Inspired by professional pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon:
“You do not know what a good, bad or indifferent baker/pastry chef you are until you work alongside someone who is better/worse than you. This is not at all to say that if you are an outstanding home baker, you are deluding yourself. But as far as professional cooking & baking go, it is my experience that unless you push yourself really hard to stay away from your sweet spot comfort zone of I-Know-All-I-Need-To-Know-And-I-Feel-Very-Comfy-In-This-Job/Kitchen-Thank-You-Very-Much, and move kitchens or chefs or hire people who are much closer to your level than you feel comfortable having them, you will become stagnant in your baking skill and knowledge.”
This is so very true of every profession I can think of except possibly professional hermit and this is particularly true of our own profession. Just look at a large number of conferences. It’s often the same people talking about the same thing year after year. Inevitably the conference becomes stagnant. That’s why I love Black Hat, because having name recognition isn’t enough; you actually have to have new research to get accepted. It’s also why, I love small conferences, because they are more likely to accept newer speakers and that diversity helps us in the long run.
This diversity is hugely important. The problem goes beyond what Shuna says, because it’s not just about hiring or working with people who are close to your level in skill. It’s also about working with people who think the same way you do. It’s so very important to have diversity of thought to really drive your thinking to the next level. This is one of the great overlooked benefits of blogging and social media like Twitter: It’s not only about getting your own voice heard, but also about having conversations that would previously have only happened in person. (Yes, there’s email and NNTP, but for some reason they don’t work as well.)
But moving back to the workplace. It’s not enough to have diversity, but it’s also important that you foster an environment where it is okay for members of the team to disagree and present alternatives. Having a team of multiple races, genders and nationalities doesn’t help if you don’t actually take advantage of their differing perspectives and experiences. Even in the incredibly off chance that you disagree with every idea your team has, if you are open to their suggestions and have to explain why you’ve made the choices you have, at bare minimum you have learned to better defend your own thoughts. Odds are though, you’ll either learn something new along the way or be inspired to new thoughts of your own.
Regardless of the actual final decision in any one case though, you will have demonstrated to your team or colleagues that their thoughts, skills and opinions are valuable, which is a huge step toward building a coherent, cohesive and loyal team, which is, in itself a massive step towards a more productive, more valuable team for your organization.
David Mortman is a regular contributor to Threatpost and is a contributing analyst at Securosis.