Kevin Fitzpatrick is a healthcare professional and serves as President and CEO of Enforme, a software and services company.
Prior to the pandemic, I had the opportunity to visit Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England and, soon after that, the Great Wall of China. Seeing these monumental structures set in rugged landscapes, I could not help but ponder the courses of great civilizations and the energy produced when different people and cultures come into contact. Contacts between these cultural tectonic plates sometimes produced great conflicts, but they also became the places where ideas were exchanged, where commerce thrived, where societies evolved and where old ways of thinking gave way to new.
Throughout history, civilization has made its most profound advances at the frontiers. That’s where trading centers, seaports and cities facilitated the exchange of goods, services and ideas among people from different cultures. While the frontiers were often places of conflict, the resulting admixture catalyzed fresh ideas in the arts, science, theology, philosophy, politics and commerce. The same principle makes today’s urban environments engines that propel modern culture. Throughout human history, it has been the “frontiers” — the liminal spaces that catalyze the transition from what was to what will be — that have served as the engines of our cultural, intellectual and technical development.
The interactions of people at the frontiers create polycultures. Polycultures are those environments that foster the interactions of many different types of people, each bringing their distinct worldview to enrich the shared culture.
The concept of frontiers as cultural innovation engines is also applicable to today’s business environment. It is the permeability of the frontiers within an organization that contributes most significantly to building a durable organizational culture. The organizations that foster and celebrate interaction among different teams, divisions and business units often prove to be the most innovative and durable. Similarly, polycultural organizations can manage the transactional friction and harness the creative energy produced by diverse teams. They are the organizations that actively work to break down organizational silos and discourage organizational tribalism that can close us off to new ideas.
Another “frontier” that we must consider is the frontier that can stretch between co-workers of different backgrounds. Today, it is impossible to read business articles without encountering discussions about ethnic and gender diversity. These discussions are important, instructive and long overdue. What troubles me, however, is that they often devolve into shallow discussions of quotas and nose counting.
What seems to be overlooked is the realization that diversity is one of the greatest strengths an organization can have. The components of organizational diversity, diversity of thought, diversity of opinion and diversity of background should never be perceived as impositions; rather, they are great sources of organizational strength.
The interaction of team members with different backgrounds, different roles within organizations or different worldviews results in durable, resilient, innovative organizations. Polycultures, with their permeable frontiers, enable organizations to escape the traps of complacency and groupthink. And it’s the diverse teams that are best positioned to cross what is often the most dangerous frontier: the gap between your perception of your customers and their lived reality.
Now, as the pandemic continues to bring unprecedented social and economic disruption, organizations must avail themselves of all the best-thinking and brightest minds from across their enterprises. In this time of uncertainty, it will be the polycultures, the organizations that have broken down their internal frontiers, that will be best positioned to thrive.
Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China are evocative testimonies to the fear that frontiers can produce. They are also monuments to epic failed attempts to stop the interchange between people and ideas. We need to learn from these heroic failures and see our personal and professional frontiers as the place where we will find inspiration and renewal.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #thisisnotapost #thisisart