A colleague handed me a book the other day. The cover looked like a children’s book and the title did little to dispel that impression: A Peacock in the Land of Penguins. Like many business books in recent years, the authors (B.J Gallagher and Warren H. Schmidt) decided to create a fable to illustrate their point and share an important business lesson.
It was a very fast read: large print, short pages, and plenty of illustrations. In fact, the book was deceptively simple. It was an entertaining light read with a heavy, even vital, message that bears repeating.
A lack of diversity (or paying lip-service to diversity) is a recipe for stagnation and potential disaster.
But why is this true?
Here are just a few reasons:
- An increasing body of evidence suggests that strong companies have diverse cultures and that diversity is positively correlated with survival in newer companies.
- Organizations are serving and selling to a much more diverse customer base.
- The labor force is becoming more diverse and companies that recruit from this wider pool of talent fare better in a competitive labor market.
- Companies with greater diversity, especially in management, are more innovative and more likely to grow and enter new markets.
- The combination of diversity and an inclusive culture increases both innovation and high performance. In fact, “The more inclusive talent management practices an agency has, the far likelier it is to achieve and sustain higher levels of performance.”
- A company full of conforming penguins is a pretty boring place.
Just yesterday, Joseph Fung, VP HCM Products here at NetSuite TribeHR, shared his perspective on this topic in an article in the Globe and Mail, which began with the unequivocal statement: "Fostering diversity in the work force is more than just a noble and altruistic goal, it’s a bottom-line imperative for any company planning for growth."
Unfortunately, the reality perpetuated and experienced by many, be they "penguins" or "peacocks," is often much less enlightened.
A Lethal, Yet Common, Practice
By now you may be wondering what happens in the Land of Penguins that’s so unusual it warrants its own fable.
Absolutely nothing—well, nothing unusual anyway. You’ve probably seen or heard a version of the story yourself.
Management decides a new approach and some fresh ideas are needed to drive innovation, so they seek out and hire the most creative and unique individual they can find (the Peacock) to lead them in a new direction. Once he’s onboard and starts making changes, Management becomes more and more uncomfortable with his approach and style. He is just so divergent from the status quo.
“The Penguins said ‘We value diversity.’ But their actions said otherwise.”
Subtly, at first, they begin to pressure the Peacock to “fit in.” Over time, their advice and suggestions become relentless; until he feels isolated and harassed.
“[He] had wanted to contribute and be successful. But what [he] got instead was quiet criticism, stifling conformity, and subtle rejection.”
Eventually, the Peacock feels he must move on or he will slowly morph into a staid, black and white penguin too. He is not alone in feeling this way. All the unique, creative and different workers (who haven’t yet been turned into penguins), also leave the Land of Penguins. Fortunately, they find a more welcoming environment in the Land of Opportunity, where diversity is not only respected; it’s cultivated, because they have always understood:
“Their shared knowledge made them wise. And their wisdom made them successful.”
Meanwhile, back in the Land of Penguins, life goes back to being comfortable as everyone settles into the welcoming embrace of the status quo. Confident and complacent, they still wonder why innovation continues to elude them, but they don’t let it keep them up at night as they slowly fade to black.
“The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view. Since life is growth and motion, a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one.” ~ Brooks Atkinson
Complacency and stagnation will slowly strangle any organization. By shaking things up and forcing people to consider multiple perspectives, diversity serves as an effective antidote to both.
 The difference between a parable and a fable lies in the type of characters used to portray the instructive story. A parable uses human characters while a fable uses animals, objects or forces of nature. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable
 B.J Gallagher and Warren H. Schmidt). A Peacock in the Land of Penguins.