That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It

Posted 05.22.2012

So, let me say at the outset that I’m reasonably confident that this is the world’s first leadership development blog post that includes a story about roasted cauliflower. (I Googled “roasted cauliflower leadership” and the top result was this recipe from Northern Michigan’s News Leader.) Here’s my back story.

One day last week I was working from my home office and went into the kitchen to get some lunch. My amazing wife, Diane, had a baking sheet full of raw cauliflower out on the counter. I asked her what she was doing and she said, “Making some roasted cauliflower for lunch. Want some?” I think I made a face, semi-politely said no thanks and that she must be the only person in North America who was making cauliflower for lunch. She kindly reminded me that I’ve demonstrated over the past couple of years that I actually like cauliflower and noted the different occasions that proved that point.

That’s when I said, “I’m still working with my long held story that I hate cauliflower and I’m sticking to it.” So I went for a sandwich and missed out on tasty cauliflower with peas and Indian spices.

The lunch-time lesson got me thinking about that phrase we hear so often, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” It’s usually offered in a lighthearted kind of way but like most jokes there’s often a deeper truth that lies underneath.

Even when presented with recent and verifiable evidence to the contrary (e.g. I’d said on numerous occasions that I liked the cauliflower dishes Diane had made), we tend to stick to our long-held story. For real. Why do we do this?

I can think of three reasons. Here’s my take on their implications for leaders and what we can do about them.

  • Laziness. Let’s be real. It seems easier to do what we’ve always done or stick with what we’ve always thought. Changing behaviors and beliefs takes work. What can we do about that? One answer is to take some small steps in a different direction that are relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference (i.e. eat the cauliflower).
  • Mindlessness. Our stories can be so deeply held that we don’t even recognize the patterns and ruts they’ve created. Even when presented with an obvious and easy opportunity to disrupt the pattern we can continue mindlessly on the path we were on (i.e. I’m here to get a sandwich). What can we do about that? One answer is to recognize and question our assumptions.
  • Fearfulness. Old stories can make us afraid to try out new stories. When I was a kid, I hated cooked cauliflower. What’s the upside in challenging that fear of a bad taste as an adult? I’ve written here before that it’s easy to get your risk/reward ratio out of whack. It’s common to overestimate the risk and underestimate the reward of doing something different. What can we do about that? One answer is to take a few small steps (i.e. eat the cauliflower, damn it) to test the currently held risk/reward analysis.

What long-held story are you sticking to? What have you or your organization missed out on as a result of that? What are a few easy things you could do to shake up your story?