Over the past few months, I’ve learned a lot about how to overcome those barriers. While recording a podcast, I invited myself into some unconventional workplaces. I was surprised that in each workplace, they made a it big priority to help people gain self-awareness—sometimes it was even part of their performance evaluations. And I walked away with new insights on how people can see themselves more clearly.
One: If you want people to really know you, weekly meetings don’t cut it. You need deep dives with them in high-intensity situations. When I talked with a crew of astronauts who went to the International Space Station together, I found out that NASA prepared them by sending them into the wilderness for 11 days together. Their guides promptly let them get lost, and they said they came out of that experience knowing each other better than colleagues they’d worked with for years. At Morning Star, a leading tomato-paste plant that has operated successfully for decades without a single boss, I was stunned to discover that the founder often interviews job applicants at their own homes for three to five hours.
Two: Looking under your own hood at what makes you tick and writing it down can provide a useful reference. I’ve seen a growing number of managers write their own user manuals to help people understand what brings out the best and worst in them. But it’s even better to have the people who know you well write your user manual for you. On a visit to the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, I got to see people rate each other daily on up to 77 different dimensions. It sounds intense, but it forces people to be honest with themselves. And at Morning Star, employees get to write their own job descriptions based on how they plan to contribute to the company’s mission that year. But they have to get their closest colleagues to buy in on it, and then their coworkers rate their performance and determine their salary.
Three: Put yourself in situations where you can’t ignore feedback from multiple sources. In studies, one friend is only a little better at gauging a person’s intelligence and creativity than they themselves are; four friends are significantly better. When I infiltrated the writers’ room at The Daily Show, the host, Trevor Noah, told me he makes up 90 percent of his stand-up comedy on stage. He just starts riffing on topics and gets instant input on what’s funny from a whole crowd. And at Bridgewater, the ratings are weighted by how believable your colleagues have proven themselves to be in each domain. When five of your close colleagues have a track record of being highly organized and they all say you’re not, it’s tough to argue that you’re right and they’re wrong.
Imagine if the White House were organized this way. Presidents are rated all the time in public-opinion polls, but they’d learn a lot more if their own teams evaluated them. Since stability is an internal state, as long as he’s not clinically unstable, President Trump might be able to weigh in on it accurately. But he—like everyone—probably can’t see himself clearly when it comes to traits that are clearly desirable or undesirable, like intelligence.