Different precisely to realize our need for each other
Differences are not intended to separate or alienate. We are different precisely to realize our need for one another.
Exactly because of this very belief, 18 years ago when I was a young university student in the island of Malta, I joined AIESEC - An international student organization that believes that we can reach peace and fulfillment of humankind's potential through shared global experiences. Those were the best and most engaging three years for me as a student as I was engaged in the local scene to welcome other students from different countries on the island. That was followed by an 18 month traineeship in Uppsala, Sweden. Here, I was part of a group of ten Computer Science graduates coming from very different cultures, backgrounds – men and women alike – working in a small start up with one task at hand. From the outside, this looked like a very imbalanced team of individuals but from the inside, it was a perfectly well-balanced group of ambitious, friends-to-be, even 15 years down the line.
With that experience as a background, I would like to draw a parallel to balance in a team or company. As any avid cyclist will tell you, balance is very important.
We humans have been riding bicycle-like machines for close to 200 years -black and white images of people on Penny Farthings spring to mind. While riding and balancing a bicycle can seem simple and effortless, the actual control process used by a human rider is still somewhat of a mystery. Using mathematical equations, researchers have explained how a bicycle without a rider can also balance itself but that is not quite the point of a bicycle. That would be serving the rider the joy of the ride itself and finally, the destination. I am conveniently leaving out the reflective lycra, punctures, inclement weather and traffic that usually accompanies any two-wheeled pursuits.
I guess what I am trying to say is that apart from the mechanics of balance, the inescapable curses and blessings of the gravity, the laws of conservation (and gyroscopic precession, centripetal forces, frictions, and reactions), the mechanics of balance also involves a pair of firm hands, a good head on the shoulders, and equally firm legs and wits in order to go places – and that downhills never last long.
Not many or indeed any are born riders. Countless collisions with hedges, trees, people and walls of people on their first ride without stabilizers illustrates my point. Patience, repetition, training, perseverance, and a good sense of fun are as important as the muscles.
Without further torturing that comparison, that's how I remember us working in that small team of diverse backgrounds – just like a bicycle – each with our different talents, contributing to the stability and operation; tackling uphills, flats and downhills alike, in sunny, cloudy, and rainy days, and enjoying the journey just as much as the destination.
Paddling forward to my story; I joined Ericsson in early 2007. Just as when I was a student and a trainee, I continued to learn from the very diverse teams across the organization. Deep down, I know that the reason I continue to be with this great company is not just because of the technological breakthroughs I have had or the opportunity to be part of, but because of its diverse people around the globe. It's a strength that perhaps we don't realize when we are part of it, unless we stop to reflect.
At the end of the day, diversity isn't a trend or a fad. It's a topic that's here to stay and it's the way in which the new workforce of the world thinks. It's about hiring the right person for the job while keeping the balance of the whole team in mind. What's important to remember is that a successful and diverse effort depends on balance.