I spent a wonderful day with Nancy Kline and other fellow Thinking Environment colleagues thinking in some depth about the meaning of the words that we use.
What’s delightful about Nancy’s work is the simplicity of the language used, clean language, which hides a rich tapestry of meaning and interpretation. Reflective I think of the reason why communication is so difficult. Difficult because we each interpret the same word differently. Words are labels that encompass a whole range of emotions and experiences so it’s no wonder that leaders get caught out sometimes and what makes leadership challenging and exciting at the same time.
So, let’s look at the term ‘diversity’. It’s been in our lexicon for a long time and has driven immense treatise and legislation which we, as leaders have had to take cognisance.
Anti-discrimination claims revolutionised how business operated
When ‘diversity’ first hit our conscious thinking it had a power and drive behind it. We were being forced out of our hegemony, ordered to consider experiences and people outside of our own narrow worlds. We were brought face to face with the prejudices, stereotypes, assumptions that we made about others who were ‘not of our kith and kin.’ It seeped into all our recruitment practices and our employee relations. Not being aware of ‘diversity’ and discriminating against others because of it became a recipe for tens of thousands of unfair discrimination claims and millions of pounds in legal fees and compensation.
Yes, diversity is still part of our thinking and legislation but where is the sheer power of the word now? This is why, in consultation with other TE faculty, it was agreed to change the terminology of one of the ten components of a Thinking Environment We moved from ‘diversity’ to ‘difference’.
Changing of regimes
Diversity is a hugely important concept but the term has become tired and it has lost it’s power. It no longer stimulates deep, independent thinking. We can ‘tick the box’ of diversity rather than truly taking it into our hearts, our actions, our leadership.
‘Difference’ accepts the challenge of celebrating the richness of experiences and thoughts and upbringings that make our communities, our societies, our workplaces the vibrant spaces they could, and should be. It electrifies our thinking as ‘diversity’ once did.
Think about ‘difference’. In the past the term ‘different’ has perhaps had negative connotations. That is because being ‘different’ meant that you, apparently, didn’t subscribe to societal norms, or the status quo. Yet look at what ‘difference’ has brought us: the intellectual rigour of Isaac Newton, the artistic brilliance of Picasso, the social revolution of John Bird and Gordon Roddick, the entrepreneurial vision of Toms Shoes.
So look at your organisation. Do you, as a leader know where difference can be found? Do you know how to harness it, to use it to stimulate the deep, independent thinking that organisations need to successfully navigate the future?
Do you know the power of 'difference'?
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.