Playing it Safe: Literature as a Platform for Authentic Inclusion

Playing it Safe: Literature as a Platform for Authentic Inclusion

One needn’t look too hard to find evidence that diverse workplaces are more innovative and tend attract a broader pool of new potential hires. And recent McKinsey research demonstrates that companies with diverse workforces perform better financially as well.

But, in a recent Books@Work session, a participant’s comment left me thinking about the inadequacies of diversity by itself. “Proximity is not inclusion” he said, referring to a story by Chinua Achebe, “Dead Men’s Path.” Reflecting on the story’s depiction of a spectacular failure of communication, he challenged the assembled group: If we can’t find ways to share our discomfort, challenge our assumptions, and open our apertures to the ideas and experiences of others, can we truly capitalize on diversity and move forward together?

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The Element of Surprise: What Stories Help Us See

The Element of Surprise: What Stories Help Us See

I have long been a fan of TED. A TED talk distracts you for 18 minutes with a cool “idea worth spreading,” satisfying the yen for a distraction but somehow alleviating the guilt associated with procrastination: like a particularly toothsome snack unaccompanied by the guilt of empty calories. Like many of you, I’ve watched my share over the years, admiring the interlocutory skill, the messaging and the clarity of thought they often represent. And, while I have a few favorites, the one I have watched and recommended more often than any other is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Danger of a Single Story.

Adichie is a skilled writer, whose book Americanah numbers among my recent favorites. In The Danger of a Single Story, Adichie shares a cautionary tale – the negative power of literature (and in particular, the traditional Western canon) to weave uniform narratives about other cultures that distort and promote dangerous cultural misunderstanding. Through this “single story” tradition, literature can “open up new worlds” but can also concurrently “rob people of dignity,” dangerously emphasizing “how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

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Want a Learning Organization? Invest in Individuals from the Shop Floor to the C-Suite

Want a Learning Organization? Invest in Individuals from the Shop Floor to the C-Suite

Last week, my colleague, fellow researcher and Books@Work Board Member, Karen Nestor, encouraged us to rethink workplace learning for the 21st century. By separating “learning to be” from “learning about,” she reminded us that organizational learning culture requires a fundamental shift from training employees to creating regular, varied and meaningful opportunities for individual learning.

But how does a focus on individual learning benefit the organization?

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Crafting the Common Language: Belonging and Inclusion in Workplace Culture

Crafting the Common Language: Belonging and Inclusion in Workplace Culture

When I joined McKinsey & Company some time ago, my first day coincided with an office conference on innovation and business in the new economy, the very area in which I was hired to contribute. How fortuitous! But to say that I understood about half of what people were saying is ambitious; truthfully, despite my years as a corporate lawyer and deep exposure to business and innovation, McKinsey spoke a language I had simply never heard.  

Thankfully, I am a quick study, and over the years I became fluent in that language – and long after leaving the firm, I confess to still using certain expressions that just work. But more important than the words themselves, I learned two important things: first, that this common language was a phenomenal unifier – part of a shared culture that bound thousands of professionals who rarely spent time in the office and whose work took them to all corners of the globe; and second, they had invented it themselves.

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The Beauty Is in the Details: The Prismatic Effect of Literature

The Beauty Is in the Details: The Prismatic Effect of Literature

If a piece of art explores a universal idea, a specific detail often exposes the particular, redirecting a viewer’s emotions to a more personal connection and creating an opportunity for deeper reflection on beauty, love, loss or other ideas. So does the power of detail bring us each closer to an otherwise daunting piece of art.

But the visual arts have not cornered this space. Good literature also has the power to use detail to catapult us back into our own lives, to render personal even the most distant stories.

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The Best Way to Reveal Essential Truth? Read Fiction!

The Best Way to Reveal Essential Truth? Read Fiction!

Throughout a colorful and productive career, Pablo Picasso exposed form and color, disassembling his subjects and reshaping them in ways that at once obfuscated and illuminated them. In 1923, in a famous written statement, Picasso defended his craft to those who failed to understand his motives and his work: “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”  

So how does this truth-revealing “lie” apply to Books@Work?

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Changing Philosophies: Creating Open and Inclusive Workplaces

Changing Philosophies: Creating Open and Inclusive Workplaces

Recent research leaves little doubt that open, connected and inclusive organizations consistently outperform peers in employee wellbeing, innovation and workplace productivity. But the culture required to maintain openness and inclusion assumes an authentically collective mindset – a mindset that differs considerably from the individual focus that dominates Western society. How do we override centuries of Western thinking and open ourselves up to new philosophies of human relationships at work?

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The Power of Experience

The Power of Experience

One of the most amazing discoveries to come out of Books@Work is the power of participant life experience. Unlike a traditional classroom-based seminar, in which the professor and text have something to teach the students, the power of our model is that it fosters the unique collision of three important elements: professor expertise, text and participant experience.

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The Elephant in the Room: Healthy Companies Address Workplace Problems

The Elephant in the Room: Healthy Companies Address Workplace Problems

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on the importance of social interactions in the workplace at the International Conference & Exposition of the Association of Training and Development in Atlanta. Over four days, 10,000 attendees chose from 400 presentations on a broad array of topics.

In a session on culture, Joseph Grenny, author and co-founder of the social science research firm VitalSmarts, asserted simply: “The health of a relationship, team or organization is a function of the average time lag between identifying and discussing problems.”

We’ve all worked with someone who excels at finding all the things an organization does wrong. Maybe we’ve even found ourselves doing it too. Identifying problems is easy. Talking about them? Not so much.

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