Diversity of Thought, Not Look

Ed Baldwin Audacious Ideas, Change Management, Diversity, Driving Productivity, Ed Baldwin, Good HR, HR

Let me start by saying that I’m a big advocate for diversity.  And this post isn’t suggesting otherwise. In fact, quite the opposite.

I’ve seen the power of diversity first-hand many times – assembling a diverse group of folks attacking a problem or issue from every possible angle and dimension, one goal in mind, collectively architecting a solution that broaches on the impossible from a more homogeneous team.  The strength of diversity in action is incredible.

But we need to be cautious that we don’t judge diversity on the outside without considering diversity on the inside.

It’s true that diversity of thought on the inside can be challenging to come by in a homogeneous group on the outside.  But it’s not impossible. Take for example one of my best friends and a fellow classmate from my small hometown of Oelwein, Iowa. He is very different in thought than I am.  He would say “completely different”.  We grew up in the same small town, graduated from the same high school and even went to the same college.  But that’s where our experiences diverge.  His schooling was completely different.  He chose dentistry while I got a degree in business.  He’s gone on to live in very different places than me.  Chose a path very different than mine – politically, spiritually, etc.

And yet, he’s my age, from the same place, and just as white and male as me.  On the surface you might say we are the same.  But in thought, completely different.  So could we form part of a diverse team?  Yes.

And conversely, can two people from other sides of the planet of a different gender and skin color (even speaking a different language) have similarity in thought?  Absolutely.

I’ve seen this happen too. 

Look no further than your company’s last strategy session. Let me guess. A room full of long term employees (perhaps from all around the world) who work in the same business, with the same perspectives, educational backgrounds and even same generation.  Group think, plain and simple.  Diversity in look, perhaps.  Diversity in thought, not even close.  Their schooling, way of thinking and approach to problem solving tends to override their possible physical diversity.  So while it may look like a diverse team, actually its not.

Then we hire a professional facilitator to guide the team to “think outside the box”.  The premise, when you think about it, is laughable. 

So how do you really get disruptive, ground-breaking ideas and innovation in your business?  A possible differentiator for your team, your department or your business?

Start by getting a group of people in the room that offer diversity of thought, not diversity of look.  Then you don’t have to ask them to think out of the box, because each of their boxes are different!

I highlight this because in my experience teams that are brought together for strategy sessions, innovation sessions, and the like tend to be the opposite.  How much expertise in OUR INDUSTRY, OUR BUSINESS, and OUR MARKET SPACE, can we cram into a conference room?! 

As strategy session facilitators, leaders and HR pros, let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard.  Build something better.  Let’s find people who are stakeholders in our business but come from different educational backgrounds, different schools of thought.  Challenge them to attack the challenges we have from different perspectives, in different ways.  Sure, it’s a tough group to facilitate but quoting Don Draper “that’s what the money is for”. 

The results are sure to be much more innovative and out of the box and potentially market differentiating.  And isn’t that what we all desire in the first place?