We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it? – Marcus Aurelius
I guess the desire to be surrounded by common people is embedded in us by evolution. We survive by sticking together in a family, tribe. Presumably, this is also why we feel comfortable being surrounded by a less diverse crowd. In this context, new or unfamiliar means “danger”. These questions are being investigated by much smarter people than me, though I cannot help but speculate that it is not what nature has initially intended for us. More so, this type of approach has hindered and in many ways continues to stall our progress quite significantly. If we think about it, sharing, trading and mingling with other cultures really brought out the best in us. Once we discovered ways to commute and, more importantly, communicate with others we reached new heights on all fronts. So it seems any challenges that might be associated with the new, different and unknown, even ultimately dangerous at times, really tend to make us push our limits and establish a new norm, typically a better one. So whenever we are “comfortable” in our surroundings and “satisfied”, we are in danger of missing out on truly maximizing our potential, as people, group, society.
I see some resemblance to local vs global maxima problem in mathematics, i.e., what seems like a maximum value (of a given function) is really is just a (much) smaller value compared to the true maximum value. This is really a result of not having a “bird’s-eye view” of the function (i.e., see the big picture). We only can estimate what it really is, like searching in the dark. This is how I feel about our tendency to be afraid of change, any change. We are stuck in the local maxima of the “function of life”. If we had the ability to zoom out and see all the possible values of this complex function, I think we would discover that we really need diversity to reach its global maxima.
To strengthen my point, I think it is useful to look at a domain such as Engineering. To me, this is a great example of how diversity can be used to build larger and bigger things. We designed systems that are capable of doing incredible things. We devised complex theories and have shown that by combining a mixture of very diverse techniques and methodologies facilitates a path to amazing things. Our system designs are based on many different ideas, programming languages, instructions, machine commands and finally bits. Researchers and engineers are constantly looking for inspiration, ideas from different domains, as well as finding ways to connect many different components which make for a more robust system. I know that perhaps this generalization can be interpreted to mean something completely different. For example, we always try to harmonise the components to make sure they work as one, but the point really is that as engineers (and designers) we really are not afraid to bring in new diverse components, while when it comes to our personal life, diversity can sometimes be misinterpreted as an unwanted thing.
While building systems, as engineers we think of the “big picture”: finding ways for different components to work together to make a better system, as people, outside engineering, we tend to be happy with the “local maxima”. In other words, as designers and engineers we embrace and even seek diversity, however, collectively as humanity we seem to be afraid of it or challenge its benefits.
Granted, things are gradually changing. We notice the workplaces start to encourage diversity, also diversity is more often spoken about and students are motivated to write essays about it. Like this one. Nevertheless, to me, it seems that we already failed the “diversity test” once we feel that we need to motivate diversity. My argument here is that in many domains diversity is not encouraged it’s the expected norm; it’s hidden and not obvious and that what makes it so powerful. We shouldn’t forget that, after all, diversity is a yet another label we humans invented alongside many other labels. These make our life easier: We can blame, glorify, worship and cherish things that are well defined, concepts that are visible and understood to us. Yet there is a great power in the unknown and combining different ideas, people and verity of other things tend to work out well collectively.
In summary, I think by limiting diversity (in anything) we limit progress, any positive progress. It is hard to fight our inherent feelings and perspectives that were formed by our experiences as we grow, but we can always be aware of their limitation and use heuristics to improve ourselves and the processes we manage. As a rule, if you are building something that lacks diversity, you are probably doing it wrong. If you are part of the team of people who are very similar to each other, you are at a risk of stalling your progress. All rules/habits have “exceptions”, learning from those that challenge our conventional thinking is what diversity is all about.comments powered by Disqus