Hide and Seek

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The surest way for me to get anyone to read the things I write is to begin a story with:

“OK, this is going to be a little personal…” or some variation of that.

I don’t mind. I understand that it’s our human nature to be curious of others and to want to peer into their private lives. It has been a survival mechanism our ancestors began employing more than ten thousand years ago. They understood the more we knew about those around us, the safer we would be and the better we could assess who might do us harm and who could keep us protected.

I am reminded of this every time I make a presentation. By “reintroducing” myself in the most personal way possible, I am able to draw an audience in almost immediately and get them to pay close attention to what I am about to say. Those first three frenetic minutes of me sharing the minutia of my life is a little like having the National Enquirer or TMZ write my biography. More than simply presenting the facts of what I have done, it offers a brief glimpse into who I am.

Over the years, some people have “borrowed” my introduction and customized it for their own presentations. It’s OK, I’m flattered. But I really hope they don’t miss its point or underestimate its value. I hope they realize that my intent is not to impress an audience, but to connect with it. To find things we share. To present a side of me that they can relate to and identify with. By allowing them a look behind the curtain, they are more likely to see something (or someone) they recognize, understand, and find familiar. Any apparent differences- like age, gender, race, sexuality, status, or socioeconomic condition - go away and are replaced by the attributes we have in common.

In psychology, this would be a form of projection bias; a feature in human thinking in which one assumes that others share their same priorities, attitudes, values or beliefs. It’s a crazy shortcut our brain adapted a long time ago to help it quickly determine who was a friend and who was a foe. If you sometimes act like me, think like me, and believe in the things I believe, we must be alike in all, or at least most other ways. In other words, you must be a friend and someone I can trust.

Of course, that is completely irrational, but our brains aren’t always rational. They look for easy answers because thinking too deeply requires energy; something our brains like to conserve.

While we are curious to learn more about the people who surround us, we are often reluctant to share very much about ourselves with them. For good reason, we protect any personal information that could make us vulnerable or susceptible to exploitation. We shroud ourselves in mystery; afraid that others may discover we aren’t nearly as smart, interesting, experienced, funny, honest, sincere, empathetic, confident, creative, or committed as they think. And so, we play an adult version of Hide and Seek, discreetly protecting our own information while looking to learn as much as we can about them. 

The thing is, for those of you who have forgotten, the best part of playing Hide and Seek was getting found, not remain hidden. Yes, you never wanted to be the first one spotted, but you also didn’t want to be the last. Finding the perfect hiding spot meant you would be alone for long periods of time. Silently huddled behind a rock, up a tree, or under a pile of leaves, you were left listening to the laughter of your friends being discovered in the distance. Sure you might win the game, but at what cost? 

So here are your choices: if you want at least some of the relationships in your life - clients, customers, employees, managers, donors, fans - to be loyal and not merely transactional, you are going to have to be found. You are going to have to take the risk and trust that what they discover about you or your organization will help form a deeper connection. Either that, or keep your guard up and remain a riddle. Stay hidden. Continue to believe that your skills and expertise and all the other superficial qualifications you believe are so important, so special, and so unique that they cannot be found in anyone else. Then let me know how that works out for you.

James Kane