expectation have a spectacular advantage. They’re willing to take great ideas and great attitude and great effort wherever they can find it, regardless of what it looks like.
I was talking to someone at the Federal Reserve this week. He explained that in our electronic age, his relationships often start on the phone or by email. And they usually go extremely well, moving things quickly toward a happy conclusion. Sometimes, though, these folks meet him in person… and realize that he doesn’t look a bit like George (he’s black). Understanding that people are judging you—looking for a shortcut in the story they tell themselves—is the first step in telling them a different, better story.
Even better, over time, once it becomes clear that George isn’t so normal after all, we won’t have to worry so much about that story.