Better Leaders Recruit Variety

The Parsi have lived in India for a long time.  Many centuries.  They still tell a legend of their journey to become one of India’s ethnic groups.  

The Parsi were Zoastrians living in Persia.  Zoastrianism had been the main religion for 1,050 years, but when Arabs invaded and Islam became predominant, Parsi adherents became outsiders in their own country.  They wanted to maintain their cultural distinctness, so packed their suitcases.  They wandered and arrived in India.

A Hindu king initially refused to allow their settling.  To illustrate his situation, the king showed them a bowl full to the brim of milk, and said it would overflow if more milk were added.  

Parsi leaders responded by pouring sugar into the milk, which was absorbed and did not overflow the bowl.  The sugar also adds sweetness, they said.

The king was convinced.

The Parsi still live in India, and still maintain their distinct identity.  Their unique skills, and the connections they had as outsiders, have greatly benefited India’s economy over the centuries.  They have added sweetness.

Smart outsiders have improved other economies and cultural ecosystems.  Jews in Europe and Chinese in Southeast Asia built economies, to the benefit of locals.  


Suggestion:  as a leader, you should bring in outsiders from other cultures.  Let them maintain their distinctiveness rather than mainstreaming them.  They will add flavor and improve connection opportunities with the outside.  

If your diversity strategy involves hiring people who differ only in the way they look, but who graduated from the same business school as yourself, you might be missing an opportunity to accomplish great things.   

I’ve done research on this.  Serious research, experimental designs with groups   (paper publication pending).  Social scientists don’t agree.  Some research claims diverse groups are more creative, and other research posits that diverse groups are ineffective.  So I spent two years experimenting.  It turns out that the optimal combination is a group of similar people who are similar, but who have all spent significant time interacting with other cultures.  

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