Belonging Precedes “Doing Stuff”

What Your Organization Needs to Increase Innovation

Belonging is a seemingly little thing that shapes everything.

We each need to belong. Having a sense of belonging is, in fact, a most fundamental human psychological need, as essential as our need for shelter, sustenance, and being safe from harm. For those of us who took Psych, is in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

At the bottom are the food and shelter needs. At the top is the self-expression and actualization which is about distinct perspective and ideas. Before we can live in that higher part we HAVE to go through and meet the precondition which is belonging.

Belonging As Identity

Belonging is not just affiliations, but also how you conceive of yourself and are conceived. It is the identity you accept, the value you are assigned. Belonging involves you but is deeply contextual. You cannot define your identity in isolation; your social context greatly influences it.

Imagine having lunch with five people. You share something you think matters, but all 5 poo-pooh the idea. They squinch their face, they say it’s silly and move onto the next topic. Now, imagine the opposite response: they get excited as you are, they offer to connect you with other people who can help, and generally offer to lend a shoulder to get that idea out of you and into the world. This is how belonging affects your ideas. If your social construct denies your personal dreams, your personal dreams, ideas, and innovations are at risk. That’s why Onlyness is not simply and singular you, but the contextual and connected you.

Belonging is Being Seen As YOURSELF

With belonging comes the belief that you have a right to occupy space, to have your own ideas, to contribute yourself. It’s the gateway thru which you have to pass before you can have original ideas. Without acknowledging and adjusting THIS key insight, you’re not acknowledging how power limits or liberates ideas.

The sense of belonging arrives in that moment when someone says they see us …imperfections and all – and still value us. It’s why we sigh at the movie scene when someone says, I like you very much, just as you are. Or how relieved we feel when we hear our boss say to us, I’ve got your back. Without belonging as ourselves, we are lonely and vulnerable even when surrounded by others.

The pervasive lack of belonging is why the world feels so lonely and isolated EVEN as we are more digitally connected than ever. More and more, we have allowed technology to interfere with developing social relationships and now, so many people are isolated and lonely (despite practically living online). Yet, when we know how to find those people with whom we can be in meaningful relationships, tech can also be a part of the change from being lonely to onlyness.

Belonging is the Key to Innovation

With belonging, you show up in the world more fully alive. With it, you feel safe enough to share an early notion, to explore that seemingly wild idea, and even take the risks to invent the future. So, before you can “Do Stuff”— dream and think stuff up, build or create stuff, act and react to stuff — we each need to belong.

And, that’s why it hurts so much when we “belong” to our organizations in a half soul kind of way, when the organizations we work at only see us by our title, or our rank, or our gender or our color. We want to be seen, and belong in a meaningful way… as ourselves. By our Onlyness. If there is one thing any leader can do to create more innovation, it’s to lead in such a way as to create belonging.

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