The incessant talk of diversity and identity politics on college campuses, in corporations, and on Sunday news shows always misses the mark. But true diversity, I prefer eclectic mix, can add tremendous value to an organization for all the right reasons instead of diluting standards and redistributing merit-based rewards,
We must shift our perceptions in business to understand what truly makes people different. In a free-market capitalistic organization we are not focusing on your feelings, who wronged you in the past, or even how terrible was your childhood. We are focusing on "what have you done for me lately" and "what can you possibly do for me in the future."
True free market proponents are the most color-blind, non-discriminating, accepting citizens in our free society. Check out all of the successful companies, not just the loud activist corporations which get all the headlines. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, we don't see the thousands of great cattle in the field because we are listening to the half a dozen loud grasshoppers under a fern.
When I hire my eclectic mixes, I first hire strong individuals, the parts, in order to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I focus on coalescing a group of strong individual overachievers with diversity of ideas, upbringings, experiences, personalities, and educations:
1. First, I hire Chips. Chips come from modest means, earned scholarships based on merit, worked for spending money throughout school, have strong drives to succeed and achieve independence, have a mature attitude towards work and responsibility, and understand that hard work will achieve rewards. They have a chip on their shoulder against all the others who had things handed to them.
2. Next, I sprinkle in a couple Silver Spoons. Silver Spoons come from good pedigree, have experiences and exposure many of us were not fortunate to enjoy, have developed somewhat irrelevant knowledge and skill sets, come from good schools (hopefully not discriminating against overachievers), and expect to make high incomes. Caution: only sprinkle in a couple of Silver Spoons.
3. Third, I add the Hairdressers. The genesis of this term was the hiring of my great executive assistant, Wendy, who was previously the receptionist at Style by Design. Her great example later prompted me to advise others, "I hire from Harvard and the hairdressers, and the hairdressers are more successful!" Hairdressers do not arrive with the formal education or curriculum vitae, but they possess superior drives and appreciation of their opportunities. They are intelligent and learn new skills quickly, are clean slates open to learn, and will overachieve in whatever role you select as long as you provide good mentorship.
4. Dreamers and Realists. We must always balance our organization with Dreamers and Realists. I, as the Dreamer CEO, had my incredible COO, Kevin, to reel me back in and roll up his sleeves to handle the blocking and tackling. Dreamers drive the organization forward and achieve success that others thought was impossible but are bored with the details (Musk). Realists ensure the numbers work out correctly and operations keep up with sales (Buffet). Dreamers climb after Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG's), while Realists make sure we also dot our i's and cross our t's.
5. Finally, all overachieving organizations need Sporters. Sporters, have competitive college or professional sports backgrounds. They understand the incredible amount of hard work and preparation required to be #1. The great Hoosiers Basketball Coach, Bobby Knight, always notes that many people have the determination to win, but that a very rare few have the determination day in and day out to put in the preparation necessary to win. Sporters understand this. They have also experienced a great deal of failure, so they know how to shake it off and find another path to victory. They have been in the arena and their "place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat." [Teddy Roosevelt, Paris 1910].
These are the elements necessary for the overachieving A-Player culture of success. We need to learn how to spot them, recruit them to our mission, and coalesce their diversity into an unstoppable machine. Throw away the personality tests, the Myers-Briggs and all the rest, as this is an industry built to sustain itself. It's an incredible waste of time, and terribly ineffective when compared to the skills of a wise, perceptive leader. (Client surveys are also a wasteful industry unto itself, but we'll cover that another day).
Today, think about how you can maximize true diversity and start recruiting your Chips, Silver Spoons, Hairdressers, Dreamers, Realists, and Sporters. Your organizations will be stronger than you had ever imagined. Have a great week!
"For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack." - Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book