A Loyola University Chicago candidate in M.S. Global Strategic Communications, Ekaterina Frolova, interviewed me about the benefit of diversity in the workforce, the future of work, and the impact of diversity on companies. With her permission, the interview appears below.
Without diversity, culture becomes an echo chamber
What does diversity mean to you? How would you define it?
RJK: Diversity means that people have different perspectives, experiences and cognitive abilities. Diversity goes hand in hand with inclusion.
How in your opinion is a company with a diverse culture superior to one without?
Diversity leads to a group of people making sure they think from different angles. Without diversity, culture becomes an echo chamber. From a practical perspective, this limits innovation. From a human perspective, it enforces the status quo. We live in a time of rapid change, and enforcing the status quo leads to many negative impacts for a company. People get promoted for political reasons in a homogenous culture. They learn how to “play the game,” and it’s not that hard when there’s only one game. It can also lead to the destruction of the company if people value harmony over healthy conflict that leads to new achievements and perspectives.
Do companies, in your opinion, benefit from workplace diversity?
RJK: They run the risk of rendering themselves obsolete without it. We are on the verge of automating many job functions. The people who are able to connect with each other on a deep level and think clearly are valuable in this new era. The ability to connect and think clearly is enhanced by diversity. Flexibility is also required, and this is greatly enhanced by diversity and inclusion.
Do you think that there is a direct impact from diverse groups to companies’ business performance?
RJK: Yes. True innovation requires a diversity of experiences and perspectives.
What companies in your opinion are more likely to include diversification into their culture? What do you think affects that decision?
RJK: Companies that take their future seriously. Too often, companies treat diversity and inclusion efforts like an extra program. They fail to weave it into the fabric of the way the company functions. Modern enterprises that want to operate globally, profitably and ethically are wise to recognize that they will enhance their success with this approach. This is helpful not only to navigate new global markets, but also to understand what customers need.
Do you think that people with creative skills and artistic mindset provide an innovative thinking that will lead companies to greater business results?
RJK: Every thriving urban center throughout history has been fueled by a combination of art and science, creativity and technology, the humanities and engineering. At Science House, we believe that everyone is creative, and creative thinking is required to solve problems small and large and in between.
My life’s work is focused on applied imagination, the main skill in what I call the Imagination Age, the period of transition between the Industrial Era and the Intelligence Era. Think of it as a slider between “fantasizers” and “followers.” At the one extreme, fantasizers are people with big ideas. They don’t worry about feasibility, who will pay for the development, or whether an idea should even become real or not. On the other extreme of the spectrum are followers. They just want instructions once other people figure out what it being built. Many companies make the mistake of thinking of the fantasizers are the creatives, and the followers as drones who just march off to do the drudge work. That’s not how I see it. Creativity is required at every stage of the spectrum, because unexpected twists arise all the time. Applied imagination is, in part, the ability to move the slider to the right place at the right time to choose the right idea from many, the best architecture from many possibilities, and the best way to achieve the work and make an idea real.
Many companies including Facebook and Google are eliminating the hiring for cultural fit when recruiting, saying that it provides biases and limits great talent. But there are still many companies still trying to find the right fit. Why do you think companies are still hiring for cultural fit? Why create limitations and restrictions in the way of better performance results and innovation?
RJK: Some companies have a very strong culture and it makes sense to hire for cultural fit. For example, if you’re in the business of providing day care for children, you want a culture fit for general kindness and empathy toward children. If your business is a gym, you want a culture of physical fitness and resilience. The tech giants are in a constant state of evolution, and their culture at this time is much less clear.
What do you think the future of the workforce?
RJK: How far in the future? In the short term, it will be in a state of transition as many jobs are automated and people struggle to figure out the skills they need. The most valuable employees will be those who see their own imaginations as amplified by collaboration with other humans and technology. In the Imagination Age, we do not call AI artificial intelligence. It is applied imagination. Soon, it will be less clear what is “artificial” and what is “real.” I hope that in the future, workers have the wisdom to put technology to work for us, to solve systemic problems that will simultaneously lead some humans to struggle while others evolve.