I once worked with a mathematician to develop risk mapping tools.
Aside from the occasional bruise from playing ice hockey, he didn’t look or sound like a stereotypical scientist.
However, the way he processed information and thought about problems produced radically different ideas.
My colleague was able to operate not knowing, in the gap between the observed and the uncertain. The risk modeling tool the firm could develop thanks to his work was the most useful I’ve seen so far. It was also the simplest to use.
Prevailing culture rewards people with answers. Yet, the longer you can hold yourself in the space between what you take for granted and what could be next, the more you can learn about potential futures. That’s where the opportunity is.
Elsewhere I said this valuable skill doesn’t challenge only existing limiting frames in general—it challenges you in the process. But it’s what it takes to bring something new to the world.
At a time when the obsessive quest for certainties distorts opportunity, the questions you ask make a big difference.
Diversity is not obvious
Said another way, diversity can mean diversification and distinctiveness. Two qualities companies aspire to achieve. In this richer sense of the word, we encounter diversity in many non-obvious forms. From the way we’re wired and process information, to the nuances in behaviors for different situations.
Technology has sped up the rate of change. But it has not changed this simple fact: a diversity of skills and approaches is good for companies. In day to day interactions this requires adjustments. Open and curious minds help and so does clear language.
As I worked alongside my colleague to position the company for a wider range of outcomes, I added consistent communication into every process. I doubled down on communication with clients and on the variety and formats of internal communiques and discussions.
Consultants, actuaries, underwriters, engineers, finance and legal experts all have their own way of seeing the world. Executives want the big picture, sales people want the details of how, analytical people want to dig deeper.
As I found through experience, this kind of diversity requires a four-dimensional approach. Things I thought I knew, the unknown, company’s collective knowledge and the opportunity in the flow of change.
Leverage comes from lever
“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world,” said Archimedes. If you were to look up the etymology of leverage, you’d find that meaning shifted in a financial sense in the 20th century.
1724, “action of a lever,” from lever (n.) + -age.
Meaning “power or force of a lever” is from 1827; figurative sense “advantage for accomplishing a purpose” is from 1858.
The financial sense is attested by 1933, American English; as a verb in the financial sense by 1956.
Before then, it was about action and power. It’s one of the words whose meaning got narrower with use. Pity, because this is a case where constrains are constricting opportunity. It’s useful to play within constraints when you’re creating, but you want to push outside them to explore alternative options.
A few years after working with my colleague mathematician, I worked in a company that wanted to increase its results nearly threefold. This without increasing budgets or hires. If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because it’s now standard operating procedure in most industries.
It was then that I discovered there’s wisdom in the popular saying, “sales is from Mars and marketing is from Venus.” People who gravitate towards some careers and jobs have aptitudes that make them suited to those roles and functions. You deal with situations in such and such ways and get results by pursuing paths that follow your way of thinking.
This type of diversity creates situations where things get lost in translation. When what you think, what you say, and how you go about doing your work don’t align to that of others, you have disconnects. But often companies try to align by hiring people who think alike only with slightly different specialization. Hence the lack of leverage.
You want people who see the world differently. They can see the fulcrum in a different place altogether.