In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey recounts the biggest lessons she learned while working for Lorne Michaels. One is “Don’t hire anyone you wouldn’t want to run into in the hallway at three in the morning.”*
Your office is probably not like the soundstages of Saturday Night Live. Maybe your rules for hiring are different. But it’s pretty natural to want to hire people who aren’t, in Fey’s words, “too talkative or needy or angry to deal with in the middle of the night by the printer.” It’s really nice to work with people you genuinely like spending time with.
But that doesn’t mean they should be like you.
As part of my research on how to get more good ideas into the brains of more people, I’ve been reading a lot about innovation. And over and over again, the one word the keeps popping up as a crucial component to innovation is “diversity.”
Yes, diversity. Of not only race and ethnicity, but gender, viewpoint, talent, work style, values, and more. This is the ingredient that forces ideas to mix, mingle, and ultimately create that wowser idea your peers can’t stop talking about.
Most everyone gives lip service to the value of diversity in the nonprofit sector. So why is there often a disconnect? The New Organizing Institute has a great piece on why diversity is inefficient. It takes time to go outside of our own networks, and it takes effort to work with different voices and opinions.
But if you do take the time to hire people who don’t think like you, then you might have a wonderful result: creative abrasion, the process where ideas are challenged and new ones are made.
Steve Jobs knew this. He hired a team with a wide range of talents—programmers, thinkers, musicians, artists, and more—to create the Apple computer many of us use today.
But building computers (or writing sketches about Mom jeans) is one thing. In your workplace, does everyone think and look like you? Or is difference embraced? If so, we’d love to hear how it’s helped fuel innovation in your organization.
*Fey, 2011, pp. 127-128.