The power of multiple perspectives in life and in business

December 11, 2017

A brief exchange with my 5-year-old daughter Ava reminded me again how lucky we are to be alive at this moment in time.

We were listening to NPR in the car on the way to school. The reporter was talking about the POTUS and various world events. Out of the silence, she asked “Daddy, has there ever been a girl president?”

“No,” I said. “Not yet. But there will be.”

She thought about that for a few seconds then asked, “What would I have to do to be president?”
“You would have to become a good leader and learn to take care of people and be kind,” I replied. “You would also have to help make laws. Do you want to be president someday?”

“Nope!” she chirped with no further explanation before occupying her mind with something much more interesting than talk about presidents with her dad. If she doesn’t change her mind about being president, that’s America’s loss. She’s the kind of smart, kind person who will make one heck of a fine leader of the free world if she someday chooses to go that route.

“Choose” is the operative word there. Despite all of our flaws as a society, we’ve at least progressed to the point where it doesn’t occur to little girls to ask whether a woman can be president, only has there been one yet.

That’s progress. Incremental progress, but progress still.

If she was older and our conversation had continued, I probably would have mentioned my belief that a female president – when we finally are evolved enough to elect one – will be a wonderful and welcome change for our nation, not because it would check some imagined diversity box, but because I think it’ll be extremely interesting to what a different perspective brings to that most difficult of jobs.

I’m a big believer in the power of different perspectives – in life, politics, and business. I believe and have always believed that no one type of person has all the answers. When it comes to business, I find that top businesses do everything they can do to attract and keep top talent. But the very best businesses make sure their talent pool is also rich with people from varied backgrounds and perspectives. Why? Building a roster of different perspectives is simply smart business. According to a 2015 McKinsey & Co. report of 366 public companies, those in the bottom quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity were less likely to show above average profits. Those in the top quartile were more likely.

It’s easy to understand why. Working in a non-homogenous environment makes us better by forcing us to re-examine our closely held perspectives and truths. I’ve experienced it in my career over and over again. I may not initially enjoy the feeling of someone suggesting changes to my thinking – few people do. We’d all prefer to be told our perspectives are flawless and brilliant. We all love hearing our perspectives echoed back to us. It feels good.

But direct feedback and well-articulated perspectives different from our own help us grow by disrupting “confirmation bias,” our very human tendency to favor information that confirms what we already believe. Having this bias disrupted is a gift that ultimately makes our positions stronger or reveals their weaknesses. Either way, we’re the better for it.

A good way to think about it is to imagine a chorale with only sopranos, tenors or baritones. I’m sure it would sound fine. But probably not as fine as the sound garden made by the combination of all three.

I guess that’s another way of saying vive la difference.

P.S. Ava for president!

Note: If you want to learn more about diverse groups, I found two Harvard Business Review articles particularly helpful: Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter and Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable — and That’s Why They Perform Better.