When diversity is discussed, we generally think of it in terms of gender or race. But there is so much more to the value of diversity — within our social circles and workplaces.
It’s great to be with people we like or that like us. But is it the best thing for us?
When I have conversations with people about following others, especially within the context of twitter, one word inevitably pops up: relevant.
Who’s really relevant?
“Who’s relevant to me?”
“I only follow people who are relevant?”
So, I’ll freely admit that this phrase comes off as short-sighted at best and elitist at worst.
“So, you want 10,000 followers from whichever backgrounds serve your purpose, but you only want to follow 37? Okay. Whatever.”
Relevance is a subjective and self-centered metric. There’s no other way to describe it. Well, Gary Vaynerchuk has a few choice words about this subject, but it’s Rated R for Language.
Why does diversity matter?
I totally understand the need and impulse to create and protect a company’s culture. It’s great when you all like doing the same thing and show up for morning yoga sessions.
“A growing body of research shows that diversity—in gender,thinking styles, and intro- and extroversion—is needed for teams to be their most productive.” Drake Baer, Fast Company
But company culture is more than shared hobbies. It’s more than shared interests. And this is also true of your social media circles. If you only ever listen to people who think exactly the way you do, how will you change, grow, or improve?
“By focusing on different skills we support and balance our partner, instead of competing at the same tasks. Our partnerships promote a diversity of thinking, perspective, and knowledge.” Stefan Klocek, Cooper
Listening to Outsiders
This past Wednesday I went to a book signing and talk by Simon Sinek. I saw the event on LinkedIn and asked Jen Miller of NeedSomeoneToBlog.com if she was free. It was close (LA) and $40. There was no reason not to go.
Afterward, we felt so inspired! I had a second wind kick in with my writing for work. Jen called me and said, “we need to go to more of these.”
His third book, Together is Better, follows the theme of his first two: we’re social animals and we need each other.
So, why did I go see Simon Sinek? It has nothing to do with WordPress. Or does it?
If my frame of reference for listening and learning was “does this help me with WordPress?” I would lose out on a lot. That’s an understatement, too. I don’t only read blogs about WordPress. I listen to podcasts that have nothing to do with WordPress.
If I were only following people I deemed “relevant,” would Simon Sinek make the cut? And what kind of a world would that leave me in?
— Bridget Willard (@YouTooCanBeGuru) September 21, 2016
The Danger of Thought Incest.
My boss is always saying, “be curious.” And that’s key to learning, isn’t it? If you weren’t curious, you would never “what if?” You would never dream, innovate, create. And if there was no reason to be curious, we’d only listen to the five thought leaders within our own industry (WordPress, tech, construction, social media, etc.).
That only leads to what I call thought incest. Do we really want to regurgitate the ideas someone else is saying over and over and over? Do we only speak jargon without ever understanding its true meaning? Do we take the time to follow the logical conclusion of the presumptions we build our businesses upon?
In his Ted Talk about where ideas come from, Steven Johnson talks about the English coffee house and the birth of the enlightenment.
“But the other thing that makes the coffeehouse important is the architecture of the space. It was a space where people would get together from different backgrounds, different fields of expertise, and share. It was a space, as Matt Ridley talked about, where ideas could have sex. This was their conjugal bed, in a sense — ideas would get together there. And an astonishing number of innovations from this period have a coffeehouse somewhere in their story.” Steven Johnson
Our coffee house can be a co-working space, a meetup, or even Twitter. We should listen to people’s ideas, think about them, and consider them for their own sake — regardless if we think they are relevant to us. But when we deeply think about other ideas, we allow them to affect us. We allow cross-pollination.
I believe it’s dangerous to only listen to people you agree with — politically, socially, and creatively.
As he said in the video noted above,
“Chance favors the connected mind.” Steven Johnson
Diversity and Collaboration
I have friends from all walks of life. Long ago I decided that I would focus on the things we have in common and not argue about the things we don’t agree about. But still, if you’re closed to ideas, you’re closed to relationships.
Next time you feel like you’re in a mental rut, consume. You cannot create without consuming. But consume from something different. Read nonfiction. Watch a documentary. Listen to a comedy podcast.
Allow your mind to passively think about other things and you will always be ready for serendipity.