Last night Dave and I ran our first mini-workshop on Diversity & Divergency at Veran Performance’s offices in London. This is part of the build up to our full day workshop in May which you can pre-register your interest for HERE. Our delegates were a little group of enthusiastic test subjects who agreed to gift us their precious time and attention for which we offer our heartfelt gratitude.

But that wasn’t the only gift we received last night. In fact, we were also offered the gift of a challenge from a CEO who wanted us to prove to her that diversity wasn’t just a tick box exercise in political correctness. I’ll come to my argument on this topic shortly. First I’ll run down some highlights from last night’s experience.

The workshop was roughly divided into two parts. In part one we dealt with diversity, opened up the ways in which people could be seen as different and, throughout this process, measured changes in how the room perceived its own diversity by polling the group; once at the very start, once after exploring broad categories of difference, and once after getting to know one another a little better as unique individuals.

Diversity itself is a more complex and nuanced topic than most people imagine

The most notable insight from this section was not only that diversity itself is a more complex and nuanced topic than most people imagine, but that given the same set of information people would often have wildly differing views on how that reflected diversity in the group. A striking example of this came after our first discussion of the wide range of elements of diversity when, while the overall score rose slightly, we noticed that one member of the group surprisingly felt that, to his mind, we had shown ourselves to be far less diverse than he had initially assumed. When pressed for an explanation he told us that through our discussion we had noticed how broadly we all agreed on issues around diversity and that this, he felt, showed that we were all pretty much the same!

The joy of these sorts of workshops, experiences designed to bring about authentic learning rather than to teach something predefined, is that while you have to be ready to cope with the surprising directions your party takes you in, you also leave the door open for striking insights like this.

Later when we discussed what makes us all unique I was struck by two notable outcomes:

  1. Delegates seemed to struggle to think of themselves as unique and different initially
  2. After looking more closely at this question in part two of the workshop delegates began to realise that they had more about them than they had initially thought – mostly because they had filed these unique things under weaknesses or irrelevancies

In the second part of the workshop, we explored how certain personality traits or identity elements that would normally be seen as unimportant or better left unsaid might, by a more enlightened leader, be seen as superpowers.

Had I never struggled to be happy I would not have been driven to learn about how the mind works

I shared the story of my battles with depression over the last couple of decades and how the work I do today would be impossible if not for this apparent weakness. It was, you see, because of periods of depression, that I learned about meditation, the science of Flow, positive psychology, and so on. Had I never struggled to be happy I would not have been driven to learn about how the mind works and thus I would be unable to do the work I do today. This apparent weakness, something that many might fear to tell potential employers about, is for me a superpower.

We learned how dyslexics come to develop unusually strong visual abilities, how those prone to anxiety can bring attention to detail, how poorly spoken English can force clarity of thought and expression. Within all of these things, we saw that struggles can lead to greater empathy and help us learn to be strong. One wonders why more employers don’t actively seek out people with these so-called weaknesses.

Finally, we played a game. This game was lifted directly from my No Wrong Answers book of fun in which teams had to come up with ideas for what to do with glow in the dark shaving foam. But this time the real point of the game was not the ideas but that we had instructed one member of the team to be the dark horse, the black sheep, the one who zigs when others zag. In this play environment, we wanted to find out how people felt about being that person, the one who doesn’t conform, and how the others in the team felt towards our non-conformist.

Diverging from the group should come with a sense of discomfort

Interestingly one designated non-conformist confessed to us after the game that she had not followed her instructions because she didn’t want to be disruptive; a striking illustration of how hard it is to go against the grain even when you’re given explicit permission. Of course, her failure to follow our instructions could be seen as non-conformist in itself! But let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Teams also reported finding that the designated non-conformist was seen as being difficult or not playing along. One team, however, stressed the positive that this person forced them to think more and have better ideas.

What we wanted to do here was illustrate that diverging from the group should come with a sense of discomfort; it should feel harder and less comfortable than going along with the majority. Getting used to that feeling of discomfort is a vital part of creating a truly Diverse and Divergent team.

We learned a lot last night and we hope our delegates did too. But now it’s time to answer that challenge; is diversity really anything more than PC box ticking?

There are many arguments for why we should desire diverse workplaces. At a very basic, practical level, if we assume all people have skills and attributes that we could profit from it’s simply self-defeating to design a workplace that only appeals to a small subset of them. We could also talk about how dull homogenous groups are; a workplace where everyone is the same is hardly going to be the most exciting place to be. But I want to make a different argument. My argument is this: diversity of people equals a diversity of potential futures.

Diversity of people equals a diversity of potential futuresClick To Tweet

It has recently been proven, mathematically, that a creature that came about through evolution has a zero percent chance of possessing an objective view of reality. Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist, used a series of computer simulations to test the notion that seeing objective reality is beneficial for survival using the precise mathematical formulas of evolution. His findings demonstrated conclusively that any animal, including humans, that has arisen by evolution, has no chance of having a sensory system that sees reality as it objectively is. What we end up with are systems which are attuned to us seeing what we need to see, something closely analogous to a computer’s user interface; it tells us what we need to know rather than showing us what is.

What we end up with are systems which are attuned to us seeing what we need to see

What has this got to do with diversity in the workplace? Everything. You see, if humans are not objective in our view of reality then relying on the reality perceived only by a tiny subset of people is like driving your car with all but a tiny strip of the windshield obscured by mud. The more unique perspectives we have available to us, the more information we can build up about how the world really is. These views won’t add up to objective reality but they will, together, offer far more opportunities to see the world clearly. What’s more, each of these views, each of these perspectives, is an opportunity to be creative.

When I run games like that which we played last night I am always surprised and humbled to find that no matter how clever I think I am (and I do) there’re always examples of players defying my predictions and expectations. I’ve played this game a few times with slight variations, and never in all that time has a team decided simply to pretend the shaving foam wasn’t glow in the dark and sell it as regular shaving foam. But they did last night. This is what diversity does. Because we each see a unique version of reality we are each capable of unique insights. Up the differences, increase the diversity and divergency of your workplace, and you literally increase the number of potential futures available to you.

To bring this back to evolution, survival isn’t for the strongest but for the most adaptable. The more futures you can see, the more options you can make available to you, the more potential futures you can see and this allows you to be adaptable. If your business is to survive into the future you shouldn’t see a lack of diversity as a blot on your record but as an existential threat. Homogeneity is sterile. Sterility is death. Ready to make some changes?

Because we each see a unique version of reality we are each capable of unique insightsClick To Tweet

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Last night Dave and I ran our first mini-workshop on Diversity & Divergency at Veran Performance’s offices in London. This is part of the build up to our full day workshop in May which you can pre-register your interest for HERE. Our delegates were a little group of enthusiastic...
Aran Rees
Founder and Coach at Sabre Tooth Panda
Aran is a creativity coach, facilitator and communicator, founder of Sabre Tooth Panda and creator of No Wrong Answers: the hypothetical quiz. He believes that expressing creativity is all about how you and those around you relate to creativity both at an emotional and intellectual level. He helps his clients to get cosy with creativity to solve big problems and have more fun.