On Originality

University of Penn Scholar Oscar Gandy said that “rational discrimination” does not require hatred towards any class or race of people. It doesn’t even require unconscious bias to operate. “It only requires ignoring the bias that already exists”, he wrote.

I often think of his words, when I think of the value we place on originality.

My editor for Power of Onlyness (Rick Kot, Executive Editor, Viking) also published Adam Grant’s work, Originals. I asked Kot as soon as Adam’s book was released… “how could you publish an entire book, entitled Originals no less, without acknowledging the role of bias?” He just shrugged his shoulders.

And this is why the business continues to lose out, I thought.

We cannot unlock true originality – the ideas born of that power of place each of us has, or onlyness – without acknowledging the bias that already exists. As I talk about a lot, Adam Galinsky of Columbia University has researched that “power and status act as self-reinforcing loops”, allowing those who have power and status to have their ideas heard and those without power to be ignored and silenced. It’s not that the original idea is weighed and deemed unworthy but that the person bringing that new and unusual idea is deemed unworthy of being listened to.

When you are hiring to bring in new ideas or designing hackathons within your firm to unlock innovation levels within your firm, know this: you cannot do innovation and access original ideas without addressing the deep and pervasive role of bias. Either you are doing something to explicitly dismantle the structural ways in which we limit who is allowed to have ideas, to unlock their capacity… or you are allowing the same old people to keep doing the same old things, perpetuating the status quo.

By your actions, you’re picking a side.

You cannot be a celebrant of originality if you are not ALSO working to liberate the ideas of those typically underseen.

4 Responses:

  1. Phil & Pam Lawson (@SocializingAI). December 14, 2018 at 8:15 am  

    So wearily true.

    Reply
  2. Wayfarer doug cohen. December 14, 2018 at 8:57 am  

    This post reminds me of one of my favored concepts, from decades in organizational life and coaching leaders on building learning organizations,
    which is the value of practicing ‘Cognitive Diversity’. Seeking out, encouraging and supporting the exploration of diverse thought processes & products in a group or team. it’s an under appreciated dimension of Diversity.

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. December 14, 2018 at 9:10 am  

      Yeah for cognitive diversity. Only thing to watch for is that sometimes you can *think* you have cognitive diversity by say having someone on the team who went to Cornell and another who went to UC Berkeley and be like, see. So no getting around the fact that cognitive diversity cannot happen without actual diversity (socioeconomic, age, et al)…

      Reply

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