The Red Suitcase

I was getting ready to board a flight with my husband, the second leg of a flight to our final destination. I travel light and carry my luggage on board. With me was my red roller-bag – the one that has an interesting, deceiving contour. It slopes up, but the highest part of the case is the same height as a normal roller-bag. It fits in the overhead bin, handle first versus wheels first. It’s the same size as all the other roller-bags.

The gate agent stopped me and said, “You’ll have to check the bag – it won’t fit.” “Yes it will,” I said. “Wheels first?” he asked. “No, it fits ….” I started to reply before he cut me off. “Then you’ll have to check it,” he scowled. As I began to measure it to prove that its dimensions were a standard fit, my husband joined the conversation. “It fit in the overhead bin just fine on the last flight.” The gate agent finally acquiesced, after wasting precious time during the boarding process – all because my suitcase had a slightly different look. I understood his concern – that if I placed it in the bin horizontally it would take up too much room.

We were early to board, and after settling in my seat, I observed one gentleman very nonchalantly placing two bags horizontally in the overhead bin – not appearing to care about other passengers. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was scolded by the gate agent as I was. I observed a woman place a carry-on bag that should have gone under her seat in the overhead bin without a care in the world taking room where another roller-bag could have gone.

We make assumptions all the time. Sometimes they are based on people’s characteristics, sometimes prior experiences. We make assumptions about new or different things or ideas because we've had no experience with them. Ninety-five percent of what we do, we do with an unconscious mind. The gate agent was so focused on the shape of my suitcase, he lost sight of the other passengers. Focus is good – I certainly want the pilot focused on his job. When focus becomes rigid, it runs the risk of taking all judgment out of the process.

Bottom line is that when we make assumptions, we're looking backwards and making judgments. We're blocking our ability to see how the person, thing or idea can contribute to the organization. We're letting our biases overshadow our thinking. We’re stifling creativity and creativity and innovation are important in today's business environment.

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