Nilofer Merchant (@nilofer) is one of the world’s top-ranked business thinkers, an innovation expert, and the author of The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World.

What We Discuss with Nilofer Merchant:

  • How bias — from others as well as ourselves — works to stifle innovation and the spread of good ideas.
  • The process by which ideas are created and spread and how we can exercise our own abilities to make our ideas heard — even if we’re at the bottom of the totem pole.
  • Why we conform to expectations that were largely created decades ago and don’t really have a place in the modern workforce.
  • Where “left-field” ideas often originate and why they’re often missed.
  • What we can do to make the generation and capture of ideas more inclusive.
  • And much more…

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Power and status have dominated the news cycles of late — from the inner workings of Hollywood to the hallowed halls of government. But what effects do power and status have on ideas and organizations?

If you’re like most, you want the ability to make a difference, but lack the credentials in your current hierarchy to make your voice heard by the higher-ups. Today, The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World author Nilofer Merchant joins us to explore how you can make a difference and spread your good ideas no matter what rung of the ladder you occupy. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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Bias is real. It exists within any organization, institution, congregation, group, or troop human beings can dream up. And as much as we might like to deny it, it exists within us too. It’s so pervasive to our species that we’re even biased against ourselves under certain circumstances. We find excuses to deny that our ideas are worth bringing into the conversation when we feel somehow unworthy of the audience in front of us.

Recent research has shown that 61 percent of us hide our original ideas in such a way because we have a bias against ourselves — we feel powerless in the shadow of a hierarchy, the top of which we believe we’ll never see.

“It’s not just underseen and underserved groups like women and people of color and so on,” says Nilofer Merchant, author of The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World. “It’s actually all of us…45 percent of white men do it, too.”

When we subject ourselves to self-bias, we cover for it in a multitude of ways whenever we face power. A young person with perfect vision might wear glasses to appear more experienced to his or her colleagues. Someone with religious views that don’t match those of their peers might hide any sign of their faith until they’re in private. A new father might turn down paternity leave at a workplace that encourages it because he doesn’t want anyone to doubt his commitment to the company.

“We’re conforming to expectation which, by the way, no one’s even said — but is the norm — so we cover to whatever norm is,” says Nilofer.

When we look to what the norm appears to be for power, we’re usually looking at models that are so old as to be barely recognizable to the modern framework.

“People do it not because they’re stupid or because they want to hide themselves, but because that’s how power works,” Nilofer says. “What you’re doing is you’re looking around the table and thinking, ‘Who has power? How do they behave?’ And then you start to emulate that behavior. That’s all. We’re just doing it to get our shot for ideas, and at some point we realize that we can’t remember our own ideas because we’ve kind of given them up along the way.”

It makes sense that, by covering certain parts of our identity in a group setting, we feel less than complete when it’s time to bring ourselves and our ideas to the table. As a result, our level of engagement and fulfillment plummet.

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how status directly affects power, the problem with work being designed around efficiency and productivity over creativity and innovation, how a Harvard professor used crowdsourcing to solve problems once deemed unsolvable (and from whom these solutions mostly originated), what we can do to make the generation and capture of ideas more inclusive, how we can hone our own “onlyness,” and much more.


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