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Conformity Has A Higher Value Than Diversity


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"So many innovation processes are simply toxic to creating conditions in which people feel moved to acknowledge real needs. Bureaucracies flourish by subordinating spontaneous human responses and awareness to standardised systems. Organisational hierarchy means we're going to be guarding our status before we share anything resembling our vulnerability"
Johnnie Moore

I think we consistently underestimate the power of conformity in organisations and industries. It is almost always valued more than diversity. The barriers to change that it creates - fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of isolation - means that in cultures that attempt to 'manage' innovation it can take a lot of courage to innovate because, as Johnnie goes on to say, "innovation goes with disruption and disruption is what 'processes' (typically) endeavour to eliminate".

Great ideas often have lonely childhoods and, as Hugh MacLeod has pointed out, they often alter the power balance in relationships and so are always initially resisted. This I think touches on the real strength of social technologies in connecting agents of change within organisations and across industries. Groups with shared values, common interests, objectives, passions. Groups that are willing to challenge the toxic assumptions and sacrifice the sacred cows. Social technology helps to spread learning, refine opinion, share stuff that works. It helps people spread change and break down the silos that "help restrict organisational potential". It offers interaction and inspiration but just as importantly, it offers validation - as this simple presentation from Sacha Chua captures rather succinctly:

But it's worth reflecting on the other side to this coin. In The Element, Sir Ken Robinson talks a lot about the role of diversity and dynamism in creativity and an important distinction between finding and being in your tribe, and being part of a crowd:

"We aggregate as groups for the same essential and primal purposes. The upside for us is that groups can be tremendously supportive. The downside is that they encourage uniformity of thought and behaviour".

Research has shown that innovative ideas tend to emerge more readily in communities in which people work in small and relatively isolated groups where early stage, incomplete and vulnerable ideas are given space and time to mature. But an overabundance of connections, where everyone is connected to everyone else, can reduce diversity and keep radical ideas from taking hold.
So find your tribe, but avoid the crowd.

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