The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 4) New Way of Work

1970 called. It wants its business model back.  It also wants its diversity programs back.

Business has changed.  I think it is critical that we are tracking on this so that we are also able to appreciate the growing significance of diversity in an ever evolving business environment.

In many, many ways and in some very fundamental ways business has changed.  Whether you work in the for-profit world, do not for profit work, work in education or in government, change is all around you.  Seemingly endless change related to technology, the global market place, changes in the employer-employee relationship, the changing demographics of the workforce and the consumer population; a lot of things are changing.

Perhaps the most significant change is in how we create value.

A production economy drove much of the 20th century. Volume. Regularity. Productivity. Consistency. Predictability. Efficiency.  Mass production built on a specific and detailed division of labor. This is what drove business and this is what determined competitive advantage through the 20th century, and it continues to be what drives business in some parts of the world…but not here.

A decade into the 21st century, the vast majority of us work in a different kind of economy.  It has been referred to as an information economy, a knowledge economy, a creative economy and other things, but regardless of what we call it is very different from a production economy in the way in which value is created.

Tangible assets were king in the old (production) economy; things like equipment, production lines, inventory, production and storage space, raw materials, etc.  Intangible assets are king in the new economy; things like experience, perspective, social capital, curiosity, trust, organizational culture, etc.

Productivity and efficiency were good routes for pursuing competitive advantage in the old economy, in the new economy the great opportunity for competitive advantage is innovation.   Command and control management worked in the old economy, it is actually counter-productive in the new economy.  We communicate differently than we used to and communication has different significance than it used to.

I could go on and on until the break of dawn.

With nearly everything changing about how we “do business” it makes no sense that we would not be courageously recalibrating our approach to diversity and inclusion work.  Especially considering that in an economy driven by innovation, diversity is the new trump card.  Creating intersections of differing perspectives, differing experiences, differing professions, industries and cultures is how you spark innovation.  The inclusion of difference is a basic ingredient of the new competitive advantage. Diversity can help make you a winner today, more so than ever before.

The fact that the vast majority of business leaders (or HR leaders) do not understand this should be of no surprise, as they clearly do not even grasp the changing reality of business.  Despite the fundamental changes in how we create value, many organizations try to operate much like they did in 1970 and cling tightly to an antiquated model of both the organization and of management.

A few businesses and business leaders that are paying attention to the world and have just a touch of courage are currently reinventing business.  We should be knee deep in this. We should be center stage.  There are now organizations accomplishing great things through crowdsourcing.  Part of what makes crowdsourcing powerful is diversity.  Are diversity and inclusion practitioners talking about crowdsourcing?  No.  We are not talking much about crowdsourcing or opensourcing or communities of practice or improvisation or storytelling or social network analysis or ethnography or social media or innovation or anything remotely close to the edge…and each of these things are woven through with the raw power of difference.  These things are the new diversity and inclusion interventions.

We are the future of business.

Yet, our craft gathers rust.

We should be living on the edge!  We should be obsessed with the edge!  We should be relentlessly experimental! We should be about bringing the edge to the center, but we are clearly scared of stepping away from our own center.  Both in content and in format our meetings and conferences should be loud, chaotic and experimental and never, ever the same.  We must be less neat and orderly and safe and predictable.  That is for other people that do other kinds of work.

We must be about difference, whether it shows up in people or practices.  Disruptive. Experimental. Expressive. Collaborative. Creative. Participatory. Story. Meaning. Affinity. These are the keys to the kingdom today, these are the ways to create real value and we should be helping our organizations find their way to the promised land, but like most business leaders we seem to be partying like its 1970.

We are talking about the same stuff that we did yesterday.  I recently received the agenda for an upcoming diversity conference in the mail, and it is a conference that I really like, but there is very little on the agenda that would not have been there last year.  I think there is very little on the agenda that would not have been there 5 years ago. If we are going to help our organizations and our communities architect a better future, we must get more serious about architecting the future of our work.  We must be less about what we do know and more about what we do not yet know.  New conversations.  New formats.  New tools.  New voices.

You and I are part of a unique body of work that has an incredible and powerful and proud past.  We must take great care of that story, it is the very story of human progress.  Men and women have made every sacrifice to move this work forward and we should not ever lose sight of those sacrifices.  I am not suggesting we let go of our past, I am suggesting that if we are to honor the work that has been done before we must be about what works today.  If we are not in the practice of owning discomfort, exploring the unknown, and letting go of what worked yesterday, we are poor champions of this work.

…and since we are talking about the future of this work, I want to remind you to put a few dates on your 2011 calendar.  Please help us architect the future of this work, and in doing so, architect the future of our organizations and communities.

March 22-24, 2011 || Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity || Minneapolis, MN

April 29th-30th, 2011 || HRevolution 2011 || Atlanta, GA

October 24-26, 2011 || SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference || Washington, D.C.

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (prologue)

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 1) Social Media

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 2) Human Nature

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 3) Conflict

Be good to each other.

  1. Eric Peterson

    I’m so gonna tweet this.

  2. Tweets that mention Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by joe gerstandt, joe gerstandt and Kizha, ericka hines . ericka hines said: Aw snap! 1970 wants its diversity programs back: Brilliant thoughts by @joegerstandt- #diversity #business #leadership […]

  3. Andrew S. Dungan

    “If we are not in the practice of owning discomfort, exploring the unknown, and letting go of what worked yesterday, we are poor champions of this work.”

    I want to comment on your above statement because as I have looked for jobs I have yet to come in contact with an HR representative that possesses the ability to look at a resume, the words one represents on a page and then look beyond them and imagine a person actually performing the job; it is the lack of imagination within the position. I can’t help but think that it is an apathy or an unwillingness to take the time to do just what you said: to explore the unknown and become champions within their organization, to find the best for each and every position. This means during the period of finding an individual to fill a position and then continuing to pour time and energy into that individual to make sure he or she is becomes the best employee that he or she can become.

    As I begin my Ed.D in Leadership I can’t help but be drawn to giving at least part of my life to help in the area of HR.

    As I have interviewed for several jobs over the last 45 days, I have been asked the most ignorant, irrelevant interview questions. The questions asked are not conducive for the organization nor relevant to the position. One can tell that cognitive rigidity rules within most organizations even during the most basic of interviews. A dissonant answer is frowned upon, eg. the HR representative asks, “I am not quite sure I understand.”

    In my opinion it is time for HR personnel to get beyond the words of the resume and the cover letter itself and evolve the process: create a mental image of the individual, a working picture of the man or the woman providing goods to the organization.


    Do we have someone like this in our organization currently or would someone like this bring us cognitive diversity?

    Recognize that:

    Just because someone may miss a small requisite doesn’t mean that they are not a perfect fit for the job. Some individuals have the unique ability to adapt, learn and flex like no other. Get beyond the resume and into the potential!

    You can find out if a person has the potential for the job: you interview them and ask the right questions. If you can’t find out if they have the potential or if you don’t want to find out, well…then you are in the wrong job.

  4. Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference

    […] am looking forward to finishing my series on the The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work, (which would also make a great keynote presentation for all of you conference planners out there) […]

  5. Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference

    […] The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 4) New Way of Work Communication Diversity Leadership change inclusion 0 Click here to cancel reply. […]

  6. Sara

    Hi Joe,

    Excellent article! I agree with all your points. I would like to share with you two poems I wrote that speak to diversity and inclusion.

    Are you greater than the sun
    that shines on everyone: Black,
    Brown, Yellow, Red and White
    the sun does not discriminate (c)

    Dare to be as great as the sun.
    Dare to shine on everyone. (c)

    If we are to truly create a world that embraces diversity and inclusion it will take courage, will, leadership and a higher consciousness. Quoting Albert Einstein, “You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. You must stand on a higher ground.”

    Thank you Joe for sharing your powerful thoughts on diveristy and inclusion.

    Sara Ting

  7. David

    I used to be agle to find good advice from your blg posts.

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