The Experience of Seeing, Thinking, and Being Different



There are plenty of examples of research showing that diverse teams are more creative, more effective, and more innovative. We know that inclusive and high trust organizational cultures simply outperform others. I believe that, by extension, this must be true for individuals as well. I was fortunate to spend a few days at three incredible gatherings: The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology the American Road and Transportation Builder’s Association conference on innovation - Transovation, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) National Conference. Each conference had a wide variety of talks ranging from organizational culture, climate change, blockchain, resiliency, and leadership – and inspiring stories from several walks of life that had significant impact. The speakers included astronauts, scientists, students, entrepreneurs, CEOs, VPs, tribal elders, city planners, and HR leaders.

Leonardo da Vinci and many other multi-discipline creators were known as polymaths – skilled across boundaries – and there is a great article by Michael Simmons on Medium about research showing people with “too many interests” are more successful and how that is even more relevant in the 21st century.  The old adage “jack of all trades, master of none” may no longer be true.

Reflecting on the whirlwind and diversity of these experiences, the predominant feeling is how tremendously inclusive these groups were. The conference halls were filled with people very different from one another smiling, open to questions, laughing, and sharing a belief that we are all working towards a better future. Not every group these days is like that - some societal relationships are strained more than ever - but these groups illustrated the importance of inclusive behavior and accepting of diverse perspectives and different types of people, cultural practices, skill sets, and disciplines. It made me realize how much better I am because people accepted me into their communities, and I could feel comfortable listening and learning from them.

I would highly recommend this as a deliberate practice to consider for HR professionals and senior leaders alike. Pick two or three conferences or events that are outside of your comfort zone or expertise area – loosely related to your vocation – and attend back to back. Whether you choose local community gatherings or large international conferences – or both!  The similarities and the differences are impactful and will change the way you work. For me, it’s been interesting to see how some of the challenges of these communities overlap yet are very distinct and unique in their nature. Each group shared important lessons, takeaways, and opportunities to continue to learn and grow. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “we may have all come in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

I would invite every HR professional, every senior leader – to experiment and insert yourself into a set of diverse communities – you will learn much – and find that we all are more alike than we are different.


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