Diversity in organisations needs to include intra-personal difference and a tolerance for constructive conflict.
If an organisation’s future depends on its leadership pipeline and its staff’s talents, the right lenses for spotting potential really have to be in place. Last time, I suggested that diversity in organisations that didn’t force people to become clones of corporate identity and allowed people to be comfortable with who they really are, is far more likely to generate novel solutions and agile responses to disruptive challenges.
Let me illustrate what I mean with a vivid example from Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones’ research, which I began exploring last week. As a young man, Jones had worked for a big US record label and frequently visited a subsidiary, Island Records, which was based in an office on the top floor of a Manhattan tenement building. Island Records has been a massive commercial success, breaking new ground, taking risks with innovative artists and cross-fertilising genres. It’s the label of megastars such as Bob Marley and U2.
Jones noticed that this open-plan office had a noisy, highly interactive and often edgy atmosphere. One area was styled as a Jamaican beach party, where staff congregated to discuss music and artists. On one occasion, a heated dispute broke out between two executives about which single should be the first track released off an album. Tempers rose to the point where fisticuffs seemed a real possibility. Then it cooled. A little later, the protagonists were found laughing and joking together after coming up with a novel strategy for releasing the single.
The people at this record label were not corporate clones. They cared, sincerely and passionately, about the music and their artists. As Jones and Goffee note, “the label’s consistently high levels of creativity and innovation are accompanied by high levels of conflict, passion, and heated exchanges.”
Even diversity in organisations can be “corporatized” and turned into a form of sameness; but genuine difference, and the creative conflict and innovative agility it can generate, can’t be.