Roger von Oech

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isabella mori

i wonder to what degree this is applicable to the US only, i.e. the context in which diversity plays out. i live in vancouver, canada, which is supposedly the most ethnically diverse city in canada, and it would be interesting to see how that compares to equally diverse places in the states.

i have observed, however, how difficult it is to achieve diversity in communities of all sorts, and that includes social media (e.g. when i look at my facebook friends).

in my experience, where it works, it works WONDERFULLY but it does need to be very explicitly encouraged and cultivated. for example, i sit on a board of directors, and if we didn't work very hard to make diversity happen, it wouldn't be there.

for the last year, i have worked with groups of artists where we actively made sure to have a wide variety of ages, ethnic backgrounds and artistic disciplines. that was definitely one of the major factors that made these groups so successful.

a very interesting topic.

john alwyine-mosely

Hi, from reading this not sure how much social disadvantage is factored in. Or the stability of the community. This can cut two ways. Homogeneous poor communities in long term settled communities with kinship networks can often have high social capital. As can stable affluent homogeneous communities.

My initial impression is some cultural bias is creeping into the actual concept as it reads like the long term American debate of virtuous small towns versus the wicked cities.

In the UK long term poor communities were rehoused in the 60s and 70's which broke up kinship networks and had poorly designed housing estates that frustrated the building up of new social networks. The most famous study of this was the 50's studies of east end dockers which saw this in decline in the light of the housing policy of the time. The area was revisited in the 90's which is now far more diverse. And has a housing policy based on need rather then community and so is tearing down the white community/kinship networks rebuilt after the 50's rehousing. Ironically the Asian community has its own strong community/kinship network but the result is tense racism.

So for me the issue is not that letting in more diverse groups will cause social tensions. Its about understanding what is undermining social and kinship cohesion. Nor is it that diversity means greater social cohesion. It may mean a richer cultural experience but usually the middle class liberals arguing this live in diverse areas until they start having kids!

I would also question how engaged we are with diversity in terms of personal, social and business networks as opposed to diversity of cultural activity. I live in and around a ethnically mixed area but our street is mainly white English. I work with local government throughout the SW and work with 100's of officials and providers yet only encounter a handful of ethnic individuals. And similar with my Quaker connections. But one of best friends is Anglo-Chinese and my sister is Anglo-Caribbean. So its not me and my friends living in diversity!

One of the ways that this relates to the value of diversity in working groups is the group is smaller and the psychological stakes are lower. It also helps to stop group think as different professional or cultural assumptions jolt thinking out of a track. Interesting this can be seen happening in the wider social context. A biological metaphor can be used here. Once of the ways that a new species(new way of working)emerges is when groups are isolated from main community and subject to new pressures. And so giving rise to a new way forward. A famous example of this in religion is the conflict between Hinduism and Islam that gave rise to Sikhism. Or the rise in Jazz as music traditions clashed in the 19th.

Hence another critique of the social capital is that its focus may be too narrow in term of what it assumes social capital is and in the time span it look over

Cam Beck

Just a gut reaction here... but I think diversity becomes a detriment when and only when it is used to divide us as a people - to carve out special favors and deny the rights that are reserved, not for the select few, but for all mankind.

What we're getting away from is common ground -- as you say, the "melting pot." Yes, intellectual diversity is critical to the success of any organization, and oftentimes this kind of diversity can be cultivated in part because of our cultural differences. However, we spend far too much time "appreciating" the diversity of things we're told we're supposed to ignore and ignoring the principles that ought to unite us.

Christine Martell

I do think diverse groups struggle and they also are more creative and innovative. The average person in the US has not been taught how to accommodate and utilize cultural differences. Understanding and developing the communication skills to reach across style differences is critical to success.

Initially, it is not easy to work in a highly diverse group. After learning to approach others with curiosity and willingness to learn from differences, it can reach a level of dynamism hard to achieve in a more homogeneous setting.

Roger von Oech

Isabella: Thanks for your insights. I think one of the "successes" of American society of the past 130 years (compared to European countries) has been the extent different nationalities and races have been integrated into "American society." Not perfect by any means, and often quite painful. One reason, I believe, is the "melting pot" ethic/myth: shed your ethnic differences, work hard, and participate in the "land of opportunity."

You certainly haven't heard much about the "melting pot" the past several decades. In its place has been the "diversity movement" which has a lot of positives. But, to be candid, "diversity" has been politicized by some and used as a cover to promote other agendas.


John: Thanks for those examples. Also for this: "Hence another critique of the social capital is that its focus may be too narrow in term of what it assumes social capital is and in the time span it look over." I'm sure we'll hear more about this study.


Cam: I tend to agree with your thoughts on this.


Christine: I agree with you that diverse groups tend to be more innovative. Similarly, groups with different disciplinary backgrounds also tend to be more innovative.

What this study is focusing on, as I read it, is what happens to "social capital" in a diverse **society**. And I think what Putnam is weighing right now is what are the appropriate solutions to improve "social capital" long term.

Tom Haskins

Fascinating comments! On the psychological side, we "stick our own kind" when we are afraid of others. We also engage others in fight or flight behaviors, which precludes initiative, informal leadership, reaching out to strangers, or community building. Fear is taken out of the equation several ways: "We're all in the same boat" of disaster settings and crises. "We're on the same team" of projects, collaborations, athletics. "We're in danger of groupthink" in corporate and government settings where the Emperor's new clothes are not getting discussed until outsiders speak up.


When my family moved to the North Shore of Chicago in 1972, my brother and I wondered why we weren't moving to the South Side of Chicago to mix things up a bit. Why were we moving to such a homogeneous neighborhood? Now in my 50s I live in a homogeneous neighborhood, good for raising children and tomatoes.

Realizing this, I try to stretch myself by looking for the points of connection I have with all of humanity. I look for the unique qualities in each human being as offering something important to the whole mix. I think the trouble with sameness is when some groups are seen as "more equal than others" (from Orwell's Animal Farm).

I expand my sense of "neighbor" by traveling and trying to keep an open mind and heart towards others. This morning I walked to town and chatted with George, the homeless man who sits in front of the coffee shop. Then I talked to a Vietnam Vet selling the local Street Rag who told me stories of Marine Boot Camp and Gunnery Sergeant Thompson. We may not sleep in the same neighborhood, but we stood under the same sun today, sharing stories. Interacting with people who are different from me stimulates my thinking, expands my heart and grows tolerance.

On the flip side, tonight I will drive an hour to study and practice with people on a similar spiritual path. This shared focus helps me deepen and strengthen this area of interest.

Thanks for another thought provoking post of another essential paradox!

Roger von Oech

Tom: Thanks for your comments. A lot of what you say is true. I think the point Putnam is getting at in his study is that people (all kinds of people) are less willing to invest in and participate in a diverse society.

Wendy: Thanks for the moving examples of community building. I liked your "flip side" example as well. I doubt that you would drive an hour to go talk to homeless people, but you invested the time and energy to participate with people sharing a common spiritual path.


RE: "In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogeneous settings."

I think this is more an issue of intolerance/prejudices than diversity...

Jorge Castillo

I think that diversity it's not a good nor a bad thing in itself. I believe it's a matter of perception.

Problems in the social aspect arise when people think in diversity in terms of difference (skin, wealth). Why not think in terms of similitude? Societies and organizations can be very "diverse" but if they can share a more elevated similitude, a common higher factor (a goal, a value)then diversity is power.

Carma Dutra

Cultural nor political diversity should be forced upon anyone person, group or community. The results of this attemp to dissrupt and sever is obvious in our society.

Assimilation into American culture is not being facilitated often enough.

As always Roger, your posts are thought provoking.


I wonder how much the fear of the "Other", of Muslims esp. post 9/11, of blacks before that (and since then), fights the possibility of diversity.
I think we're all supposed to be afraid of whatever boogieman is out there, unfortunately.


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