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To Get Your Ideas Heard, Change Your Crowd

Do yourself a favor and put on your do-not-disturb, pour yourself a cup of ambition, and watch this just-posted TEDx talk from author Nilofer Merchant.

In a venue that’s designed to celebrate original ideas, she starts by bringing unwelcome news. “Given the value of original ideas—to our lives, our work, & our economy—it might surprise you, even shock you to learn…well over half and likely as many as 70% of them are ignored, silenced, or never heard from in the first place.”

Her real focus is power, and how power shapes, or fails to shape ideas, an essential take on inclusion.

Nilofer sees meritocracy as a myth, a self-informing loop that helps explain the homogeny of executive ranks and venture-backed ideas, and the necessity of movements like #TimesUp. “Some ideas are heard, and some are not,” she says.

From her talk:

So that means… When you have status, your idea gets early encouragement. Your boss, your friends, whatever, hear you and respond, “That’s SO original!” They back you, shape it, and do the work to turn that idea into a new reality. Those who are valued, get to create value. Which leads to more results, respect, and more status. Loop de loop, up and up they go.

The reverse is also true. Those with low power get ignored, or shot down early. Even if the same words are used, “That’s …so… original.” the tone says they didn’t actually hear you.

We’re not seeing all ideas…it’s not the idea that’s deemed unworthy; It’s the person bringing that idea who’s deemed unworthy of being heard.

Nilofer, a former tech CEO, has been researching power, innovation, and inclusion for years; in her latest book Onlyness: Make Your Ideas Wild Enough to Dent The World, she explores the unique strength that we all bring to our lives, communities, and work. “Each of us—each of you—stands in a spot in the world ONLY you stand in. From that spot – your history and experience, visions and hopes – you have a distinct perspective only you have. It’s that place of power distinctly one’s own, the genesis of new ideas. Compared to no one.”

But to get your ideas into the marketplace, you’ll need more than yourself.

“Tapping the power of Onlyness is not done by standing out in a crowd; but by about finding your crowd,” she says. “Finding your people is how you incubate an original idea and how you grow it to be powerful enough to dent the world.”

RaceAhead asked Nilofer to dig into some of the points she raised in her talk by sharing two tips you can put into practice today:

RA: What is one simple thing a leader (especially one with some sort of D&I responsibility) can do today to make it easier for the under-heard voices around them?

N: Let me share how I’d apply it to meeting design.

Setting the meeting agenda is something every leader does. And brainstorming is often a part of that agenda. Most meetings are designed so people are expected to chime in, but leaders could set the agenda to say everyone will be asked to add their ideas and then make sure that happens. (Not starting at 50-minute mark of a 60-minute meeting but with enough runway).

Once those ideas are added, you could ask at least two follow-up questions, so it gets some airtime. You could also design your meetings to ask everyone to write their ideas out on post its and then process those together. That guarantees all the ideas get put on the table and at least heard out. (And good for introverts, too.)

RA: What is one simple thing a person can do today to change their crowd, or as you say, “who they’re with?”

N: In the most practical language, I say stop thinking of “who you’re with” as those you report to or work alongside, and go find people who care about the same things as you.

Here’s a recent example. An executive woman had been brought in to a software product company to add her UX (user design) experience. She reported into engineering. She could not, despite her knowledge and influence skills, get her engineering colleagues to consider her point of view – despite repeated attempts. My advice: Go build momentum about design, so she could stop being the “only” voice asking the questions.

I told her to go find anyone, anywhere in the company who wants to learn about how design can shape the future of the company, and then either teach them what she knows or invite experts in to share their ideas. (A lunch-n-learn series works well for this.) It’s one way you can shape “who you’re with,” and stop focusing on the opposition.

When you try and try to get the people in power to notice you, like she did, it’s like knocking on the door of a castle that doesn’t want to let you in. Instead, collect the allies you need to build your own village, one that will be so much better than that drafty old castle, that the castleites will come out to join you.

On Point

Is “Silicon Valley” finally over?It’s impossible not to wonder after reading this outstanding dispatch from USA Today’s Jessica Guynn and Nicquel Terry Ellis, who report that black entrepreneurs and technologists are finding a haven in Atlanta, Georgia. “Weary of coastal hubs that don’t reflect America’s growing diversity, they are packing up their lives and careers for a city with a rich history of entrepreneurship, a booming black middle class, affordable quality of life and a small but growing tech scene.” It’s starting to feel like an end run around the kind of diversity talk that’s leading nowhere. Though it still has a way to go to bridge equity divides, venture money is starting to flow in and enthusiasm is high: After prominent black entrepreneur Tristan Walker sold Walker & Company brands to P&G last year, he announced he was relocating the company to Atlanta.USA Today

The constant racist pestering of Raheem Sterling
After Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling was heckled with foul racist epithets during a high profile match that were so disturbing that four fans were banned and reported to the London police, he took to Instagram to share his thoughts. “I am not normally the person to talk a lot,” he began. “But when I think I need my point to be heard I will speak up.” And so begins this exceptional profile of Sterling, whose meteoric rise from desperately humble beginnings would be a beacon to others if it wasn’t for the constant media chatter judging and mocking his life – he buys too many cars, the wrong cars, he eats fast food, he shops at discount stores –  that he believes are rooted in racism. “What is the need for it?” he tells The New York Times.“Sometimes you ask what the motive is.”
New York Times

Selma Blair as disabled icon
She looked resplendent in high fashion…and a cane. Selma Blair made a statement on the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, her first public appearance since her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. For writer Zipporah Arielle, that appearance has already made a difference. “There I was, a disabled woman living in my parents’ house in Maine, in flannel pajamas and slippers, not a speck of makeup on my face, my thinning hair held back in a headscarf, with my $12 cane I’d gotten off Amazon, watching her on my laptop…and it was one of the most relatable moments I have ever seen on a red carpet.” But it’s Blair’s continued willingness to address the disabilities she faces that is making the real impact. “She didn’t just make an appearance; she showed up and showed out for disabled people, and for herself,” she says. “The amount of precious energy it must have taken to go out cannot be understated.” Blair plans to release a line of accessible clothing and fashionable canes, too. 
Bustle

The last Maine high school to use an Indian-themed mascot and nickname has retired them
According to American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, this makes Maine the first state to fully ban the use of Indigenous mascots and names in their schools, though other states are moving in a similar direction. Last week, the Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 Board of Directors voted 14-9 to get rid of the “Indian” nickname and mascot for all schools in the district, ending a long debate about the issue. The Penobscot Nation led the call for the change, saying that the mascot names are racist and demeaning. Those in favor of keeping the names say they are meant as a tribute, despite the area’s troubled history of a  bloody massacre of more than 150 Native Americans by colonial British troops. Goodbye Indians, Braves, and Chiefs.
AP News

 

On Background

Speaking your mind as a white woman in the South
Racism, sexism and religious-themed patriarchy are a big part of life in certain parts of the country, and this searing piece from The Guardian highlights the price some white Christian women have paid by speaking their mind, changing their views – or worse, marrying black men and raising black children. It’s another example of the complex legacy of segregation and the fight against civil rights and school integration, which was led by alliances of white women across the country. “Segregation’s constant gardeners,” says historian Elizabeth Gillespie McRae.
The Guardian

De-toxifying masculinity
The above piece gets even more interesting when paired with this semi-deep dive into one of the “male warrior” training programs that have grown in popularity over the last decade. But this one comes with a twist. Instead about reclaiming manhood with all its potentially toxic traits, it’s about reframing masculinity in a positive way. This one, called The ManKind project, is part of a new array of post-#MeToo classes run by all sorts of folks from gender researchers to artists, that have come to be known as the “healthy masculinities” movement. Some, like Promundo and Men Can Stop Rape, claim to have reached millions of men.
Broadly

Why are most restaurant critics white men?
It’s not just why, but what are the opportunity costs? Korsha Wilson, a writer and the host of A Hungry Society show on the food-talkfest Heritage Radio Network, makes a compelling argument that the most glowing reviews tend to be about retrograde power-broker style joints like New York’s The Grill, a three-star restaurant on the East Side. (Dinner for two can run $600.) Afterward, she says, “replaying the four hours I spent inside, I realized that fully enjoying The Grill requires partaking in the luxurious nostalgia that it peddles — the fantasy of feeling like one of the wealthiest New Yorkers of the 1960s.” She also talks about fine dining while black – truly vicious stories of being ignored, profiled, or demeaned. Then she visits a pan African restaurant, a rich study of the diaspora and its impact on world cooking, to find an experience more expressive of the New York that actually exists. So why does Henry at Life Hotel by JJ only get one star?
Eater

Quote

My aspirations were not only to be a line cook where I was, I wanted to own my own place. I remember when I started to ask those questions, the answer was very clear: ‘C’est pas possible.’ It’s not possible, in France … They’d never seen the narrative of the black chef, it just didn’t exist. As challenging as that can be it also gives you clarity of where you should not work. You have to leave.
—Marcus Samuelsson