About 15 years ago in Razorfish days, I remember getting an annual report from client who we were pitching to. There was a picture of the executive team all standing in a line. It didn’t help that the photo was black and white, but the line up of very similar looking white men with grey hair and similar suits was stark.
We have evolved over millions of years to be cautious about difference. We judge difference very quickly, in milliseconds and unconsciously. Most of our brain is evaluating threat, to see if we are at risk. After all it is only very recently that we can reasonably expect the person we are meeting for the first time means us no harm – in most situations. Difference meant danger, until very recently.
In business we are slowly realising that difference actually means safety. What is so important for minimising risk and maximising creativity is differences in ways of thinking. Of course it is not enough just to have different thinking if those different thoughts stay in peoples heads, so there must also be a culture of challenge, sharing and collaboration. Both innovation and safety require a diversity of background, underlying belief systems, experience and education to ensure that all angles are covered and all risks and opportunities are considered.
We largely accept that team is better than individual and the more heterogeneous the team the better.
I was in a wonderfully diverse workshop last week where we were discussing these issues. One of the conversations we had was about the “walking on eggshells” experience, where when we are unfamiliar with a persons beliefs or experience and become so cautious that we fail to connect. Whether it is religion, colour, disability or even gender for some, we find it difficult to be open because our thinking is clouded by myths. And so we prefer to remain with what feels like the safer ground of those we believe we understand better.
Imagine the difference it would make to the governing board of any business, government, religion or institution if gender, religion, race, disability, age, sexual orientation and education style were thoroughly represented in decision making. Imagine how much more difficult it would be for them to be blind to both risk and opportunity if they had 360 degree awareness.
Far from having glass ceilings for colour, gender or disability there should be glass elevators. Boards need to be actively training and recruiting and paying a premium to attract those who are not “male, pale and stale” to the team – and listening to them carefully when they do.
For those of us not on boards or in board level recruitment we can tackle the “eggshell” situation, we can have our very own “Myths and Legends” conversation. Rather than distancing ourselves because we feel uncomfortable we need to overcome our caution and get to know the individual – we can start by saying “Hi”, looking them in the eye and getting to know them.
Please share your stories and examples here.
You can subscribe for free at www.neilcrofts.com