My daughter likes to wear mismatched socks.
Specifically, she likes to wear mismatched princess socks.
This is not because she is careless. In fact, this is a very calculated move. She likes to wear mismatched socks because it allows her to show off more than once princess at a time.
And if you think about it, the logic behind her argument is airtight. She does get to display more princesses per capita than if she were to wear boring old matching socks.
Sound logic aside, I know that someday very soon, someone in her class is going to ask her why she is doing this and that will be the end of it.
She will proudly lay out her reasoning for pairing Ariel with Cinderella-just as she has laid it out for me many times-and that classmate will tell her that you “aren’t supposed to do that”. Or worse, they will just laugh at her.
Either way, I know that one day she will tell me that she “only wears matching socks now” because that’s what you are “supposed to do”.
And that breaks my heart a little bit.
As I think about this hypothetical heartbreaking moment (it’s a thing parents do, sorry not sorry) I am reminded of Gordon MacKenzies excellent Orbiting the Giant Hairball, in which he tells the story of giving a sculpture demonstration at an elementary school.
Before he begins, MacKenzie asks the kindergarten class how many artists there are in the room and almost all the hands go up. Slightly fewer hands go up when he asks the first grade class, but most still identify as artists. By the time he gets to the fifth grade though, almost no hands go up at all.
“Are all the artists transferring out and going to art school?” he jokes.
Of course, that’s not what’s happening at all.
Somewhere along the way someone drew something or wrote something or sang something and someone else laughed at them and that was it.
No more putting oneself out there. No more risking attention or ridicule by presenting something even slightly different out into the world.
Better to always play it safe.
It is my job to make sure my daughter knows that “always play it safe” is terrible advice (and WOW is this hard to do as a parent).
But that’s the job-to make sure she knows she can damn well wear whatever socks she wants.
Anyone can, you know, not just kids. The problem is, playing it safe is a hard habit to break. Most of us adults play it safe all day, every day.
When is the last time you drew something you were proud of? Or shared a radical new idea?
When is the last time you wore mismatched socks? On purpose?
The onus is on all of us, as leaders, to let our tribes know it’s safe to try some weird stuff. And maybe even try some weird stuff ourselves, or follow the person doing the weird stuff.
Some of this weird stuff will legitimately be terrible. But that’s okay!
It’s worth it, because if we do our job, our organizations just might reach incredible new heights.
And my daughter just might refuse to listen when someone tells her that her socks don’t match.