When I lived in London growing up I was immersed between locals, a host of ex-pats, and many African and Asian students that flocked to UK schooling to advance their education. The diversity of backgrounds was significant and it was arguably one of the most transformative and curious four years of my life. In any given week I would learn an Ethiopian tradition, how the local British kids has different curriculum expectations and then how many ex-pats from all over the US viewed different ongoing social events.
I loved the difference every day brought and yet I took it all for granted. You do not realize when you are growing up just how easy it is to fall into a comfortable cultural norm, to shut yourself off from new perspectives and only surround yourself with individuals of similar belief to your own. For many individuals, the most diverse years of their life occur during college, when they are forced together with thousands of other students. How disappointing us that?! How disappointing is it to know that for most people they are not going to learn (and therefore respect) more about other cultures or lifestyles beyond the age of 20.
Much has been written about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley — mainly on gender and race. Companies that take deliberate action early on to remove the anchor, or expected “normal” will win. Engagement will be higher. Empathy to the customer and the ecosystem will be more noticeable. Long term value will be a mere output. Companies like Slack are the pillar of this movement. I am so confident that their diversity approach will make them a generational winner both as a communication tool and as a social demonstration for the outsized returns generated from the curiosity and empathy of inclusion.
People and companies have to take deliberate actions to expose themselves to new perspectives. There are many reasons why my experience in the UK was so transformative, but the single most important is this fact:
There was no single ethnicity at the school that was “normal” and there was no single background that was consistent.
Imagine that. When there isn’t a default opinion or set of biases that we know to fall back upon, everyone is more open. Everyone is more curious. And the result? The cumulative environment is greater than the sum of its parts. Forget valuations being a sole benchmark for a unicorn, let’s talk billion dollar social & capital return and that is where the true, rare unicorns exist. And I bet we are going to find out that social influence married to a great business model is going to equate to an outsized hundred billion dollar + company with world-impacting change. If this is not the most motivating idea to you, the idea that Silicon Valley may be able to intertwine social acceptance into business models, then you are in the wrong century. When companies like Slack and others prove successful, other companies around the world will slowly adopt the social-influence mantra, and then, Silicon Valley may have just disrupted the workplace.