Leaders, do you admire Google? I sure do. They have the midas touch. They took a nonsense word and turned it into one of the most-used verbs in the English language – scrap that, in ANY language! We use their free software at work, we have free face-to-face conference meetings on their hangouts, we use their free GPS to guide us as we drive, and… did I mention most of their stuff is free? I can’t wait to get one of their self-driving cars! I wonder: will those be free, too?
And their unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil”? While some might argue they’ve strayed from that imperative here and there, at least they stand for something to stray from! You’ve got to admire a founding principle like that.
Still, for all that they’re doing right, if I were to write an open letter to Google, I think it might go something like this:
Dear Google: I really think you need to hire some English majors. Or history, or anthropology, or even dance – just, something other than engineers. You also need to hire some college – and high school – dropouts.
We’ve all read the articles, we know: every open position at Google has 3,000 applicants, so if someone isn’t valedictorian from a top-ranked school, she doesn’t even get an interview.
Meanwhile, you make your stuff (calendar, Gmail, and G+ all, in my experience) sooooo much harder to navigate than a busy (read: ADD) guy like me has time for.
And I honestly don’t think you have any idea.
Why is that? Why do you, one of our most iconic companies, suffer a blind spot such as, “Damn, this Google stuff could be a lot easier to use?” I think for all your brainpower, you select brains that are too-similarly-wired.
This isn’t about Go0gle at all, really. This post is all about YOUR company.
You see, I have a spin on diversity that never makes it into the discussion.
We talk about diversity as making the working world more fair by opening opportunities for women and minorities, be they racial (whatever a race is), ethnic, sexual orientation – you know this line of reasoning, and it’s a vitally important one. We live in a vastly better world because of this type of focus on diversity, and it’s getting better every day.
The more savvy among us go one further than fairness to point out that such diversity isn’t just fair, it also lends employers a competitive advantage, because of the diversity of perspective that a different life experience brings with it.
Imagine living in a society where women don’t work – you’ve just sidelined 51% of your talent. And where everyone must follow the same religion, and be ethnically identical. And where many of the highest skilled homosexuals feel so unwelcome (or endangered!) that they leave the country.
Good luck competing!
When everyone’s cut from the same cloth, the garments you’re able to make will be monochrome, and that’s that.
Diversity of background leads to diversity of thought, and diversity of thought is an essential antidote to groupthink – which is the bane of any leader, anywhere, at any time. Groupthink – in which the emperor only hears that his new clothes are gorgeous, and no one tells him he’s actually naked – results from leaders who isolate themselves with yes-men. These sycophants only say yes because they are afraid of what dissention will mean for their careers.
Groupthink comes from having an insecure, immature, and autocratic leader: the type of tyrant we all too often celebrated in the Industrial Age.
Groupthink can also come about less intentionally, though. When a leader does not have sufficient perspectives around her, she will hear that her new clothes are beautiful not because she is an autocrat, but because the people advising her really, truly see the world as she does.
This is why misfits are so utterly important to add to the cocktail of the workplace.
Misfits don’t typically rank tops in their classes, because they’re bored with school – but the best ones are fascinated by other stuff; stuff taught (often to oneself) outside the four walls of a classroom. Misfits sometimes major in engineering (good news, Google!), but they almost never major in business; more likely psychology, or fine arts, or philosophy, or some other “impractical” field.
Misfits take a semester off to start a t-shirt business, and (though the business fails), they never quite make it back to campus – until they’re fifty, and they endow a chair.
Misfits don’t work well in an office, or 9-5, or on weekdays – they work all the time as ideas come to them: some of their best work is done before their run on Sunday mornings. They don’t wait their turn to lead, or show properly deferential behavior to their corporate “superiors” – they just don’t get all that stuff.
And when leaders sprinkle a good number of misfits in among their corporate rank-and-file, wondrous thing can happen to a company’s ability to innovate and thrive!
A few misfits might even be able to help Google make their products more ADD-friendly. I for one would be really grateful for that.
Want more? Check out my video, Why Is Diversity of Thought So Essential?
You’ll also find this a terrific companion piece: This Is Google’s Incredibly Simple Hiring Formula.
An earlier version of this appeared on Ted’s previous blog.