The internet was launched to encourage diverse thinking, linking together scientific communities who could share ideas and learn from each other. But instead we have retreated into bubbles. We surround ourselves with people who think like us and who reinforce our ideas and beliefs, making us feel good about ourselves.
Over the last couple of years I have noticed that the need to develop a diverse network and to expose yourself to people different to you has become a bigger and bigger part of my talks and workshops.
In the research for my new book, Just Ask, the topic of surrounding yourself with people not like you came up time and time again. Not least when I quizzed Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly about the reasons for the failures of the social care policy launch during the 2017 General Election in the UK.
James told me, ‘When the policy was being developed it was in a public policy vacuum. There was a very small amount of people working on it, very clever people and, as is often the case with a small team, you get some very effective work but you get a distillation of the idea. So, everyone kind of agrees with everyone, who then agrees with everyone, who agrees with everyone.
‘It’s really easy to get to a point where no one has unplugged themselves from the matrix and just seen what is going on in the world, just to double check.’
“It’s really easy to get to a point where no one has unplugged themselves from the matrix”
This all sprang to mind this morning when I heard Matthew Syed interviewed about his new book, Rebel Ideas. Many of the things that Syed shared resonated very strongly with me and reinforced much of what I’ve shared in talks and in my new book.
Syed explained how he has been invited to sit on a panel looking at the future of football, advising current England manager Gareth Southgate. Turning up, he expected to see the likes of Harry Redknapp, old school football managers with a vast knowledge of the game. Instead he was surrounded by business leaders, experts in resilience, government advisors and coaches from other sports like Dave Brailsford from the cycling world.
Syed wondered what he and others on the panel could offer Gareth Southgate and it appeared as though Southgate had the same doubts. But both were refreshingly surprised. Diverse thinking based on a range of different experiences gave valuable insights that hadn’t come from the world of football.
At a talk I gave last week I mentioned how I have suddenly noticed my age when talking to people in their 20s and even 30s. There is now a clear generation gap with different experiences and perspectives making me occasionally feel out of touch. In his interview Syed, who is a similar age to me, shared how when he goes to parties he often sees tables of people grouped according to their age group – the young sit with the young and older people with their peers.
Syed makes a point of seeking out the youngest and oldest people in the room for conversation instead – because he can learn more from them. This is how I try to approach this new feeling of a generation gap. What can I learn to help me stay in touch?
This is the type of approach that we need to see more of in business. Whether you are responsible for the running of a multinational corporation or run your own business, the experiences and expertise of people from different sectors, backgrounds, generations and roles can lead to massive breakthroughs and winning ideas.
It’s important to stress Syed’s point that Southgate didn’t take all of the ideas from the panel…but he did implement some. While you should be open to as many new and diverse ideas as possible, it’s important that you retain responsibility for the decisions you make. Listen, learn, filter and decide to implement what you believe in.
But if you’re not open to diverse conversations in the first place, you won’t have those decisions to make.