Diversity at work: Unlimited curiosity (1)

This blog is the first in a series of 4 about creating a culture in which diversity is not only present, but also explored and used to the business’ advantage.

Diversity at work

Diversity is hot. Every organisation stresses the importance of ‘getting the numbers right’ these days. Every organisation tries to make minority groups disappear by creating equal chances for all. Getting the numbers right however is only step one. Organisations that have focused on this aspect of diversity get disappointed when they see that all flavours of human diversity are represented well, but that the different voices don’t get heard. It’s the culture that has to change, not the numbers.

In the context of this blog, I do not specifically refer to a particular type of diversity, such as gender diversity, different age profiles or various flavours of sexual orientation. That’s surface: these visible or easily noticeable differences are present, but usually just deal with only one particular aspect of diversity. We need to go beyond this ‘surface representation’ of diversity, and address deeper differences between humans. The essence of diversity is in the welcoming of differences of any kind, even the deepest differences of religious beliefs, fundamental values and life orientation. In organisations, this manifests as a true welcoming and inviting of different thoughts and attitudes, views and beliefs.

So rather than dealing with diversity in terms of numbers and percentages of minority groups, I assume that in any group – even when the surface representation of that group is very homogeneous – there are many differences in the way people think and act. There is strength in these differences, and a true diverse organisation is able to benefit from that potential.

True diversity of thought yields benefits that go beyond ‘having the numbers right’.

A truly diverse team culture

In an organisation that is truly diverse, a culture has formed in which differences are welcomed when creativity is needed and decisions need to be made. This is a culture where some attitudes and behaviours are stimulated, such that people explore their differences (curiosity), can welcome different views than their own (vulnerability), feel invited to be different (make a difference) and clearly express their differences (clear communication).


Each of these 4 attitudes/behaviors is the topic of one blog in the weeks to come.


Attitude 1: Unlimited curiosity

When diversity is present but not explored and used, there is hidden potential to increase creative thinking and problem solving. The starting point for a (team) culture where diversity adds value is ‘unlimited curiosity’. People need to be intensely curious about what makes somebody different and where this person’s ideas originate.

We often think we are curious, but in daily life forget to act accordingly. A good example is the yearly holiday, where we say we are curious of another country and culture, and look forward to immerse ourselves in the national culture. But quite often, we put the new experience in the context of the things we know and feel familiar with. We interpret the new experiences in another country in the context of our own culture. And we subsequently label these experiences as ‘strange’, ‘fascinating’, ‘weird’, or ‘interesting’. We are often just visitors to another culture, although we think we are really curious.

I am the best example myself. I will tell you I love the experience of going different places, explore and learn, and I do. But once there, I often forget this. I tend to stay in my comfort zone, visiting a few ‘touristic’ hotspots and experiencing the other culture as a visitor. An interested visitor, but still…

So what would ‘intense curiosity’ look like? This would be the stated of min where you are so curious that everything you don’t understand becomes a new project. Let’s find out how this works. Getting to the bottom of things. Asking yourself loads of questions, and find out from locals what makes them tick? What is their motive for acting in this ‘weird’ way? Why do people do what they do?

This often requires the ability to communicate – at least at an elementary conversational level – with the locals. So we would prepare for our ‘curious adventure’ by learning enough words in the local language. We would learn by understanding the grammar, and knowing a bit about the fascinating history of places. With the ‘unlimited curiosity’-mindset we would go far beyond the daily conversations with people from our own country we meet at the camping or guesthouse. We would engage in conversations in a local café. There we would open up talks with the locals drinking their coffees and beers and soak up their wisdom.

I don’t want to make this sound as a complaint about the way we generally have holidays. Not at all. But I make the observation. Of others’, but most of all about my own behaviour. I have to admit I do not have that drive for immersion and adventure that I would like to have.

Curiosity needs to be stimulated

Yet this unlimited curiosity is the basic behaviour I look for in organisations and teams that want to take more benefit of their diversity. A team is not diverse when there are sufficient women, blacks or gay in the team. The team is diverse when  men, women, whites, blacks, gay, straight explore their differences. This requires unlimited curiosity about how people – different than you – act and behave. Wiling to find out. Research into a world that you do not understand well enough yet.

Unlimited curiosity is an attitude, not a behavior. You cannot send teams to a training to learn to be more curious. You cannot tell people to be more curious. But what you can do is make people experience how interesting life gets when they start exploring anything they don’t yet understand. Teams benefit enormously when people learn to hold back judgment and instead start exploring their environments for new ideas, different insights and weird propositions.

How curious are you – really – about your colleagues who are not like you?

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