Several years ago, I was given the opportunity to live for three months in New Delhi India. My first few weeks there was an overwhelming blur of sights, colors, smells, and people. Every day we would wake to the sound of prayers coming from the temples and street vendors calling out their wares. In the afternoon, the roar of the city dulled as temperatures rose to uncomfortable levels. This made it impossible to be outside, but then evening came and the city would come alive with celebration and dancing. There always seemed to be something to celebrate and every celebration was filled with explosions of color and joy-filled song. I never knew a culture so full of life and color existed.

What I experienced in India is a stark contrast to my life in the Midwest. Everything in the midwest is quiet, slow-moving, quaint, and undisturbed. Most of the local shops close early and the only thing open after 10 PM is the local steak and shake. Friday nights are filled with High School football or quiet bonfires. There never seems to be a moment where you are not surrounded by the beauty of nature and a comfortable home. 

Now, imagine that none of the color and life I had experienced in India existed. The image that the first person ever created on this earth was the only type of person that could exist. it’s because the human race as a whole was not created or mass-produced in a cookie cutter mold. We were created to thrive and grow in and with our differences.

I’ve noticed this trend among organizations lately where when hiring it’s suggested that you find the like-minded person, because that’s the only person who will do the job as good as you, and that you shouldn’t hire the person that will question the system, make waves, or point out what’s broken.

Working in a highly creative environment I noticed as well that usually there is always an odd man out on the team. This is the person that is usually met with eye rolls, groans and “here we go.” The person that is usually avoided in the hallway, and un-invited to lunch outings. The thing is, this person is actually an essential piece to your team. What makes that person so essential, is the fact that they are different and will always see what you’re seeing from a different perspective. You can come up with systems and great ideas for days. However, if there is no one on your team thinking differently than you, there will be mounds and mounds of frustration when you try to pass those ideas and systems off to a different demographic. 

You will constantly feel surrounded by cheerleaders when building a team just like you. This seems like a good thing but it’s to the contrary. Because your team is thinking like you, the ideas you present will always seem like the best possible idea. When surrounding yourself with yourself you will always have “great” ideas. There will never be anyone questioning why you made a decision or what you were trying to accomplish and you will be cheer led the whole way by your surrounding team of “yes” men. The reality is, if everything is “great” all the time, then great becomes mediocre and the bar will never raise. If the bar never raises then how can we ever achieve greater things? It might work for a minute, but eventually, your team/organization would implode.  

Margaret A. Neale Professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business states that “The worst kind of group for an organization that wants to be innovative and creative is one in which everyone is alike and gets along too well.”

A choir needs more than a soprano section just as a band needs more than a set of drums. In a band or choir all of the voices are great individually, but on their own, they could never create something as great as when you combine all the different aspects of each section. You can’t play a symphony if all you have is a saxophone. When building a team/organization it’s important to build a well-rounded group with lots of different voices and personalities. Those different personalities will sharpen and grow each other on a regular basis. As you sharpen and grow with each other, truly great things will be created and accomplished.

In every organization, you need those different voices who are going to speak for and relate to a different demographic. You need the person who is going to look at your creation/system and find every flaw and uneven surface. You need the person who won’t touch the project until they have every needed piece lined up in a row and has prepared for every “what if” scenario. You need the person that always has a joke in their pocket and never takes anything too seriously. You need the person who looks out for every member of the team and makes sure everyone is heard and no one is left in the dark. You need the person who always has something to say and will without fail try their best to convince the group that their idea is the best idea. You need the person who can drive the conversation and help the team stay on task, and you need the person the will always support the vision and bring others back to it. You need the person who wears socks and sandals, and the person who listens to death metal to relax.

These things are what make great organizations and teams. These types of teams are where cutting-edge innovation can actually happen.

Cole NeSmith founder of the Creative City Project in Orlando Florida writes “Collaboration is the key to making things bigger than yourself.” Invite others into a dream session that you wouldn’t necessarily have picked. Find those who have a unique and different perspective and ask them what they see or what they would do differently.

Lately, I’ve been hosting creative workshops at a local coffee bar in the area. I always end these creative workshops with a challenge. One of those challenges is to go home and grab a creative piece that you are attached to and if appropriate ask a child what they think. Then ask that child what they would change or do differently. Children will always be brutally honest. Lastly, take the same creative piece to an expert in that field and ask for constructive criticism. The same piece being offered up to multiple audiences all with a different flare and coming from different walks of life. This is what makes individuals better creatives, and those individuals combined make an organization that will be continually breaking new ground.