From a strategic thinking perspective, diversity in the workplace is a true blessing.
Let me explain this statement by first defining strategic thinking, then describing my definition of diversity, and then explain the magical connection between the two.
I consider strategic thinking to be the process of defining the successful future state of an existing issue, topic, or direction. As a contrast, I consider strategic planning to be the process of defining a plan to bring you from the current state to the successful future vision created via a strategic thinking exercise.
I consider diversity as being the differences between people in a way that provides different perspectives, philosophies, perspective on the world, values, and thinking processes. These differences could be based on ethnic background, gender, age, professional discipline, level of education, life experience, and any other factor that makes someone unique.
I’m quite confident that almost everyone who reads this column has heard the expression “Two heads are better than one”. At its essence, this is the basis for the value of diversity. Two heads bring two different perspectives, thus allowing the problem at hand to be analyzed in two different ways.
Now let us expand on this two heads are better than one theory. Let’s say that you have ten people on your staff, with the following types of diversity:
- People in their 20’s through their 70’s and beyond
- Some men and some women
- Three different religions
- Various ethnicities including Hispanic, Caucasian, African American, Asian, and Indian
- Some born in the United States and some originally from other countries
- Different educational backgrounds including majors in math, computer science, business management, philosophy, marketing and English
A staff with this level of diversity provides a tremendous opportunity to analyze almost any issue from multiple perspectives. Men and women classically consider issues differently. Different countries have widely different educational systems. Certainly they all teach history, science, reading, writing, and arithmetic, but the teaching philosophies, approaches to problem solving, and level of intensity are very different. Regarding ethnicity, each culture has its own unique way of conceptually addressing issues. There is no right or wrong, they are just different, wonderfully different.
As a manager, you should take advantage of this diversity of people and their diversity of thinking when dealing with any issue of consequence. Doing so has the following advantages:
- Your team members will gain a greater understanding of other types of people
- Your decisions will be more culturally sensitive in regard to the ultimate course of action taken
- The discussions will maximize out-of-the-box thinking because out-of-the-box thinking in one culture may be in-the-box thinking in other cultures
On a personal note, over the years, I have had the pleasure of being on teams with people from many countries and with very diverse backgrounds. I have learned something from everyone. In some cases it’s a new perspective of how to address an issue. In some cases I’ve learned a new technique, methodology, or technology. In all cases, however, I learned a little bit about a culture other than my own and a little about myself in the process.
Until next time, lead well, always communicate, and think business first and technology second.