Nothing in the world stays the same, no matter how much we attempt to keep it the same. And in order to GROW, we must put ourselves in new situations constantly and learn to ADAPT.
That is the cornerstone of the agile mindset. As diversity and inclusion consultants, we believe this quote alone explains why diversity is so absolutely vital to workplaces. And why it is a muscle that needs to actively be practiced by organizations and individuals.
Let’s face it, silos and segregation are everywhere: whether we look at social, cultural, and religious groups, political parties, or…organizational functions.
What causes these siloes?
According to Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, we know that our most basic, primal need has always been physiological safety — so no wonder many of us spend our lives with the goal of “settling down” and keeping things predictable and under control. We are addicted to comfort and the semblance of control. That is why we veer towards familiar situations with people who are like us and make us feel “safe.”
As we have evolved and become more physically self-sufficient, however, our needs have also evolved to include growth and self-actualization. In fact, we actually see that growth is nature’s way and purpose, when we look at the evolution of life and technology. Once we have established sufficient control over our physical environment, and our basic survival needs are met, we can focus our energy on creation, growth, and fulfilling our potential.
Our Fundamental Need To Grow and Improve
We leave home for the first time in our lives and go to college; Then we move to a new city and start our lives over in a new place with new people; We change jobs so that we can gain more skills, authority, and money. These are all stepping stones for our basic need to grow and improve.
An example from my own life: a few years ago, I decided to leave my job and go to India to explore living in my native culture. This expedition brought with it challenges I never would have imagined. From getting ripped off constantly for being a foreigner, to having to learn a new language and pretend I’m a local so I wouldn’t get ripped off, to being lied to and strung along by colleagues, to negotiating and jumping through hoops to rent my own flat as a single woman.
It may not sound pleasant right now, but this experience gave me something very important. It gave me the confidence to know that I can adapt to just about any situation and respond resourcefully.
Similarly in business, we enter new markets, develop new products, change our processes and technology — why? Because we need to remain competitive, or we will be taken over. As individuals, we will soon be replaced by someone more capable than us if we DON’T grow.
But How Do We Grow?
One word: Diversity. By bringing diversity into our work, trying new things; going to new places; being around new people. And by learning from all of these experiences. We gain perspectives that we didn’t have before. And strangely, we actually end up understanding ourselves and our roles better by understanding others. so, we can do our jobs better and fulfill our unique purpose.
And how do we stop growing? One word: Fear. The news and media don’t help us get over the neurosis of believing our lives are in danger whenever we enter a new situation. If I had watched Indian news everyday, I would have believed that as soon as I set foot in India I would get raped and robbed. And then I never would have gone. I would have stayed in my unfulfilling job just to avoid the perceived danger of adjusting to a new country. And then I would have missed out on the most formative experience of my life.
As mentioned, we are hard-wired to be on autopilot and stay out of trouble from day to day. Most people do. And so we feel lucky if we are just able to get by. We hide and shelter ourselves from ‘newness’, in order to stay out of perceived danger.
There is Another Way, Though.
There is another option that we often don’t consider. We can lean in to the unknown, the darkness, the confusion, the difference.
We can try to learn more about it, be curious about it, instead of being scared. See where there are opportunities to work with differences to create new, innovative solutions.
We can expand our minds by exploring what we don’t know, instead of being so attached to what we DO know. And we can admit if we’ve missed an important perspective.
Finally, we can trust that by doing so, we are not weakening our leadership, but actually strengthening it. That whatever is happening is meant to teach us something that will make us more powerful.
Diversity Leads to Creativity
A Linkedin study showed that the most in-demand skill in 2019 was surprisingly not data analytics, not AI, not app development— it was creativity. At the top of the list also were collaboration and adaptability. Companies are hungry to hire people who can think out-of-the-box, respond and adapt quickly, and collaborate with others to find solutions.
It makes sense — the key to evolution is variation and adaptability. We have seen that too much ‘sameness’ in nature results in weaker inbred species, diseases, and even death.
Yet why do we humans still constantly try to be around the same people, doing the same things, staying in the same jobs? We don’t even know that we are doing it; we are driven like a motor by our automatic impulse to stay “comfortable.”
But nature shows us that too much comfort is dangerous.
So CEOs may wonder: why should I care about diversity? I’m not trying to be Mother Teresa; I want my business to grow!
CEOs should be interested in diversity because nature shows us that diversity is a huge competitive advantage in the long term, when channeled correctly. Diversity, both within ourselves and within our societies, increases our odds of survival.
Here are just a few examples:
- Genetic diversity enables survival of species.
- Biodiversity enables increased crop production and protection from natural disasters.
- Financial portfolio diversity ensures growth and sustainability.
- Skills diversity in individuals ensures employability and reduced chance of becoming obsolete.
So, I will leave you with one more thought:
The coveted “agile” mindset of tomorrow can not develop from limiting our exposure today, to familiar environments, groups of people, situations, and cultures. That mindset forms from repeatedly exposing ourselves to new situations, challenges, and contexts and being forced to find solutions.