The power of shared meaning

Few things in life are as satisfying as the sense of meaning – understanding what’s going on and caring about it.  It’s a great feeling at an individual level, but at a group level it can change the world.  As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Now transplant those sentiments into a typical meeting in your organisation, and ask yourself how much shared meaning there is.  I’m not talking big picture here – whether or not people buy into the mission statement, whether there’s a shared organisational vision or anything like that – I’m talking about the simple everyday going to a meeting with other people and talking about work.

I was chatting to a client in IT this week who told me about a meeting where colleagues from different parts of the business were having a heated disagreement about how to manage metadata, when he suddenly realised they were talking about completely different things.  What seemed like a simple concept had very different meanings, and it wasn’t that some were wrong and some were right, they just had different perspectives.

Next time someone says something unexpected about something you know something about, don’t just think “that person doesn’t get it”.  At the very least, take the opportunity being offered to see the world from a different perspective.

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