The Cauliflower Confession
I hate cauliflower.*
By now that might not be a surprise to you, as I share my distaste for this disgusting vegetable frequently. What you may not know is that I wasn’t always this vocal about my longstanding “cauliphobia.” It was always something people eventually learned about me. Our dislikes, particularly when it comes to food, are the sort of thing that only our closest family and friends typically know. Yet for me, sharing this quirky fact became something interestingly personal. Realizing this was such a powerful personal lesson that I wrote an entire chapter about it in my career advice book “Always Eat Left Handed.” Here’s an excerpt of that chapter – to explain a bit more about why I have become such a public enemy of cauliflower everywhere … and why you might benefit from making a similarly random declaration of your own.
WHY LEADERS NEVER EAT CAULIFLOWER
Excerpted from Always Eat Left Handed
Secret #4 – Avoid Cauliflower
Lesson – Have A Point Of View
I actively hate cauliflower.
It is and has always been my least favourite “food.” I hate the smell, the look, and the texture of it. There was a time when I used to keep that fact to myself. I’d smile politely and quietly avoid it. I might have even taken some on my plate to please a particularly overbearing host … especially since it’s a very common ingredient in lots of Indian dishes (and it is almost impossible to refuse food from an Indian host!).
Then one day I decided I would stop pretending. From that day onwards, when invited to dinner and someone asked if there was anything I couldn’t eat – I had my answer ready. I would single out cauliflower. When people asked if I was allergic, I would politely admit that I wasn’t “officially” allergic … only that I couldn’t stand it.
Before you dismiss me as a picky eater, I should tell you that I am quite the opposite. I’ve tried deep fried crickets on the streets of Hong Kong. I had whale tartar in Norway. If you told me something was a delicacy in a strange land, I would probably take a bite just to know what it tastes like. I always try everything.
Over time, though, something interesting started to happen when it came to my dislike of cauliflower. It became a way for people to get to know something unexpectedly personal about me. Just as newly dating couples eventually figure out how their partner likes their coffee – cauliflower became that small fact about me that people could remember and share.
“Oh, he won’t touch that. Rohit doesn’t eat cauliflower.” Yes, it sounds strange. But I started bonding with people over my intense dislike of a vegetable—and my willingness to be upfront about sharing it.
Some People Believe …
One of the most fundamental skills that many lawyers learn early in their training in law school is how to make a qualified statement without revealing a personal bias. In order to project what is often called “confident uncertainty” – they will use words like “appears, seems, suggests or indicates.” They will start sentences with “some people believe … “ or similar statements.
It works in the legal environment, where opinions can and may be held against you in a court of law. In most of the rest of the business and personal world, though, having opinions is actually highly desirable. In fact, having an opinion usually makes the difference between whether you are actually adding value to a conversation or piece of work, or just following orders.
We seek out people who have a point of view. We want advice from them. We want them to lead us. A point of view means you don’t have to pretend to like everything. It is something you can argue for. It may not be something that everyone around you agrees with, but you have a strong rationale for why you believe it and you are able to share that with others. Having a point of view, though, isn’t just critical to be able to offer something valuable to a conversation. It is also critical to earning respect.
Having a point of view changes everything.
Over time, the people we respect tend to be the ones who are able to argue for their own point of views … even if we happen to disagree with them.
How To Have A Point Of View
If there is one promise that many liberal arts colleges make, it is to teach their students how to think. Learning how to think, though, doesn’t require a fancy degree from an expensive school. It only requires you to be a student of knowledge with enough confidence to form your own point of view and argue for it when necessary.
To help you do both, here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t memorize facts. The biggest enemy to having a point of view is focusing on memorizing facts. About two years ago, Fast Company published a fascinating interview with one of the leaders of a top-10 outsourcing firm based in India called iGate Patni. In it, the CEO Phaneesh Murthy shared the unexpected conclusion that the American education system (despite its consistently low global rankings) was actually the best in the world. “To compete long term,” he shared, “we need more brainstorming, not memorization; more individuality, not standardization.” In other words, we need more people with a point of view – and Murthy is spending millions every year to retrain his workforce with this new skill.
- Learn to separate belief from fact. It is notoriously difficult for any one of us to separate the things that we believe from the things that anyone else might objectively consider to be fact. The media we consume can be biased in either direction, and it can lead to mistaken assumptions and the ability for anyone to prove any point simply by twisting “facts” into one direction or another. The positive side of this 24/7 media environment is that it is easier than ever to get access to verifiable facts if you are open to hearing them from a variety of sources. It is making this new skill of being able to separate belief from fact so important, that a host of new high schools and universities across the world are now teaching “news literacy” as a core skill.
- Take an unpopular position. One of the hallmarks of a yes-man or yes-woman is agreeing with everything the boss says. Actually, agreeing with others in a large group is a popular thing to do – psychologist call it the “spiral of silence” where members of a group become fearful of isolation and gravitate to share the opinion of the vocal minority. The best way to combat this effect is to use your point of view to occasionally take an unpopular position, as long as your point of view can justify why you have the opinion that you do.
*Final Note:I thought it would be nice to include a photo at the top of this page along with the introduction – and I usually do. Unfortunately, the most logical image there would have been a picture of cauliflower … and I just didn’t feel right forcing that upon either one of us. Trust me, it’s better this way.