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Are “Flat Earth Societies” Suppressing Innovation in Your Workplace?

By February 19, 2015January 15th, 2019No Comments

Yes, Virginia there is a Flat Earth Society.

Started in 1956, the Society holds onto the notion that the earth is “a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth.”


If you’re like me, you’re scratching your head right now and asking yourself how could they miss the highly televised Red Bull Stratos sponsored space diving project involving Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner. Do they ignore every National Geographic photo of the curvature of the planet with the sun gracefully rolling over the horizon at sunset? What about the South Pole? No, the South Pole is not mentioned by the Flat Earth Society, but please, don’t tell the penguins!

Let’s get back down to earth.

What does the Flat Earth Society have to do with networking and diversity of ideas in the workplace?

The “flat earth” mentality resurrects and reinforces barriers at every turn. Workplaces regardless of size, are full of “flat earth societies” — you’ve likely encountered one or more them during your career. They’re the groups of people clinging to some crazy (outdated) notions of how things work, how departments function and how they got to where they are on the corporate ladder. Rather than opening their eyes (and minds), they continue to recruit, promote and surround themselves with a tight-knit circle of people who look like and think like, them. The “this is how things are done”, “this is what successful looks like” viewpoint shuts-out the new, different and opposing. It can’t value or support diverse communities of people let alone new approaches to getting things done. It stuffs Millennials up a corporate ladder constructed by Baby-Boomers. It stifles innovation and improvement as it blindly follows the established process. Flat earth at work reinforces on a daily basis the “this is how things are done here” walls of the corporate echo chamber.

Flat earth at work isn’t simply a problem from the top where the stakes of change appear to be the riskiest. Many corporate cultures are filled with hundreds of micro “flat earth societies” — lateral, vertical and individual. The layers of procedures, scheduling requirements and rules that are poorly explained, never questioned publically and strictly adhered to. Insidious when you start to think about it, right? The company and the individuals within it can’t begin to innovate or solve larger corporate challenges creatively (or allow employees to contribute to their fullest potential), when the foundation at every corporate turn is “flat earth”.

What’s one employee to do? Change what you do control in the workplace, starting with how you interact with your co-workers.

Stop for a moment and think about your immediate work surroundings. Who are the co-workers sitting closest to you and which ones do you speak with, turn to with questions or grab lunch with? What about the most recent hire or promotion in your department? What was the talent pipeline for that recruit? Was that new hire the result of an employee referral or a trusted recruiter or a posting on Craigslist? What about the interview and hiring process — how did the company’s process affect the applicant pool?

Look across your organization. Who are the colleagues across departments/functions/geographic regions that you interact with on some regular basis or need to enlist for support? Do you seek out diverse, varied viewpoints or are the “go to” people in your workplace network, people who are just “like” you? Are you shaping your coworkers into the work mindset mould that you are comfortably nestled in? Aren’t you the list bit curious about how those “other” employees approach your company’s challenges?

By focusing on getting your job done with the least amount of friction, you may have unconsciously created your very own “flat earth society” at work.

We continue to operate from a change-starts-from-the-top mentality (Satya Nadella at Microsoft is a high profile case in point of a CEO desperately trying to effect a change in corporate culture) but revolutionary change starts at the bottom. Want to see change in your corporate culture? Challenge yourself. Don’t wait for the trickle down of new policies and procedures from the C-Suite, start instead with how you approach your job. Adjust your daily interactions with your colleagues. Modify the processes you’ve put in place under the guise of productivity. Step outside of your personal echo chamber.

J. Kelly Hoey

J. Kelly Hoey

J. Kelly Hoey is a problem solver who believes that most professional challenges—whether funding, landing a board position or getting a new job—are solved by tapping into networks.Kelly is a popular speaker on networking, community building and investing issues, especially as they relate to women, and has worked with the IEEE, PGA, Bank of America, Apple and countless others. Follow Kelly on Twitter @jkhoey and on Instagram @jkellyhoey and join the #BYDN community at