More isn’t always better

Something’s better than nothing, yes!
But nothing’s better than more, more, more
[Except all, all, all]
Except all, all, all
Except once you have it all [have it all]
You may find all else above [find all else above]
That though things are bliss,
There’s one thing you miss, and that’s
More! More!
More! More! More! More!
More! More! More!
Stephen Sondheim

The folk wisdom captured in these lyrics from Stephen Sondheim suggests that you can never have too much of anything: if a little bit of something is good, more must be even better. However more of the same isn’t always what’s warranted. For instance, we all try to get away from the tourist who doesn’t seem to know that speaking English louder doesn’t help get the point across to someone who doesn’t understand the language. We laugh at the joke in which someone is looking for a set of keys under the street lamp, not because they were lost there, but because that is where there is more light by which to search. Yet in spite of these moments of recognition that just doing more of what we have always done is unwise, we frequently persist in using certain approaches with no serious consideration of their appropriateness or effectiveness across different contexts (for an example of the downsides of grit, see this article from Bill Murphy, Jr). Or, witness the managers who keep hiring clones of themselves and nevertheless continue to expect innovative and out-of-the-box thinking from those hires. In both scenarios, we are trapped in the myth of more of the same is always better.

When we over-emphasize similarity when making choices, be they in hiring, appraisal or promotion, we run the risk of stifling disagreement, provoking groupthink and failing to get the feedback we need. Furthermore we won’t ever know what diverse ideas, attitudes and behaviors we could have injected into our project, organization or friendship circle, had we not set out to find someone who looked just like us.

When we overdo our strengths (those of you who are familiar with the SDI will know that overdone strengths are a foundation of this model), they become liabilities. By doing too much of a good thing, we miss the opportunity to try out new, albeit perhaps challenging, ways of being. We also squander the chance to step away from perfectionistic tendencies and allow ourselves to fail at something and through this failure come to a deeper appreciation of both our strengths and our limitations.

By rejecting the notion that more is always better, perhaps we can get to a place where diversity work involves exploring ourselves in order to discover what new lies within and exploring the wider world to discern other options for flourishing. Being jubilant when people acknowledge new parts of themselves, previously unknown or even disowned, and celebrating the variety of equally valuable routes to success that exist across our human species sparks the diversity dividend.

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

More isn’t always better

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