Jun 29

In today’s hyper-dynamic world, the ability to solve problems quicker and bring innovations to market is essential to success.  Diversity is the foundation of better problem solving, innovation, and market prediction.  While there has long been anecdotal proof of diversity’s value, a sound mathematical proof was not available until Scott E. Page published The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies in January of 2007.

The DifferenceLast Wednesday I was fortunate to be spend a few hours with Scott.  Tiane Mitchell Gordon invited Scott to speak at AOL and asked me to join them since we are working together on a new, results-focused diversity and inclusion curricula.  After his presentation, Scott discussed at length how organizations can better leverage the power of diversity to improve performance and compete better in the 21st century marketplace.

Scott’s book is a revelation to any of us who have had to answer the “prove it” question regarding the competitive power of diversity.  Because the book presents a mathematical proof, it is not the easiest read you will pick up on the topic.  Scott is, after all, a professor of complex systems, political science, and economics.  He recognized the power of diversity from an economic perspective – instead of the typical sociology or human resources perspective.  Fortunately, Scott’s eclectic examples and great sense of humor soften his scientific treatise.

Our discussion was wide ranging, but can be boiled down to the title of this post: The Science of Diversity and the Art of Inclusion.  Scott recognized the mathematical power of diversity, but most of the (very good) books on the topic were anecdotal and qualitative (see Frans Johansson’s Medici Effect, Don Tapscott’s Wikinomics, and James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds).  Scott wrote his book to provide a mathematical equation that equates the power of diversity.  The hope being that quantitative proof would encourage leaders to diversify their teams.  Of course, building a diverse team is just the beginning.  For diversity to deliver competitive advantage, the art of inclusion must be applied to unleash it.  I’ll get to the art of inclusion in a bit, but let’s first finish pondering the science of diversity.

For too long, diversity has been viewed from a “representation” perspective.  Affirmative action, EEOC lawsuits, and representation quotas put organizations into a reactionary mindset of preventative precaution.  Only now are we seeing organizations emerging from this reactionary morass to recognize the strategic value of diversity.  Organizations are proactively courting diversity as a competitive advantage.  And we can see this dichotomy of reactive vs. proactive reflected in the current discussion of “identity diversity” vs. “skills diversity”.

Identity diversity is “old school” – the representation view of diversity using variables such as gender, race, ethnicity, etc.   And it is a two sided coin – both how you view yourself and how others view you.  While this type of diversity continues to be very important to building diverse teams, it may not be as important as skills diversity.  Skills diversity (you can substitute “cognitive”, “experience”, or “perspective” for “skills”) refers to the tools each individual brings to their team.  While the identity variables still apply to skills diversity, it is driven by the multitude of experiences that make us who we are.  A person’s primary language, type of education, level of education, social customs, political beliefs, value system, problem solving methods, work experience, geographic origins, and a host of other variables all contribute to her skills diversity.

With that understanding of diversity, Scott equates the value of diversity.  He mathematically demonstrates how diversity improves problem solving, innovation, and prediction accuracy.  I encourage you to get Scott’s book for the detailed mathematics.  But let’s bring this back to practical application.  If a leader recognizes the importance of both identity and skills diversity, how does she build a diverse team?  Many great minds are working to answer that question and it is what Scott and I spent the most of our time discussing.  We discussed the possibility for new evaluation tools, skills assessments, psychological profiles, etc. These tools could help leaders peer into the diversity of their current team and potential new hires.  But until those tools are readily available and easy to use, leaders will simply need to be diligent in gauging diversity.

No matter how a leader goes about building a diverse team, the team’s potential will never be realized unless the leader also masters the art of inclusion.  A deceptively simple definition of inclusion is “managing a group so that all diverse members are given the opportunity to participate equally.”  But it is more complex than that.  Depending on the team and the goals, the leader will need to artfully use a number of tools to unlock the team’s potential.

And what are the tools of the art of inclusion?  Because this post is already too long and my ADD is begging me to find something else to do, I will leave the art of inclusion for a future post.  A weaselly way to end the post, I know.  But here’s the (probably obvious) teaser: the tools are nothing that most effective leaders don’t already have in their toolbox.

written by Jeff Kelly \\ tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

May 15

Ever since the first networked copier/scanner was installed in my office, I wondered how long it would be before the fax machine became obsolete. The copier/scanner makes it easy to scan any document to PDF and attach it to an e-mail – providing greater efficiency, privacy, and accountability than the old faxing process.

Today I received my fist “standardized corporate” business card that did not have a fax number. This was not from a techno-evangelist eschewing vestigial technology – it was from a salt-of-the-earth program manager. When I asked her about she said she wasn’t concerned that the number wasn’t there since she never uses the fax. Think about it. A program manager that coordinates scores of vendors, clients, events, contracts, etc. – and never uses a fax.

I take this as a sign that the fax machine has entered its golden years and will soon go the way of the telegram. My prediction is that we have about five more years before the need to scan paper-based transactions into digital form will become a relic as well.

written by Jeff Kelly \\ tags: ,

Feb 01

microhoo_small.gifSo the blogosphere is agog with today’s big news that Microsoft has made a $44.6 billion bid to acquire Yahoo. I won’t pile on when so many others that have much more knowledge than I are busily chiming in. I will just say that I think this is just the first of many mergers and acquisitions we will see in 2008. There are too many duplicitous players out there and as the economy tightens, the strong will swallow the weak. Also, people are getting tired of having so many sites to keep track of (c’mon OpenID) that they will welcome a merger of some of their favorite social sites (can you say “MyFaceLinked”? – quick – go reserve the domain).

It did get me thinking about my old company AOL, however. Could they be on the radar for Microsoft to gobble up as well? Others have posited that Google might want to snap up AOL to strengthen their advertising sales force. That is certainly a possibility as well. But since I am way overdue to deliver some 2008 predictions, here is what I think will take place:

  1. AOL is three different companies in one: the dial up subscription service, the Web services (publishing, media, IM, e-mail, MapQuest, TMZ.com, etc.), and the “Platform A” advertising business (anchored in Advertising.com).
  2. Time Warner will not give up on Platform A. It recognizes the value of the online advertising business. It may decide to merge the “publishing” parts of the Web services with its Time Inc. publishing division. But the dial up business and the “services” part of Web services? I think they would be happy to find a buyer.
  3. So, they sell the dial-up for scrap; merge their hot Web properties (MapQuest, TMZ.com, etc.) into a newly fortified Time publishing division; hold onto Platform A; and offer everything else (AOL portal, e-mail accounts, AIM, ICQ, etc.) to the highest bidder.
  4. Who would want it? Microsoft? Google? Hard to say. But Google does have an inside advantage: they already own 5% 0f AOL. They purchased that for just over $1 billion in 2005.
  5. When does all this happen? In July 2006 – because that is when Google can exercise an IPO on the 5% it owns.

So, that is my shot in the dark. I will repost in August to see how accurate I was. ;o)

Let me know what you think…

written by Jeff Kelly \\ tags: , , , , , , ,