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By Sudhakar Lahade
Tell me about yourself was the question asked 18 people from different generations who were vacationing (Broadcasted on NPR). This random sample comprised six people from the baby boomer generation, four Gen Y’ers, and eight Gen X’ers. Most responded by talking about their profession, their role, and/or by their title in their organization. Sample responses were:
1. I am an engineer responsible for R&D
2. I am a manager of XYZ company
3. I am the VP of HR and work for XYZ company
Very few, especially the Gen Y’ers, answered the question by expressing their passion and reasons why they were here, such as “I’m passionate about improving the environment, and I’m here with my friends to spend time together.” Most Americans are overly consumed by work; their professions, roles, and their titles have become their prime identities!
However, we are larger than our titles. We are driven by passion, we stand for value, we cherish experiences and relationships, we aspire to dreams, we have meaningful goals, and we desire exploration – all these elements drive our thoughts and our actions, and that should define our identity.
Thus, we did some exploration at Workspring with an enthusiastic group of people (June, 2013). We divided the group into small teams and engaged them in simple personal identity activities:
1. Think about your passion: what drives you; what are your dreams?
2. Think about what your strengths are; what you stand for; and what 1-3 things you would like people to say about you?
3. What really matters to you: what higher causes do you aspire; what do you believe is your calling; and how would you like to help the world?
4. Now look at all your notes and reflect. On a separate sheet of paper, draw or doodle what all your notes mean with minimal use of words.
5. Share your identity with your small team by displaying and describing your sketch.
The results of the experiment were amusing:
1. The majority of the group did not refer to their professional identities. Instead, they talked about personal–social–human aspects of themselves.
2. They were all laughing, conversing, and having a good time.
3. And most importantly, all of them were forming social and collaborative relationships with each other. Everyone was listening intently, and many were sharing and adding their personal thoughts. No one, not even one person, was serious – which is atypical of corporate America.
Next time someone asks you “tell me about yourself,” instead of offering typical corporate jargon, pause and think about your true identity, one that is larger than your profession, your role, or title.
I encourage you to do this experiment yourself. It takes no more than 10-15 minutes. And to have more fun and a lasting experience, perform this activity with your friends, peers and colleagues. I promise you, you will have a great experience.
Sudhakar Lahade is an architect, researcher, and design thinker involved in innovation and business strategy at Steelcase. He encourages organizations to nurture the culture of innovation, leverage design thinking, and adopt creative behaviors to remain competitive and relevant in today’s complex marketplace.