Identifying the Powers that Matter for your Team
How do you identify the powers that matter for your team? The question that then comes up: you're working with a team, you're building a team, you're trying to form a team for a project. How do you know when you have what you need? How do you identify perspectives and heuristics? How do you tell when you're full up on one, we have a bunch of people that are gonna end up on one mountain range? So this is where the discussion of visible diversity, I get a little bit worried about when we talk about this. So corporate America especially, we have this conversation about diversity. We need to hire people who look different than each other, different races, different ethnicities, men and women, we need to kind of build Noah's Ark, so to speak. And most of that discussion kind of is, in my opinion, for PR purposes. It's for image purposes. Companies say they do this. A big public company just yesterday announced that they know they have a problem with the way that women are treated in their b...
ig tech company, and so they're working on it. And they say they're working on it for image purposes, right? Not for the math of synergy and actually doing better together. Most companies, they're doing this in a sort of superficial way. And that's because, I think in part, if you understand that what leads to breakthrough problem solving is what's inside of our heads, then it's very easy to say, "Well, our group of people are cognitively diverse, so we don't need to include other people." It's easy to use that as an excuse, because this stuff is hard. But we underestimate exactly how much these things that are hot-button issues like race and gender actually do lead to meaningful cognitive diversity. Here's an example that I love. Tom Hanks question. Everyone knows who Tom Hanks is, right? Okay, alright, great. Tom Hanks is the greatest. You're directing a movie, and Tom Hanks is the star, and you're so excited about this, it's gonna be a fabulous movie, but at the last second, Tom Hanks drops out. So you have to replace him with another actor. Who do you replace him with? May as well throw this out. Who's the first person that comes to mind that you replace him with? Laura, what do you think?
I don't know if you can. There is no other Tom Hanks, I don't think in this world, like he's just like the nicest, pretty diverse,
We've invested $100 million in this film. You will never work again if you don't replace Tom Hanks. But you can pick anyone. Everyone is available. Because everyone loves Tom Hanks, anyone you ask will say yes.
I don't know. Anybody?
George Clooney. What do you think?
I hadn't thought of--
Oh, I was gonna say, like Oprah or something?
'Cause she's just as likable as Tom Hanks.
You know what? Oprah is maybe the one more beloved universally than Tom Hanks. I'm glad that you said that, 'cause we'll get to that. You guys want to volunteer anything? The crew have anything? Nah, alright. So,
Bill Murray, okay, Bill Murray. So this is a question, and a lot of this research that we're going through, this talk of the math of synergy, is research that was pioneered by a guy named Scott Paige at the University of Michigan. He's a professor of complex systems. So his job is to study big systems where there's lots of characters and inputs and see how they work. He asks this question to his students every semester, and I loved it so much that I did a survey of 1,000 Americans across the country and asked them this question. And when you break the results down by race, something really interesting happens. When you ask white people the Tom Hanks question, you get a panoply of answers. George Clooney is a popular one. Colin Hanks, Tom Hanks's son, is pretty popular. Robert Downey Jr. got the plurality of votes in my poll, but no one got more than 10, 15% of votes. I pick Ryan Gosling, because I'd replace any actor with him, in my opinion; he is my favorite. But 51% of black people picked the same person. I don't know if you believe that. 51% of black people picked Denzel Washington. And it turns out that this is a really good answer to this question, because Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks may just be the most similar actors in Hollywood to each other, when you just take away the race part. Besides their race, they're the same age, they're the same height, they've both done comedies and action movies, Denzel is maybe a little bit tougher, but they've both been tough guys. They've been friends forever. They're long-time family men, they've won the same kinds of awards, they get paid about the same. They are incredibly similar and very good choices to replace each other as actors, but you're less likely to see that if you don't share Denzel Washington's race. I think it's interesting that you picked Oprah, right? Because none of the white people in the room picked a woman of color, and yet, when you have grown up your whole life being a woman of color, you're more likely to see that as a possibility. Which is pretty cool. And not to... It's really no dis on anyone for their race. Like, we are our race, we were born this way, so we encode the world and we see it a certain way, and no matter how much respect we have and have developed for other races, some things are just easier to see because of your race. Which is cool, so there's all sorts of things that can lead to this kind of thing. So even that gives you a good excuse to have a racially diverse team if you're building a movie, right? Even that alone, you'll be able to see things that you won't see. I just wrote an article that was a big investigative article as part of my journalism work, where after the article was published, people commented on a race component that my editor and I did not see, that actually was a very meaningful part of the story, that I was grateful for the crowd to bring up, but that we didn't see. And the story was correct, but there's another component that led to another discussion. And it made me wish that we had had other eyes on this story. So here's kind of a target diagram of the kinds of things that lead to... The thing that matters for synergy and cognitive diversity is our mosaic of perspectives, heuristics, and I'll get to this, how you roll. How we see the world and how we approach the world. This is the thing that really matters. The things that are the most tightly correlated with that are our life experiences, the day-to-day things we've been through, how we've been educated, what we've worked in, where we've traveled, where we've lived, micro-aggressions and opportunities that have happened to us, little times that we've been included or not included, people we've met, all of these life experiences form this mental mosaic. They help us to see things naturally differently. And things that lead to those life experiences are all of these things that it can be very easy to overlook when we start talking about cognitive diversity, but our age, our gender, our race, the generation we grew up in, our sexual orientation, our habits, things that are built into who we are, meaningfully, vastly affect this. There's things like marital status and personal preferences that are choices, but they're still part of our identity. So our attributes lead to the experiences which lead to the mosaic. And so, we would be dumb to jump to the conclusion that we can just ignore these things when we talk about this. But there's another part of this that I really like: every human being is different, and we can all, I think, appreciate that, and when we start thinking in these terms, looking for the things that people can add to a group, it becomes really exciting and important. This thing, "how you roll," comes from a guy named Keith Yamashita, who's maybe one of my favorite human beings. He is a co-founder of SY Partners. It's a consulting firm that does amazing work. He was Steve Jobs's coach. He's actually currently working with Oprah. He's the coach of really powerful CEOs, and they have a little exercise at his company, SY Partners, that I love, called, "What is your Superpower?" So whenever they have a new person join the team, or whenever they're working with a new group, they go through this exercise to determine not just these things that you can see, which we think could probably correlate to different perspectives and heuristics, but how does someone roll, and when should I count on someone, and when should I go seek someone out to add to the problem we're working on? So I have a little deck of cards that they use, that they run through this. You can actually get these from their website, sypartners.com/superpowers, I think. You can find it if you go to their homepage. But this deck of cards, what is your superpower, it's a little game, sort of, that they play, and I would love a volunteer to come up and play a couple rounds of this. Yeah? Alright, come on up. So, I'm gonna show the cards in a minute, but we'll show the cards to you, and I'd like you to read these out loud. So what they do, is they have this pack of cards that all have different attributes on them. On the back, and I'm not gonna show you, but here's kind of what they look like. And on the front, it has some scenarios. So I'm gonna put two scenarios in front of you, and I want you to read them out loud and then decide which applies to you better.
Okay. "This team is technically brilliant, but they're not always attuned to what's going on inside people's brains. They need someone with a sixth sense about people, someone who can easily read what others are thinking and feeling. Which is why they need you." "This team has to do the impossible, and they don't have many resources or much time. They have will, but they need a way. They need someone with scrappiness and smarts to create something out of nothing, which is why they need you."
So which applies to you better?
Kind of both.
That's okay, if you have a hard decision. You still have to pick one, but if one really makes sense, that's part of the game.
Oh, man, I'll go with this one.
Alright, so we're gonna hang onto this. This we'll put on the side, and now, pit this one against it. So read this one please.
"This team keeps going down a well-worn path. They want to break out and try new things, but gravity pulls them towards what's familiar. No matter how or where they start, they end up someplace they've been before. They need a fresh approach." This one.
That one applies more to you, okay. So now, pit this one against that.
"This team is bitterly divided. Tensions are high, relationships are strained, they're in such conflict they can't move forward. They need to get past their differences and repair the rifts." I'll stick with fresh approach.
Okay. So we're not gonna go through the whole thing, but you go through this whole deck of cards, and then what you end up with is one superpower, that's your main one, and you end up with a couple others that were really hard to choose from. They're kind of your sub-powers. So let's say we got through and this is what we ended up with. Your main superpower is creative thinking. Sub-superpowers are empathy, and ingenuity. So, what they actually do and they recommend, is we frame these cards, and we put them on your desk. So any time someone stops by and talks to you, they see ingenuity, creativity and empathy, and they know that "hey, when I'm working on a project where I could use someone whose power is empathy, it doesn't matter if the project has nothing to do with your actual expertise in terms of industry or skills," loop you in for the empathy factor. So this is kind of this "how you roll" thing. Thank you, you can sit down, thanks. There's other ones that I'll show. Things like grit, gap detection, experimentation, vision, cultural compass, decisiveness, these are things that don't end up, you know, maybe they end up in a description on a resume, but they're not, like, "you're a graphic designer, you say decisiveness, is that something that really comes out necessarily?" No, that's part of your personality. That's how you roll. So when we're looking at this mosaic here, part of your cognitive mosaic might be that you're a very empathetic and ingenuitive person. That may not come out. So this kind of exercise I find really fascinating, because it helps us to reinforce the idea that we're all different in ways that can be useful, and to identify those things and actually point them out, so that when we need help attacking the mountain, we can go after things that are relevant. So not every kind of diversity, or difference, is going to be relevant for every problem you're working on. If you're working on casting the movie with Tom Hanks, your own race could be an important difference. If you're working on something else, maybe race has nothing to do with, and could never. You never know what blind spots you have, so I think it's important to set yourself up with as many possible options for that.