In life and in our organizations we often talk about the inherent value of diversity. While this is true — diversity does have great value — the reality is that having diversity and taking advantage of the benefits of diversity are two very different things.

You’ve probably noticed this, too. We might talk (a lot) about why diversity is great, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually leveraging the power of the diversity around us.

Also, to be clear, I’m not just talking about the “affirmative action” kind of diversity where we balance things like races and genders, but ALL kinda of diversity — diversity of thought, diversity of strengths, diversity of passion, etc.

The biggest downside to diversity, of course, is that it’s so damn hard. It’s not easy for us to “get out” of ourselves,” to see from someone else’s perspective or to step into someone else’s slippers. This is really, really difficult, in fact.

The other downside to diversity is that it’s kind of slow. It takes time for us to understand other perspectives and other viewpoints, because they’re so foreign to us. For example, if I see through the lens of being very flexible/adaptable (i.e. this is one of my inherent and enduring personality traits), it’s incredibly hard for me to understand why people would want to stand their ground in dogmatic ways. The good news is that with practice we can get better, and faster, at trying other people’s shoes on, but it’s never going to feel completely natural to us — it’s just not where we stand.

Recently, Dan Pink had Marcus Buckingham on his show Office Hours. The whole interview is worth listening to, but the part around diversity really stood out to me. Somewhere after the halfway point, Marcus comments on how diversity doesn’t always benefit teams; that sometimes, the homogeneous teams win. His two very current examples were the executive team of Facebook and the Barcelona soccer team — both groups that are incredibly slanted towards a particular set of strengths… and are clearly winning because of, not in spite of, that fact.

This idea is probably worth more discussion, but here’s my lesson for today:

If I’m not willing to spend the time learning how to take advantage of the diversity around me, it might be better for me to just hire a bunch of people just like me. It’d certainly be faster and easier.*


*At least until our team gets hit with something completely out of left field. Because of our imbalance and blind spots, we simply won’t be able to see these things coming.


One Reply to “The Downside Of Diversity”

  1. John says:

    Ideally diversity isn’t about forcing a team to be diverse, it should be more about having the RIGHT PEOPLE that will create the GREATEST BENEFIT. Sometimes this will be a team with a homogenous skill set. Sometimes this will be a team with a diverse skill set. And sometimes, as your last example points out, it may be good to have just one or two people with a different skill/attitude set to help buffer against the “left field” events.

    Diverse in this sense may have more applicable meaning to what teams make up an organization than the makeup of the teams themselves.

    And, of course, all of these decisions should be separate from race, creed, color, accent, disability, etc., as it’s about who will be best for the job–what is the content of the book, instead of the book’s cover. If you don’t look specifically to the diversity of skill of teams, then the difference in viewpoints created by some member of the team likely being from a very different background provides a natural buffer to something out of left field.

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