Little differences make big differences


“Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.”

This wonderful quote is from entrepreneur and writer, the late William Clement Stone.

Stone made numerous observations but I especially like this:

There is very little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference! The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.”

Stone came from impoverished roots and his gambling addict father died when he was three. He sold newspapers from age six, and then insurance, eventually making millions. He believed the Bible was the best self-help book that existed.

He was a pocket rocket, full of vitality in a time when record numbers of people could barely make a living, constantly finding and employing people who were down on their luck. He would line up his staff each day and get them to say “I feel healthy, I feel happy, I feel terr-rr-ific!“.

He was of course in the same line of business as Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale; a merchant of the power of positive thinking.

Positive thinking and promoting diversity

Google’s new vice president of diversity, integrity and governance, Danielle Brown, issued the following statement in response to a controversial internal employee memo:

“Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions.”

This has particular relevance to diversity skeptics like former Google engineer John Damore. You could probably spend forever splitting hairs over Damore’s arguments and he no doubt has a zillion he could throw back at you. 

For all practical intents and purposes, W. Clement Stone’s view is far more likely to achieve a meaningful outcome. 

The typical workplace is host to a continuum of attitudes. As Stone observes, they can be negative or positive and often range all the way in between. Combined, they add up to the diversity mindset in your workplace.

Negative attitudes include:

  • Suspicion and mistrust
  • Defensiveness
  • Elevating oneself at the expense of others
  • Residual bias based on limited personal experience and or stereotypes
  • Casual racism, sexism, ageism etc.
  • Selective hearing or seeing, causing exclusion of others (judges used not to “see” or “hear” people whose appearance or verbal demeanour didn’t sufficiently satisfy the courtroom standards)
  • Repeating, endorsing or reinforcing others’ negative attitudes
  • Verbal and physical aggression or intimidation
  • Unwillingness to grow and learn

Throw any or all of the above nasty ingredients into your workplace your workplace culture won’t score ten out of ten for its approach to diversity.

Set a positive tone, create a positive culture:

  • Be sensitive to others
  • Create an expectation of civility to all staff, stakeholders and customers
  • Ensure your deeds and your words match
  • Have an open mind and be tolerant (think about the importance of a “fair go”)
  • Don’t jump to conclusions – find out more by questioning, before you make assumptions
  • Be prepared to overcome one’s own biases by focusing on merits, not generalisations
  • Don’t use diversity as a weapon for reverse discrimination
  • Be genuine and authentic in your responses to others — this doesn’t mean mirroring bad authentic behaviour
  • As a manager, work on your own challenges as a person, and lead by example

Any and or each of the above will make the big difference. Be a force for good.

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