Stay with Reality and Context: Don’t Go Zebra

Going Zebra

Going zebra happens when you make an assumption that is likely to be inaccurate, because you didn’t pay attention to the context. This will make more sense if you consider the following question. If there is a horse-like figure running across the horizon and you can’t quite make out what it is, and you live in the USA, do you assume it’s a horse or a zebra? If you assume it’s a zebra, you’ll most likely be wrong. If you keep your eyes on the context (USA, not Africa), your judgment will be much better and you’ll probably assume it’s a horse.

Why do they go zebra?

When someone else goes zebra, it can feel really odd. You may wonder, “How did you get to that?” There are many reasons why people jump to unlikely conclusions. Often it’s simply because they aren’t paying attention to the reality of the context. It can also be a convenient way to avoid something they don’t want to see. Sometimes it’s because the person likes to complicate things. And then there is always the person who wants to be clever and prefers their own ideas about reality.

It can also be fun to play with wild assumptions and doing so can be highly creative. But when your assumptions will have an impact, you need to accurately assess the context and make your best guess, which means not going zebra.

It could be a zebra

Even a well considered guess about what is going on, needs to be verified as you go forward. Let’s go back to the original question of horse or zebra and assume you’re in the USA and you guessed it was a horse. That would be the best guess. But as you get closer you actually see the stripes and you realize it is a zebra! This new information changes everything and your previous assumption now needs to be discarded. It’s a whole different situation now! The context has changed and if you are resilient, you’ll keep working with the new context even as it changes. This means not insisting it’s a horse now, when it’s clear that you’re looking at a galloping zebra.

Clarity and connection with reality

Expanding your view of the context leads to clarity and connection with reality. This will help you stay rooted even when people around you are going zebra. It will help you chart a path that you have confidence in, because you are truly paying attention to what is going on around you. This is a powerful gift to those around you, especially if others are relying on your leadership.

Have you ever found yourself going zebra? What helped you regain your perspective? How do you respond when others go zebra?

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Barbara Bouchet

Barbara Bouchet is President of Contact Point Associates and author of "The Enlightened Edge for Leaders: Ignite the Power of You." She coaches and trains leaders and teams to expand, transform and take delight in their work and life. Connect with Barbara.


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