I recently read a story on a non-profit management blog about how one executive director finally made a particularly difficult hiring decision. After interviews and meetings she settled on a trial-run, one-day-in-the-office for her top two candidates. At the end of each experimental workday, she walked the candidates to the parking lot where she was struck by the differences in their vehicles. One, with bumper stickers on the rear and beverage remains on the console, was a real turn-off; the other--clean bumper, clean interior--really made an impression and so, she had found her newest employee!
My own colleagues and coworkers, even my long-time boss, know what they are getting into when they climb into my 1997 Honda Odyssey: Coffee mugs, books, newspapers, lists, various food products, and a necessities basket that includes everything from bandages, mints, sunscreen and bug spray to corkscrews, bottle openers, a multi-tool, and contact-lens supplies. My children leave more interesting things in the nooks and crannies of the far backseat: banana peels, declarations of love escaped from back pockets, numerous-but-yet-unmatched stray socks, and whatever creature remains (that’s an opossum skull there on my desk) most lately discovered. And my rear bumper? It’s not nearly as colorful as my van’s interior, but it has a few things to say about me and my life, as well.
For me, the take-home in this story is that both bosses and employees may benefit from some work-world compatibilities: shared values, world-views, styles of living, ways of thinking. Can those things be extrapolated from the condition of one’s vehicle? I don’t know. Certainly, intermediate or long-term, perhaps neither the executive director nor other candidate would have enjoyed a compatible or productive workplace relationship. But I can’t resist the temptation to imagine, “what if?”
What if my colleagues, coworkers, bosses, or friends made decisions about the potential of my contributions to our shared projects based on the artifacts in my backseat rather than on the content of my work? What if an entire team, office, or workplace were all right-brained--or, for that matter, all left-brained? What if we really could estimate what someone might bring to our lives, our work, our experiences based on something as finite and simple as an appearance?
What if I looked at those pristine vehicles--I notice them, all shiny-wax jobs, Armor-All-slick dashboards and shampooed carpets--and believed their owners didn’t have enough spontaneity, enough original thought, enough out-of-the-box perspective, or enough going on in their lives to be bring something valuable, necessary, or precious to mine? I hope I could look in my own backseat and know I’d be wrong.