Why you should hire people who disagree with you

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.

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Healthy skepticism is the building block to making your organization even better. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik (Flickr/Creative Commons).

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.

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Headlines: Muhammad Yunus; Diversity at work; Japan relief

Microfinance and leadership change

  • Microfinance Under Fire (New York Times): For context on the situation of Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, and a caution: “When an organization has a founder who is intimately associated with it (as Jobs is at Apple), the leadership transition needs to be handled with great care.”
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Tim McNichol, "White Males and Diversity" consultant and coach. Photo credit: OregonDOT (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Diversity at work

  • Diversity is Inefficient (New Organizing Institute blog): Ashindi Maxton writes, “With demographic realities and righteousness on our side, we strive to build diverse movements and organizations. My sense – and tell me if I’m wrong – is that mostly we fail…I’d like to make a few concrete suggestions for how any of us can start right now treating inclusion as a part of our purpose rather than a diversion.”

Relief for Japan

  • LivingSocial offered a unique coupon after the earthquake and tsunami: if subscribers donated $5 to the Red Cross to help with relief work in Japan, the company would match it. Total raised: more than $2 million.

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