Friday, April 18, 2008

International Food Day

Nature cavorted with the calendar today. Students accepted for the class of 2010 at Tuck were visiting for the annual Admitted Students Weekend (ASW for acronym fans). And the temperature hit 80 degrees. What still looks like winter to the camera's eye, suddenly felt like spring. The Frisbees and footballs abounded. Even the volleyball net made an appearance.

One of the annual rituals for the ASW is the International Lunch. Students from a variety of countries cook and bring a cornucopia of food. The aroma of barbecue was wafting through the halls all day. Lunch time could not come soon enough! I listened to a professor's advice, and started at the Argentina table for roasted beef. Wonderful! I moved on to the Chinese table for a selection of delicacies, and finished at the Italian table for tiramisu. Delicious! Needless to say, a salad was in my future for dinner :)

We have a similar tradition in the IT group at Save the Children. We have eight nationalities represented in our small team, and a balance of genders--unusual for an IT department, but something in which we take pride. An international food day is a fun celebration of diversity, but it's also an important one. It reminds us that we are members of a small planet, a global community in a room, around a table, sharing a meal.

Diversity is important to an organization that works in many countries. This is so because we want our business to reflect who we are and where we work. But there's something more important that we value. It's the diversity of opinion.

Being in a university community, I am reminded of the time-honored Socratic method. One of my most memorable teachers would start a sentence and then look to us to complete it. If we faltered, he supplied the answer. As the semester unwound, we answered more, debated more, and began to have a honest dialog of different opinions. I learned that often the truth comes through the discussion of opposites. Inviting the debate led to richer answers. This is what diversity brings to a business. It is the invitation to hear perspectives different from your own and appreciate the bits of the answers that come from a symphony of voices.

It is the kiss of death for a manager and leader if all of her team thinks like she does. It is the end of a conversation if no one challenges an idea. Indeed, it is a ultimately a monologue. And that means you need to always be right. What leader can afford this burden?

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