The room you’re in right now probably has windows. It might have a mirror, too. We see and use windows and mirrors so often that we take them for granted. Our understanding of their purpose and value gets lost. Organizations have physical windows and mirrors, but they also have “conceptual” windows and mirrors. What is their purpose?
- Allow you to see out—It’s important to see what is going on outside your organization. For most businesses windows are important for understanding what is going on in the marketplace. For any organization that focuses on serving people (e.g. the local church), looking out the windows is critical in understanding the needs that you are trying to meet.
- Let light in—We must have light to survive. We must have light to see what we are doing. Light brings clarity to situations. You might say, “We can use electric lights.” True enough, but everyone intuitively understands that superior qualities of natural light. The natural light from windows helps us see ourselves, each other, and our world more clearly and in a truer nature.
- Allow others to see in—Any organization that wants to impact its environment (that’s every organization) must allow people outside to see in. At one level this is simply so that people become aware of the widgets you sell or the services you provide. However, allowing others to see in also promotes transparency and accountability.
- Creates a warmer, more energetic environment—Have you ever worked in a windowless office? Many years ago, I did for about 18 months. It was a horrible experience and significantly contributed to a very serious depression and burnout period in my life. Organizations need windows to liven up the environment for all. Windows add life and encourage community.
- Provides a reflection of self (but is also distorted)—It is important to get feedback on who you are. This applies at the individual and the organizational level. It is important to have a clear understanding of self. However, the problem with mirrors is that everything is distorted. When you look in a mirror you do NOT see what others see. Everything is backwards! You’re thinking, “Well, of course. I know that!” Sure you do, but to prove how far off your mirror image is from the truth, just look at a picture of yourself compared to a mirror image. Weird, right? Your self-perception through mirrors is weird. Also, mirrors only reflect what your eyes see while others can see you in 360° fullness. Be careful about trusting what you see in the mirror.
- Makes a room look bigger than it really is—While there may be some advantages to the illusion that the room (your organization) is bigger than it really is, you certainly don’t want to make decisions based on this “information.” Using information you see in mirrors to buy carpet or furniture would get very problematic. So would strategic planning for your organization! Once again, don’t trust the information you get from mirrors.
In addition to the thoughts above, consider some window and mirror scenarios that occur in many organizations:
What happens when organizations take down windows and wall over them? Organizations do this when they stop listening to their customers, or when they fail to pay attention to key trends in the market. They also do this when they think they are impervious to scrutiny and beyond oversight.
What happens when organizations replace windows with mirrors that shouldn’t be there? Organizations do this when they become self-focused and self-deluded. They lose perspective on who they really are and how they fit into the world. Some organizations have so many mirrors up that they soon become unrecognizable from the organization they once were (many churches and institutions of higher education have done this).
What about your organization? Are you taking advantage of the windows properly? Do you have enough windows up? Are you properly using the (few) mirrors?
My thanks go to Vince Miller whose quick comment about windows and mirrors last week gave me the idea for this article. Let’s have coffee again, Vince!