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The Value Was in the Conversation ! Embracing Inclusion with Design Thinking – Driving Innovation

Matthias did a great job of fully summarizing the ‘Embracing Inclusion to Drive Innovation’ event at SAP Tech Ed Las Vegas. Kudos again for his honesty and openness in sharing his views – and investing allot of time doing so. We were on the same team, and were each so moved that we had a few long chats after the event, learning allot from each other. His blog url is provided above and is the anchor for mine.

I had a very different perspective on the lessons we could learn from this event. Maybe I see it differently because I have always viewed such discussions from the perspective of a minority so my antennae are always up and I’m conditioned to look/listen for behavioral clues – that’s how I’ve made it this far being who I am.

So – what WOULD HAVE BEEN FASCINATING to share at the end of the evening was “How we each experienced being part of these teams? Were we inclusive as we jointly built the deliverable for the team? Did we notice that people were falling into cultural personas/patterns of behavior, not cognizant of the patterns of team members “not like us”, not seeing the question to be solved from the perspective of “others”? The 3 minute presentations from each team paled in comparison to groups sharing how they experienced “inclusion” – or lack thereof – in each team. Much of this is subconscious unless you are wired to hear it, instinctively.

We took a long time to agree on “what question are we trying to answer”, and in our frustration and under time pressure, we all regressed into our normal “roles”, certainly unknowingly –

Matthias as the white male, previously unaware of what it’s like to be in the minority (as a man). He also admits the exclusion individuals feel tends to go unnoticed by him (“everything seems ok to me…”);

Me as the sensitive minority making sure my voice is heard, certain that it’s not (hey, you are not listening to me…)

Anne (Hardy), the leader that she is, just starting to get it done, constructing balloons and driving our model;

Bala, seemingly more sensitive to being in the minority, and seeking to experience this event from the point of view of a father with two daughters who he wants to succeed;

Patti continuing in her role as panel moderator and HR expert, driving allot of the conversation;

Karin, as event organizer, trying to lead us thru ambiguous assignment* to a successful outcome, roping in all these disparate personalities/cultures/genders.

This alone was fascinating to watch. But there is more…

How we interpret data depends totally on where we are coming from. Two examples:

Fact: the non-white population is growing at a faster rate than the white population, so that the majority of the workforce may be peopled by folks of color (maybe we have crossed that threshold already?)

I hear that and say think “there will be more opportunities for people of color in the workforce and we all are thus forced to be more open in hiring and inclusive in our work styles”. Matthias heard that as “I will be even more in demand as I am part of a shirking class”.  We were each stunned by the divergence in interpretation.

Another point of difference – those who are forced to use social, fluid tactics to hire vs. those who are accustomed to formal, planful, orderly processes. Patti, an HR expert, voiced the need for a “localized” strategy to hire in emerging countries. In contrast, coming from the social team, I believed that hiring CAN BE as simple as posting on Facebook and reaching networks in countries that are trusted using that method. We both looked at each other a bit aghast at the others “commitment” to our point of view. (I just hired my latest Bangalore employee by making the connection on Facebook thru a trusted connection). Patti’s POV made sense but was not part of my approach to hiring in new

The next day, I suggested to Marilyn that future events focus on the “conversation” in the teams more than the “output” of the teams. She agreed and I hope to see this considered for Madrid.

Thank you table-mates for providing a rich experience. Much love and thanks to Marilyn for being brave and guiding this effort. It’s the start of something big.

See you all in Madrid!

*(Ours was “Attracting the Best Talent from the Millennium Generation (20-30 year olds)”

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      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Hi Gail,
      it's both interesting and a little eerie to read in such clarity what had happened there at the table. While in general I agree with our analysis, still there's something with being characterized as a stereotype that makes me feel uncomfortable.

      Yes, while sitting there on the table I did get the impression everything was "just fine" as we had a great discussion going on. After haing gone through what I blogged about it certainly felt "just fine" and in fact much better 😉

      I was quite happy with what our group accomplished during the course of the workshop and it felt like team-work. At that time I had probably let go of my antennas for group dynamics. I'll certainly be more senstitive to this the next time I find myself in a similar situation!

      One other thing is that as far as I remember my statement about the "higher demand for millenials" was made in a slightly different context. It was not specific to sub-groups but rather regional (NA and Europe) as we spoke about decreasing population and birth-rates. We had touched the topic that millenials tend to be more demanding as they "partner up with companies". It was that mind-set that would hear that decreasing number of qualified young talent as a positive thing as the demand would be higher - again coming from a regional perspective.

      I came to the understanding that the fundamental change in employment and careers it's that the times where one would master a craft and be done with it are gone. Continuous learning will be key to everyone (regardless of gender, skin-tone, region etc.) So, education will be king... education and continuous learning... as such the workshop was excellent, a great learning experience!

      Warm regards,

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      My table - we had a large scope of ideas.  We each had at least one.  By the end of the night we pulled together a result based upon all the different ideas - and guess what?  The thoughts even the crazy ones gave us a pattern.

      Diversity?  Minority?  Persons of color?  I am just not seeing it.  It probably would have been a different result had we done this with people who weren't there to make things work.  I found that our team pulled together.  Totally and completely.  And now my frustration - lack of remembering names.

      Robert - our hard to find male - was the one who tried to keep inclusion going.  He asked and got answers from each and all of us.

      I believe it was Stacey.  She was from marketing - yuck!  But she loved it.  She was vocal on our solution.  She was fun.  And she had a lot of experience.

      Now our next member's name is completely out of my mind.  She was the one who sat back.  What was interesting is she is from Canada.  In her workforce, she felt there was diversity.  So we asked different question.  Then we found out that all of the people or most of them from her department were introverts.  And so - yes - we found a lack of diversity.  There were more or only introverts instead of her place of work being completely diverse.  At first glance, I would have said that hers was a difference environment.

      Natascha Thomson - have you met her?  Extrovert - a wonderful - fun - easy to get along with person.  I just love her.   Anyway she pulled us together with questions.   Deep thought and entertainment.

      Me - I can't really tell you what I did.  I added to the solution, and put my sticky notes on.  I helped create the final presentation.

      So, is that a value?  Our team really didn't talk about the diversification in our team.  We honestly didn't notice it.  We all pulled together.  And yes we did try to tell how we arrived at our solution.

      Again were you looking for answers from a group of people that embraced diversification simply by being at the event?

      I heard a couple of non-repeatable interesting comments outside of our "Design thinking" session.  I didn't hear anything like that during our event.  And none of those people were at our event.

      Another thing to note.  There were a lot of people leaving prior to our actual break out.  Unfortunately it was a lot of our male counterparts.  Out of the ones that stayed - most stayed because they had young daughters. 

      Now look at the Teched group as a whole.  There was diversity in nationality or as Gail puts it, people of color.  There was still only a handful of women compared to men.  A non-scientific total guess.  I would guess out of 10 people less than one female.  So was our room like that?  No, it had about 10 females to less than 1 male.  Again a guess here.

      So the conversation was great.  The people were great.  As to a different debate in the group?  The group is all trying to get to the same answer for different reasons.  But there wasn't a lot of health debate.  Why?  Because we all agreed with each other.  Does that mean we were diverse?  At least not on the question of inclusion with design thinking.

      And yes, the story of how we got to the “solution” we did was a good one to tell.  It’s just interesting to me that in a room filled with diversity, it you really sat and thought about it were we diverse?  Or were we all the same?  People trying to find a solution for inclusion?

      Just my dollar!  I'm off to read the other blog.


      Author's profile photo John Astill
      John Astill
      I love the comparison of recruiting. Too often when hiring for a position (outside SAP) I have seen really good candidates filtered out by the stringent processes that vet the resumes before getting to me. Fortunately on occasions ideal candidates have had other ways to reach me.
      I would love to see social networking help with this and can see the power it can provide. I also feel that it favors those with a bigger network and more extroverted personality. Engineers are not known as the most extroverted types so this may also have the same issue as the stringent vetting. A combination of both does look to me to be a better model.

      As a huge caveat, I have never worked in HR, nor amd I a psychologist. However I have been a hiring manager and experienced the difficulty in the best applicants getting their resume into my hands.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      My intention was to compliment you and call out your openness, not paint you as as stereotype - I hope you are clear on  that! You could turn it around and say that I should be aware that sometimes those in the minority assume there are problems when there really isnt one - that you see the situation as just fine! Highest compliments to you for getting us into this conversation as a community.
      And to other comments received...
      Michelle - Hi!Glad your group worked; i'm just adding another view. Also -Hiring will by force of nature have to get more open; our technical community members as some of the most online- social people I know. Also - I mean no threat to anyone with the population stats - just pointing out the shift and pondering its implications.
      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner
      Hi Gail,
      no offense taken, don't you worry! 🙂

      It's just that generally speaking stereotypes come with their own dangers - it's like "stamping peoples." That's what I meant.

      What I learned is that a facilitator in a design thinking workshop should watch out for group dynamics and balanced speaking times in order to fully leverage the idea of "embracing inclusion"...

      The more we discuss this the more I learn and doing so with people all over the world here on SCN is just a wonderful experience.

      WR, Matthias

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I know I commented on your blog.  Different dynamics are always a problem in meetings.  It is nearly impossible to get a question, response in when there is a group of people all ready to talk quickly.  And so I can miss the opportunity to really express myself sometimes.  Just sometimes.  I will be right in the crowd sometimes struggling to be heard.  It's kind of like a press conference with everyone trying to talk at once sometime.

      That's an interesting thought - embracing inclusion by making sure everyone gets a voice.  I guess that's why I like the blogs, forums, e-mail, so well.  I get to add my thoughts.  Even if no one reads them.  I'll never know.   So my thoughts come are there clear and strong.

      You're right the more I know, find out, the more I think SCN is a great place!  Talk about diverse.  All around the world, to everyone...

      Oh by the way did you look around teched?  The ratio of men and women?  The speakers?  Just wanted to let you know why some of it centered around women and not just culture diversity.  When I looked at the crowd in LV - WOW! - There were people from all different contries.   Sadly, that made it hard for me when setting down at tables where people where talking in their language.   The most I got was a hello from them. 🙁  I do understand though.  It must be nice to speak your own language after speaking in English the rest of the day.  Diversity -  MMMMMmmmmm – maybe that is another barrier?  The language itself.

      Hope to see you in person again!  Loved your blog.


      Another book.  I just can't seem to stop myself.

      Author's profile photo Bala Prabahar
      Bala Prabahar

      I'm glad to read your viewpoint. I enjoyed the conversations we had in our table. We accomplished a lot in those 4-5 hours imo. I guess John Astill has explained my situation very well:  "... Engineers are not known as the most extroverted types...". I'm an introvert and that probably might have given you wrong impression of me. Frankly speaking, being in the minority - this didn't even cross my mind - doesn't bother me at all. I don't know if I can ever articulate my thoughts on this topic very well but would love to discuss next time we meet.

      Best regards,

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hey Bala,

      Author's profile photo Bala Prabahar
      Bala Prabahar

      An extrovert? This is a huge compliment. Thank you. I don't know if I'm faking it now to be an extrovert or I was faking in the past to be an introvert. I've a feeling I was faking in the past to be an introvert. That was the reason why I probably was thinking hard about coming out of my shell.

      Blog? Sure. I'll blog about it after finishing a white paper on "Exadata/HANA comparison" for my customer.

      I completely agree with your thoughts on perception. I thought Gail's comment "...Maybe I see it differently because I have always viewed such discussions from the perspective of a minority so my antennae are always up and I’m conditioned to look/listen for behavioral clues – that’s how I’ve made it this far being who I am..." is interesting. I'm just wondering if this played a role in triggering that perception of me. Do(es) you/anyone believe it(I'm conditioned to look/listen for behavioral clues) was a component of the title?

      Best regards,

      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Talk about brave. Thanks Gail for taking this on. I know I begged for you to share your perspective here as you did during our brief hallway conversation. You really fired up my synapses regarding your impressions of the evening event (by which I mean you allowed my brain to process signals I wasn't consciously aware of seeing and you made me see them as well).
      How very astute of you to step back and critique the way of your "listening to" and "viewing" your group.
      What really caught my attention when we spoke is how you described what many of us do and few of us admit to doing.  We often are listening to others with an already pre-determined knowing.  That's to say we take our judgments, our experiences, our expectations and impose them on the human subjects in our periphery and often we don't really listen at all as we are locked into already judging, knowing, fearing, and thinking of what we are feeling or going to say.  Some folks try to classify or cluster people.  While this might help us navigate social environments, perhaps our hearing of people through judgements blockades and stymies real communication with others.
      Many of us jump to this place of collaborating from our fears rather than our strengths. We keep our own narrative going in our own heads while assuming how others are thinking. I salute everyone who stayed the evening and I believe that somehow, almost magically, many of the participants did step out of their own already knowing/judging selves and did begin to really listen and collaborate one with another.  As I have written elsewhere in comments on the event (based on research done in the Harvard Business School) this might not be such magic afterall.  The collaboration and design teams all had a high proportion of women and yes, there were also a number of representatives of minority cultures in the room.  So I'll repeat the link which I know is a bit provocative: More women makes a team smarter While communication and conversation were essential to the evening's activity...I maintain that creating and producing an outcome IS equally important.  How else to prove that a diverse team produces a profitable result?  We need concrete outcomes to prove our hypothesis about the value of inclusion. To get that value, we also need to understand that diversity without conversation and a shift in our thinking and our seeing of people, puts those outcomes at risk of being less productive and profitable.
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      I loved the event.  Gail, I agree with Marilyn you are brave!

      I'll try to write more about the dynamics of our team in a blog.  Of course I have a lot of blogs floating around in my head right now.

      Let me reiterate.  We tend to go back to diverse teams - including women.  Really it's inclusion of, well, diversity.  "People of color", women, any different type of person that's different could be added to embracing inclusion.  How about functionals, BPX and technical people?  Inclusion!  That's the ticket.  You can slice and dice this anyway you want.  Then you will figure out that for your project it's always better to have different ways of thinking.

      The one thing that was discouraging for me, and maybe Gail / Marilyn or someone else can comment, is that I think some of these ideas should be moved to the next level.  But in our team it was abstract enough, that there is no way I could move it forward in my workplace.  The "super cool" teen girl who likes technology.  OK - that's good but where to find her, and how to promote her?

      The team I was on came up with the manager who did not hire a diverse team.  Small steps to larger ones.   But my manager (direct manager) hires a diverse team so how can I help with that.  I certainly can't drive it at the level I'm at.

      I guess I'm too much of a result driven person.  I would love to have some action items come out of the session. 

      I guess it helped bring the idea of diversity forward, and I am thinking about diverse teams more and more.  That is a direct result.  And if that happens to everyone in the session., well I'd consider it a success.

      I - like many others in the room - was turned off when "marketing" was more important than technology, because everyone can code.  I guess I should have questioned it then.  I think this was covered well in a different blog.

      About 'Embracing Inclusion to Drive Innovation'

      But for me - that did not stop all the good things that happened.  And now - how to play it forward?  This is a general question to anyone out there who would like to answer.