Since becoming Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity in AY 2016-17, the FDD team has grown substantially with new staff and directors. In these past two years, we’ve created new initiatives and programs (departmentally tailored mentoring support, Supporting Educational Excellence in Diversity, Advance Leadership Development Program, Diversity DRIVE, and this FDD Blog to name a few) and re-envisioned existing ones such as the Enhanced Search Training and the New Faculty Workshop. We used a collaborative process to generate fresh ideas and carry them out as efficiently as possible. Has this been an entirely smooth process? No. Should it have been? No. Good teamwork requires a bit of healthy conflict. Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple Inc. describes this best in his the “Parable of Stones.”
And so we had a lot of great ideas when we started [the Mac]. But what I’ve always felt that a team of people doing something they really believe in is like is like when I was a young kid there was a widowed man that lived up the street. He was in his eighties. He was a little scary looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he may have paid me to mow his lawn or something. And one day he said to me, “come on into my garage I want to show you something.” And he pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, “come on with me.” We went out into the back and we got just some rocks. Some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and little bit of grit powder, and we closed the can up and he turned this motor on and he said, “come back tomorrow.” And this can was making a racket as the stones went around. And I came back the next day, and we opened the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in, through rubbing against each other like this (clapping his hands), creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had come out these beautiful polished rocks.
That’s always been in my mind my metaphor for a team working really hard on something they’re passionate about. It’s that through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together they polish each other and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these really beautiful stones.
This is an example of the incredible impact that diversity and inclusion can have on teamwork and problem-solving. Much like differently shaped and composed rocks, the diverse backgrounds of our team helps to generate debate and the formation of innovative ideas, as long as the team environment fosters a sense of inclusion of each team member–just as the rock tumbler holds and engages all the rocks. The process is not the most comfortable, but the solutions are polished and unique. It is a great metaphor, but is it reality based? Science supports this. A 2006 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Sommers et al.) showed that juries with more diverse members had improved performance: citing more facts, making fewer mistakes, and conducting broader and more accurate discussions. A number of more recent studies in the business literature show similar findings: Diverse teams focus more on facts, process those facts more critically, and are more innovative. In fact, a 2015 Mickinsey report on 366 public companies found that ethnic and gender diversity was associated with having greater financial returns than their industry mean.
Bottom line: Diverse teams challenge members to overcome conventional ways of thinking to sharpen performance—it’s not always comfortable, but in the end allows us to innovate and builds a strong foundation for communication, broadening perspectives, and appreciating each other. It has been an incredible two years in Faculty Development and Diversity and I look forward to ongoing work with our team to bring high quality supports and programming to UC Davis Health’s faculty!