How do you feel when you start a new position with a new team? For me it has always been a mix of excitement and awkwardness. Mostly awkwardness. Because I don’t know the unwritten rules of the place and I don’t want to make an embarrassing faux pas on my first few days.
To explain this, Gray would say the team I am joining has a shared set of beliefs they use to navigate their work relationships called the bubble of belief. Beliefs I do not yet possess because I don’t have their shared experience of working together. The kitchen is a perfect example. On one occasion before attending a meeting, I had gone to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I picked a cup from the cupboard and boiled water like I have thousands of times. Unfortunately I turned up to the meeting using the boss’s favorite cup. I could feel a tremor of discomfort when I entered the room because everyone else knew not to use that cup.
Bubbles of belief exist in every corner of our lived experience. They are shared maps that groups use to navigate relationships in the reality they co-create. Unfortunately, they are maps that occasionally lead us over a cliff too.
Have you ever heard this phrase at work “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it”?
It’s always been done that way and continues to be done that way because “….new information from outside the bubble of belief is discounted, or distorted, because it conflicts with the version of reality that exists inside the bubble” (p.45, Liminal Thinking). Gray calls this self-sealing logic. There are many examples of how this type of thinking has had disastrous effects. Blackberry couldn’t see past the keyboard design while Apple gobbled up their market share with the touchscreen. In 2000, the Blockbuster CEO passed up the opportunity to purchase Netflix for $ 50 million saying it was a niche company. Netflix is now worth more than $30 billion. I wonder how many times these words were uttered in the Northlands boardroom while Katz busily outmaneuvered them.
Why is it so difficult for people to see past their self-sealing belief bubbles?
Gray points out that people evaluate a new idea in two ways; internally (does it make sense?) and externally (can I test it?). Most new ideas fail to get past the internal test because they challenge the bubble of belief and so they automatically do not make sense and therefore do not need to be tested. A video streaming service must have seemed impossible to the CEO of the most successful video rental business so therefore there is no need to test what it’s potential could be.
Think back to a time when you came forward with a fantastic, innovative, can’t miss new idea that was dismissed by the group. Was the groups defending its’ bubble of belief? Do you think your new idea challenged group identity?
Conversely, take a minute and think about what happens when your beliefs are challenged. How do you defend them?
Liminal Thinking Principle 5:”Beliefs defend themselves. Beliefs are unconsciously by a bubble of self-sealing logic, which maintains them even when they are invalid, to protect personal identity and self-worth.” (P. 49, Liminal Thinking)