It is human nature to seek out like minds, to befriend people like us. In business, people are more comfortable mentoring, grooming, and promoting people who look, think, and act like them, people they understand.
As Google VP Megan Smith points out in her interview with Fortune, people aren’t necessarily conscious of the biases that inform their choices, which is all the more reason to deliberately uncover our unconscious biases.
The research is clear that diverse teams (on boards and in management, politics, and academia) outperform homogenous teams in problem solving, innovation, and financial success. When we remain in our comfort zone, we drastically hinder problem solving, innovation, and calculated risk taking.
We know that the “birds of a feather” mindset directly affects women in the workplace, as I discussed in Crossing the Gender Gap, based on the findings of McKinsey and Company. It isn’t much of a leap to conclude that similar unconscious biases affect our ability to diversify in other ways, working with and promoting minorities and people not in our age group.
The point here is that we likely don’t even realize what we’re doing, and because of this, we need to make a conscious effort to step out of our comfort zone as leaders and innovators.
We can start by deliberately modeling what we want to see by seeking out diverse opinions ourselves and creating teams that put together people who are least likely to band together given a choice.
We can transform mentoring into consciously diverse pairings and emphasize the two-way mentor model. Gone are the days of the hierarchy-inspired one-way sharing of information from on high. The old mentoring model seems bent on producing clones to take over the One True Way of doing things, a model that is antithetical to a company that needs to adapt to changes in the marketplace and culture. Truly fruitful mentoring assumes that both mentor and mentee can learn from each other, that both have valuable information, perspectives, and ideas to share.
Of course, there is always a time and a place to seek out like minds, particularly to find support and to gain confidence in the path we’re taking, knowing we’re not alone. When we need strength in numbers more than innovation (such as in various forms of political activism), we benefit from coming together over a common cause and perspective.
The trick is to recognize when finding our tribe truly is the best approach and when it’s simply the easiest and most comfortable. Pushing ourselves to seek out diversity can in fact lead us to discover that our tribe is much bigger and more powerful than we could ever fit into our comfort zone.
In what ways can you seek people and perspectives outside your comfort zone?
Image Credit: Flickr, photo by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton