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The Vicious Cycle of Assumptions and Stereotypes

Let me step away from technology and business for a few moments. I’ve got something to discuss as it is still elusive to people.

As humans, we tend to put people into boxes. On the egregious end, it results in things like racism and sexism. On the more mild end, it causes things like disappointment from false expectations. We look at people, or groups of people, and we channel our own biases and notions – sometimes fairly, but mostly unfairly – on those people or groups. It keeps us on cyclical merry go rounds repeating the same mistakes over and over again

As an example, in the wide world of the web, it’s easy to break people into two groups – marketers and developers. Marketers are often seen as the type of person who can sell. They are social creatures that meet people, pitch people and generally are more socially adept than the other side.

Developers are generally seen as the types that sit in front of their computers writing code. The comical stereotype is the pasty-faced guy in his momma’s basement. Average Computer Science programs at Universities are male dominated making the relationship between men and women…. interesting. Or so it’s perceived.

In a similar vein, there are people who are seen as right-brained creatives. They are seen as artsy and, in the web world, tend to be the design and UX types. They are free thinkers. These types may be musicians. Or photographers. Or painters. Or they may just be “ideas” folks. They build iPhone apps because iPhones are cool. They work independently because… they don’t like the restraint of working with others within a structured environment.

On the flip side, you have left brained people who, as perception goes, are more mathematical and analytical. They see system and process and routine and operate well within those confines. They tend to think less open ended and more linearly with finite points of start and end. These are project management types that need the structure to perform.

In politics, you have Democrats who, if the perception is accurate, are supportive of social issues like green energy, are anti-war, support equal rights for all and no expense should be spared to see that the world is, in a very utopian way, a better place.

The opposite of that, however, or so our culture would dictate, are Republicans. Republicans are generally seen as stodgy and supporting policies of military expansionism, lower taxes which result in lower costs, and perhaps, reduced services and benefits.

The problem with all of these stereotypes is that it is impossible to evaluate individuals for who they are and what they stand for. My good friend @amandare will blow your mind. She is a motorhead, pool shark and a major football fan. And she loves knitting.

Another friend, @caseysoftware, is a computer science engineer and one of the smartest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s also the community guy (or has been since he’s now moving to Austin), for the PHP developers group in DC. That’s a fairly social position and doesn’t work with the stereotypical developer personality.

I am actually a fairly left-brained guy. I write code, I think in systems and patterns, and I operate well with definite task-oriented routines. I’m also a creative in that I am a musician, photographer, have an open-minded sense of aesthetics and art and prefer to think outside the box than inside.

How do people function in a world where stereotypes rule the day? Well, clearly, many don’t. Women pass up men to date based on assumptions of what a guy would be like. Some people fail to put themselves in positions to be hired simply based on a pre-conceived expectation of who will be at an event. Managers fail to manage effectively, because of assumptions about how the people they manage need to be managed. Job seekers fail to apply for their perfect job because they assume they are not qualified for it.

Taking the time to understand the world around you will help you succeed in life. Otherwise, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Photo by The Knowles Gallery and used under Creative Commons.

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