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Diversity & Inclusion – The Source of Competitive Advantage

We are working to increase the diversity of our team and the leaders who participate in our programs. I thought I’d share why and ask for your help.

I recently wrote the preface to a friend’s book on Operational Excellence and LSS entitled “Rapid ROI”. Culture and leadership are central to both the book and the preface which is entitled “Preface — The History and Future of the Lean Journey”. I argued among many things that organizations, countries, teams, armies and other groups throughout history who have enjoyed the greatest success did so largely because they got the most out of their people.

A relatively recent example is Japan after WWII. They had no money. Almost no land. Little soil. Little forests. Scarce metals and so on. Yet, with help from the Marshall Plan, it rose to economic power in the 70’s, 80s and 90s. This was a testament to hard work, ingenuity, openness to new ideas, innovation and commitment.

If we look at the Mayan, Aztec, Incan, Greek, the Carthaginians, the Eritrean/Ethiopians and Roman Empires, abundant natural resources were not the main driver of success. These and many other great civilizations actually had very poor natural resources.

Living in the Andes doesn’t sound like the first choice for building a civilization. They are the driest mountains in the world. The soil in the Yucatan is awful. There are no metals to mine. It’s damn hot and malaria carrying mosquitos were everywhere. Greece is a collection of small rocky islands barely able to grow grapes and olives. Italy is only a bit better.

Our earliest known major civilization, the Sumerians, is thought to have developed agriculture, writing and other innovations due to overcoming adversity through cooperation. They migrated due to flooding from the sea and integrated with their neighbors. Together, they found ways to control the annual flooding of their rivers, innovative ways to solve problems and create new technologies. It seems that, when adversity meets diversity, almost anything is possible.

It seems evident that resources are not the primary driver of a country’s or civilization’s success. It’s people. One of the Toyota Production System’s core tenets is that answers to problems and ways of doing things better should come from all workers down to the shop floor. Not from just a few top leaders. More ideas, more voices, more different perspectives equal more innovation, more productivity and more output.

This is the power of inclusion. It’s simple math. Not including the ability, contributions, ideas, energy and drive of all of one’s people is a much foolish as it is unfair. It makes sense that being inclusive should only amplify innovation and production. And yet, our world has not always been terribly inclusive. We’ve seen caste systems based on religion, wealth, race, ethnicity, etc. where not everyone was allowed to participate fully and equally. Clearly, slavery is the most glaring example of this.

So, here is a formula for great success; a motivating challenge/adversity, committed people, diversity and inclusion. Where those things come together, all things are possible.

This comes close to home for the non-partisan speaker series I founded. Its mission is to help America become a Stronger, More Noble and More Generous Nation. Our focus is on issues impacting U.S. Global Competitiveness and National Security. Out topics are the Economy, the Environment, Energy, Healthcare, National Security, Technology and Leadership. All of which are interconnected.

One of our motivations is the significant and growing challenge we face from our near peers. To that end, we bring top leaders together who provide recommendations for policies, practices and solutions that help ensure America and its Allies remain the strongest military, political and economic powers in the world. We aren’t an America First organization or an America Alone organization. We are an America Together organization. We must include our allies.

The people we invite to speak and serve as volunteers don’t talk about politics. Yes, all of them have political views. They just have the character and statesmanship to refrain from voicing them during our events. All of them are very proud to be Americans and care deeply about the future of our country. All of them are patriots. On both sides of the aisle.

We go beyond asking people to refrain from making political statements or pushing an agenda. We publicly state often and loudly that partisanship is the single existential threat we face. Because, if we can’t work together, we can’t address the real existential threats.

Because we all believe that Diversity & Inclusion is the greatest single source of Competitive Advantage, we don’t just invite one group or type of person to speak. The answer isn’t to exclude anyone. We can’t Balkanize. The answer is to bring different people together. We have to do this. We have to have organizations that bring people together. Especially, people with different points of view.

Diversity of thought, perspective, position, rank, etc. are all important. While most of our speakers are top level leaders, within the circles we draw from, we do our best to include representatives from all backgrounds, orientations, viewpoints, etc. These include academics, technologists and other novel solutions providers, entrepreneurs, the DoD, all military branches, business leaders and investors. We strive to be as inclusive as possible across a myriad of dimensions.

Having said this, we can do a better job ourselves gathering more different, disparate voices. While we are proud that our recent Space Innovation Summit, which featured 19 women and minority speakers out of 40, provided a platform for a wide array of experience and perspectives, we can do more. More commonly, we’ve held events featuring a number of Flag & General Officers, DoD Secretaries, CEOs and top investors. Typically, about a third of those who speak during these programs were women and other minorities.

Let’s be honest. There are relatively few women and people of color at the highest echelons of our military, business, government and academia. There are only 4 black CEOs in the Fortune 500. There are several prominent female CEOs in the Defense Sector. But still, women make up a small percentage of senior leadership in this sector and many others.

To us, this doesn’t mean you throw up your hands and say “Gosh, there just aren’t many diversity leaders out there”. No. It means you seek them out. You be inviting. You make an extra effort.

We have women and minorities on our Board of Advisors. We also have Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Not everyone is straight. I’m sure though that people looking at our team might think we are mostly “Male, White and Right”. I understand that.

People see top military and business leaders who are male and white and they think they are conservative. That is an unfortunate stereo type. I won’t discuss our other leaders. But, I myself devoted over 20 years of my life to the civil rights movement, social justice issues and community activism. If anyone ever wants to, I’m happy to swap war stories about the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Diversity of thought is important. Talking about hard issues is important. That’s why we let a top leader from Huawei speak. We didn’t endorse them. We just thought our audience should get the chance to question them. Admiral McConnell, Vice Chairman of Booz, joined us 2 months after Snowden left the country and Booz's employment. We brought Eric Yuan of Zoom on to address the concerns of over 1,000 DoD and military leaders. We can’t shy away from tough discussions. We just have to have them in open, respectful and productive ways.

The bottom line is that we believe Diversity and Inclusion of all kinds are bedrock foundation for competitive advantage. We want to build and an even more diverse Board of Advisors and Advisory Councils. We also want more diverse speakers. We’re asking for recommendations and most importantly introductions.

If you take anything away from this article, please hear loud and clear that the only way we can become more inclusive is if people join us. I’m writing this to help overcome any possible hesitancy, concern, reluctance, etc. To make sure everyone knows they are welcome and invited. That our group, while largely male, white and straight doesn’t have to be. Its purpose is to be inclusive, to bring people together, to provide a forum for diversity of thought and perspective.

This is the Call to Action. We need your help.

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