Anthropologists have found that we’re very motivated to divide into teams, and once on a team, we’ll work hard to degrade the other team. Over the smallest differences. For the smallest possible stakes. Even when we get no other benefit than thinking that we won something.
We spend a lot of time sorting people into buckets. We label them in order to treat them differently and establish expectations for how they’ll respond. Mostly to figure out which team they’re on. An email from a stranger causes us to spend some time guessing their status, gender and connection to us.
Strangely, we don’t care so much about whether someone is right handed or left handed. We don’t waste cycles on dividing people by whether they can curl their tongue or even if they can play the piano.
I totally understand our caring about Yankees vs. Red Sox. About seeking out team affiliation when team affiliation is a choice, when it’s intentionally competitive, when it tells us something about what’s going to happen next.
But if we’re not sure of someone’s gender, religion, citizenry, sexual orientation or race, we can get very uptight. Ambidextrous (unsorted) in these areas is a problem, apparently, even though there’s no relationship (zero) between the things that matter (attitude, skills, talents) and the easily measured team affiliation that we all seem so concerned about.
And that leads to a great opportunity. If you can be the person who coordinates the work of people regardless of their designated unasked-for affiliation, you’ll be able to find brilliant contributors that others foolishly overlook.
The room has more room than ever for those willing to be ambidextrous, to follow a path that’s not previously defined. Work with them or get out of their way.