Diversity is valuable. I’ve seen first-hand the way a diverse team can deliver high value in business. When a team includes a “strategic thinker”, a “technical genius”, a “process guru”, some “construction workers”, a “diplomat”, a “communicator”, and someone who can “sell ice cubes to Eskimos” it is often impossible to stop them from succeeding. They come up with great ideas, design great products and services, and get them into the hands of customers who often use them to produce great value for others and sometimes the world. There is no way a team of strategic thinkers could deliver as much value. Nor could a team comprised of only communicators. You get the idea.
But diversity is also hard. Once, when I was working for a large company going through significant strategic changes, the CEO was consistently communicating with employees. The message became repetitive and boring; change is hard. My reaction was to think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know! You’ve told us this so many times before.” The more we got into that hard work of change, the harder it got. I still remember the very moment, in a fit of total exasperation, I thought to myself, “This is really hard!” And that’s when it hit me; the CEO had meant that this change was going to be hard for everyone … even me. In that moment I realized that every time we had been told that it would be hard, I had assumed that meant it was going to be hard for the other people, but certainly not me. Of course I was wrong. Very wrong. It was hard for everyone … including me. Diversity is usually hard … for everyone.
Years ago I remember reading a letter to the editor in our local newspaper that talked about this very issue. The writer pointed out that most people say that they value diversity. What they mean is that they don’t care what their neighbors look like or where they do (or don’t) go to church. But our value of diversity is really tested when those same neighbors don’t maintain their lawn in a way that ensures it looks like every other lawn on the block. And it gets really tested when those same neighbors come from a part of the world where dog meat is sometimes served for dinner … and your dog ends up on those neighbors’ dinner plate! That is not easy. Diversity can get very complicated very quickly.
Speaking of diversity, maybe you’ve heard that over here in the United States, we’ve just gone through an election that enabled us to express a little diversity of opinion. For those of us experiencing the aftermath, let me just tell you that it has been quite the experience, and that experience is just beginning. There are plenty of people producing plenty of commentary about what’s going on and why, so let me just tell you that as a “communicator” I find it exciting to see so many people sharing so many ideas. Diversity certainly has the power to improve our country, improve our government, and improve us as people. It’s worked very well for us in the past. I’m also finding it sad to watch as some are communicating their way to damaged relationships and lost opportunities by refusing to look at things from a different perspective. It has me wondering if maybe we all need a little more guidance about how to communicate with others when we don’t agree with them ... when we have a diversity of opinion. I suppose those books have already been written and the courses already taught. But maybe we need to seek them out right now. Maybe the media, which has mastered the art of division, would like to help us out by modeling better behavior and trying to become part of the solution.
Yesterday I had what I thought was a great idea. Or at the very least it was an idea. In an attempt to help heal a divided country, I found myself wondering (out loud to a friend on Facebook) if we could launch a program that would match people who have diverse opinions with each other. My thinking was that if we could match people who live close to each other, they could meet one-on-one and face-to-face to become slow friends. As time progressed they could discuss more significant issues. Maybe they could start by talking about the weather, and over months and months move on to more significant topics like cooking, families, sports, movies, and eventually ... ideas. The goal? World peace, of course. I think it just might work.
Which brings me to Tech Frustrations. If we’re going to resolve them, I think we need to harness the power of diversity. If you design products, I encourage you to seek out a tech-challenged friend or family member. There is power in that partnership … for both the tech-savvy person and the technically challenged. The more the “techies” see where the rest of us struggle with technology, the more you all can design the help we need right into the products. And when the tech-challenged get to know the tech-savvy? Well, heck, that’s when we learn how to use these powerful frustraters. And that’s when we realize much of their value.
So remember, diversity is hard. Maybe those of us using technology can form valuable partnerships and model the value of diversity for the rest of the world. Let’s not stop trying until we’ve achieved world peace. And freedom from Tech Frustrations.
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