“And now, the end is near, and so we face, the final curtain.”
– Paul Anka
This week marks the end of our first deep dive focus; Diversity & Divergency. We’ve looked at gender, age, cultural variation, differing physical and mental abilities and preferences, the challenges of being and working with outsiders, and how crowds can sometimes be rather less than wise.
I’d like to end, perhaps unexpectedly for this seems to be how my brain works, with a note of caution. You see, it’s quite possible that in our haste, our drive to become a more connected world, we might be causing more harm than good.
“Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy
Diversity & Divergency, from the perspective of creativity, has a central argument; that creativity happens best when humans accept, embrace, and celebrate what makes us each unique. And while I stand by this belief I do have to take a moment to ask myself if humans are, as a species, ready for such a world.
Do you feel particularly connected?
Consider the poor Babel fish above. While we may as yet not all have fishes in our ears are we that far away from living in a Babel fish kind of world? We have never been more connected to one another than we are today and I don’t mean that in the general, bland sense. The late 20th and early 21st centuries have seen an explosion of exponential proportions in the degree to which we are able to communicate. But, ask yourself, do you feel particularly connected?
Do you feel today that you live in some global village?
“If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.”
Humans, while similar in many ways, seem to be very attached to and defined by our differences. With this in mind, we have to ask ourselves if Wittgenstein’s statement regarding the lion could equally apply to humans. After all, when you venture to the darkest corners of Reddit or find yourself pulled into some strange Twitter interaction with people to whom it seems that reality is a fluid concept, do you not feel that you’re speaking the same language, connected by extraordinary technology, and yet never further apart in terms of real, human connection?
We’ve attempted to bring humans together by increasing the flow of information between us as if we are all fundamentally the same like parts in a machine. Perhaps to Berners-Lee, as he invented the protocols without which I wouldn’t be constantly tempted to find out what various formerly famous people look like now, this was a natural model. Computers communicate over networks and seem, by doing so, to massively increase in utility. So why wouldn’t humans? But the law of unintended consequences has clearly outlasted that of Moore, because while information sharing has risen, polarisation, not a shared sense of belonging, seems to have been the result. Maybe it’s not so good to talk, after all?
There are transactional costs associated with dealing with difference
With all this talk of the need for and the benefits of Diversity & Divergency, are we ignoring the possibility that humans actually perform better when we get to work with those who are fundamentally similar to us? Remember that one central element of this focus has been that diversity can be skin deep. Maybe that’s where it should remain? After all, there are transactional costs associated with dealing with difference. Maybe we would be better off being a rainbow of colours and every potential gender and sexual permutation under the sun but with a shared sense of vanilla similarity?
After all, while we may get some great ideas by bringing in the freaks and weirdos of whom I am so fond, is the outcome worth the costs? Where simple interactions take place between very similar people a diverse group might have major misunderstandings. How many hours spent unravelling awkward miscommunications before whatever benefit we hoped to gain from including less mainstream types is washed away?
What of the loner?
And, in all of this, what of the loner? We may wish for ever more collaboration and sharing, but what of the one who wishes to go his or her own way? Is choosing to be a monoculture of one so wrong? In the end, aren’t we showing that we much prefer echo chambers to the awkward world of complex truths? TV channels moved from offering everything under the sun to specialised streams of one type of programming. Then we invented streaming services so we could binge not one type of programme but one programme! News is delivered to us in such a way as to be entirely up our street and when there isn’t enough of that we find fake news to fill the gaps. So programmed are we to seek out the familiar that in a world of endless complexity and richness it is now easier than ever to live a life that contains only the essence of you.[clickToTweet tweet=”It is now easier than ever to live a life that contains only the essence of you” quote=”It is now easier than ever to live a life that contains only the essence of you” theme=”style6″]
It is undeniable that a human race capable of open, honest, confident connection, a human race with the maturity and self-assurance to accept and work with those who are truly different, would make great use of these connective technologies and be far more creative in complex mixed groups. I’m just not sure we are that human race. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
It falls to those of us who dream of a better future
Of course if this all sounds a little deflating then I offer you this; if humans really aren’t that great at playing well with others it falls to those of us who dream of a better future to work even harder to spread the skills, share the insights, and develop the sense of self-assurance that just might make people feel ready to open up, ready to be unsure, ready to explore the world that isn’t theirs, that isn’t them. Left to our own devices, with no positive, deliberate effort, we will tend towards the insular. Like creativity itself how we relate to difference is a set of attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and habits. We like what we know. We have to learn to like what we don’t know even more.
And, on top of all of this, we have to find a way to embrace that which is different and see it as no less part of us. As the great crooner said; that which we all wish to be able to say at the end of our lives:
http://openforideas.org/blog/2017/04/25/diversity-dischmersity/https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/coloured_leaves.jpg?fit=1024%2C576https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/coloured_leaves.jpg?resize=150%2C150Diversity & Divergencycollaboration,connection,difference,divergency,diversity,humans,polarisation
“For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.”
Reading your article helped me a lot and I agree with you. But I still have some doubts, can you clarify for me? I’ll keep an eye out for your answers.
“we ignoring the possibility that humans actually perform better when we get to work with those who are fundamentally similar to us”
Depends on your definition of “better”. If you mean in the short term by being able to have common language and culture it’s easier to manage team productivity, then yes. But it’s proven (see Scott Page’s excellent The Difference) that monoculture teams produce fewer good ideas. Diversity of thought drives more inquisitive teams that come up with more options, increasing the chances of success. But they are harder to manage. That’s the diversity productivity paradox – short term ease versus long term success.