September 22, 2004

diversity

I chuckled as I viewed my client's response. He requested photos in the brochure to reflect diversity. He wanted all those happy, smiling people, too. So I offered him diversity. Male, Female, old, young, Caucasian, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, Black, and finally a gay couple. I wondered how he would respond. What did diversity mean to him? He chose 5 women and 5 men. 4 of the women were Caucasian, 1 was Black. 3 of the men were Caucasian, 1 was Asian, 1 was Black. And he chose the gay couple. Hurray for that. But why didn't he choose to reflect the makeup of the population that is almost 50% of Californians -- Hispanic? Diversity is interesting.
We pose about diversity but do we really seek it? At the end of the day, diversity is much more than photos can reflect. To me, diversity means seeking a broad range of styles and characteristics beyond skin color. For me, it has meant hiring and surrounding myself with people who are a diverse bunch -- charismatic or analytical, assertive or passive, tactful or blunt, seasoned or new, highly educated or self-trained, big pedigree or big aptitude, old school or new school, a native of the state or just off the boat from another country. I revel in diversity. But it takes a commitment to encouraging, supporting and enduring that diversity. A key member of one of my staff was brilliant but blunt. He couldn't brainstorm but he could quickly analyze whether something would work or not and the structure required. He spoke his mind. It never got him in trouble with me, but it curtailed his career in mashed potato corporate America. Unfortunately, human nature tends toward whatever norm exists in its comfort zone.
I'm reading Robert Coram's book on Boyd, the Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War. One of the things I am struck with is the fragility of brilliance. Not the fragility of the brilliant but of those who must surround, support and enable the brilliant. If it weren't for a few along the way who valued Boyd enough understand and shine on the reviews and to tolerate the eccentricities that accompany true brilliance, Boyd might not have had the impact that he did. He would still be brilliant but his candle wouldn't cast as broad a light.
Whether it is Boyd or Picasso or Stephen Hawking, we must encourage, support and enable diversity. Without it, we'd stall in our comfort zone and never be graced with the full spectrum of light.

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