I was the guest of honor. I had traveled 27 hours to reach China, spent 2 days training the local team, and I was tired! The people from work were taking me to dinner. We sat in a big circle with a lazy suzan in the center. I didn’t understand a word when my colleague was placing the order for all of us. In typical Chinese fashion, as each dish was brought out, they made sure I had the first bite. The only problem was I had no idea what I was eating! I faced the question, “To eat or not to eat?”
My uncomfortableness hit an all time high when this dish came around and I could see the eyes of the animal staring at me while I was trying to take a bite. The popular thinking in America is you aren’t supposed to serve the head of the animal you are eating. Can you imagine it if you got a cow’s head with every hamburger you ordered from McDonalds? Or imagine ordering your chicken breast sandwich with a head of a chicken on the plate. There I was in China and I could tell I was eating a chicken and it was staring right back at me!
That question, “To eat or not to eat?” is when I began to question what I call popular thinking. What is popular thinking? It’s what we all grow up with. It’s what your parents thought, what your teachers thought, and probably what you’re thinking right now. You grow up thinking there is a way of doing things and it’s the way that most people think. Especially in America we are taught from an early age, the people who run our country are elected based on the popular thinking. In other words, the candidate with the most popular ideas is who gets elected.
As I stared at the head of the animal I was about to eat, strange questions began to run through my mind: “What was his name? Where did he grow up? Did he live a good life? Was he a part of a big family? Where are his brothers and sisters? I started to look around to see if any of his family members were watching me.
Not to offend my local countrymen, I at least took one bite of everything that came around to me. I made a decision then and there to question the thinking that I should not eat food served with the head still in the plate. It got me thinking about other decisions I have made in my life where I failed to question popular thinking. Was I a person who simply accepted the thoughts of those around me without even questioning if they were right for me?
In my blog post Sochi Fails: Why Product Managers Need to Travel Abroad I go into more detail about popular thinking. As a product manager it is so important to examine problems from every different angle and question your own popular thinking. You will be amazed at the new ideas that flow when you break beyond your own barriers and decide to take the bite.