“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”


Didier Marlier

June 07, 2018

From Disruption to Engagement

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Last week’s blog post met an amazing success, suggesting there is a huge malaise about the way Diversity is being dealt with in our organizations. So many of you wrote in confidence and shared something that a lady illustrated so well: “Diversity here has been taken over by bureaucrats seeking to impose quotas instead of engaging the organization into what could be its most powerful transformation to date: to become truly inclusive”. As another of you explains, “It is sad to see that this worthy cause risks being dilapidated into cynicism, trivialization and ridicule because of the very people who are in charge of bringing it to life”.


“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”

The Earth has become the “Global Village” that Marshall McLuhan described in his 1962 book and Dr. King’s prediction has never been so true. There is no place to hide anymore. The “securitarian reflex” that we see in many countries, may buy an illusive relief for some time but is unsustainable. The “ancient brain” reflex (See this clip from Steve Robbins from 10’15’’), is still present and totally divisive; Reactionary political leaders use it to be elected. In my native country, Belgium, a whole population, keen to forget its internal tensions when the national football team plays well together, is otherwise constantly reminded of their differences and painful past. This can turn into horrible drama like in Rwanda or expensive stupidities like the walls built in Israel or at the Mexican border by divisive, rejection preaching governments.


History shows how Divisiveness is lethal to civilization

A fascinating book called “The Empire and the new Barbarians”, from Jean Christophe Rufin, the youngest ever French “Académicien”, reminds us about the illusion which killed the Roman Empire. At a point in time, the military doctrine and ruling mindset radically changed in Rome. It was decided that the Empire should stop spreading, at the risk of being too thin. So, they started to build impressive walls (Hadrian, Antonin) over 5’000km (only beaten by China’s 8’800 km Great Wall) to defend against “the others”. Rufin notices that what killed the Roman Empire, wasn’t so much the illusion that a Maginot line (an obsolete-before-its-birth defence line that France built after WWI, to prevent enemy tanks and soldiers to invade… completely ignoring the future of aviation) would save them, but much more the “mental Wall” that the Romans built which gave birth to the mirage of being protected, just like diversity will give you the fake impression of Inclusion. The illusion of protection, the divide from “the others” saw Romans lose interest, trade, military intelligence on what was happening on the other side of the Wall. Little by little, the Barbarians “got their acts together”, united themselves behind a powerful and shared objective (destroy Rome). Once ready, they broke through the wall and ended up, in a record of time, the Roman hegemony… Mental walls will destroy our civilization and your business alike.


If you wish to emasculate “Diversity”, choose a bureaucrat as Chief Diversity Officer!

In the 80’s, during the highlights of the Total Quality Management era, the joke was that “if you want to kill Quality, create a Quality Department”, suggesting that people would rapidly be burdened under the procedures imposed by “Quality henchmen and bureaucrats” and lose their enthusiasm for the worthy cause. An admission of failure came from one of the large Wall Street banks in the 90’s: They had so many issues with their leadership that they created… a leadership department! I let you imagine the results of that initiative. The same shouldn’t happen with Inclusion, left at the mercy of bureaucrats and procedure people, hoping to impose the end result (Diversity) without taking the courageous transformational journey (Inclusion) to get there.


Diversity, Bridging and the “Wisdom of Crowds”

In his seminal book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki’s plea for Inclusion demonstrates that, under certain conditions (Diversity of opinions, Independence, Decentralization and Aggregation) tapping into the variety of opinions of a large group always brings a better result than listening to the experts…

Lynda Gratton, a L.B.S. Faculty, explains that humans use “bonding” (a defence mechanism) as a way to unite through divisiveness (against a common enemy). In fact, bonding is as dangerous as the Roman Walls, as it brings us to egocentrically focus on ourselves, forget “others” (amongst whom, competitors and customers) and start an infernal “Rejection Cycle” as rejection has become the common norm. She explains that, although very counter-intuitive and demanding far more courage and energy, “bridging” is much more enriching on the long term. But bridging requires a fundamentally different mindset as it is about:

  • Seeking to understand rather than judge: Our Ancient brain as Steve Robbins (Thank you Pedro for signalling him to me!) calls it, is excellent at picking signals on whether or not “the other” is safe to relate to (i.e. like me, he shares the same values, education, norms) or unsafe (he is “different”). But this does not create the bridge that Lynda talks about. Understanding doesn’t mean agreeing, it is a show of respect and intellectual curiosity.
  • Diversity comes at a cost: This is a quote from Lynda Gratton after experiencing diversity in a large group, in charge to come with a shared recommendation. Diversity questions our beliefs, certainties and the convictions we always held true. Diversity threatens our very ideology and identity. This is why, many prefer to make it a matter of gender statistics that they seek to impose to their managers (and courageously let them deal with the consequences) rather than courageously undertake a real Mindset Transformation!
  • Diversity is perilous, short term window-dressing. Inclusion is hard work and the golden nugget: Yugoslavia under Tito, Iraq under Saddam Hussein or Congo under Mobutu Sese Seko all gave the appearance of rather united countries. Oh, for sure, there were confessional and ethnical tensions but they were taken care of by those brutal dictators. The day they quit power, we all know the terrifying mess that their countries and people got into. The reason is that those dictators couldn’t care less about true inclusion and forced their population to live in a diversity world. It was much simpler for them… We all know now the consequences.


Inclusive Leadership takes courage, resilience and hard work, not quotas, divisiveness and posters!

An unforgettable example of Inclusion, who couldn’t care less about Diversity and its statistics, is South African deceased President Nelson Mandela. From his first day out of prison, his efforts were on Inclusion, not on taking revenge, and certainly not on imposing racial quotas of any sorts. Nelson Mandela did not divide through Diversity pleas, he united through Inclusive Leadership!

This clip represents his first moment (taken from Invictus) in the job (thank you Xavier for having brought it to my attention)…

One movie managed to move me to tears recently. “Hidden Figures” relates the true story of three African descent mathematicians who have been fundamental into the American success of landing the first man on the moon. Look at this symbolic scene… See how astronaut John Glenn takes a discrete but inclusive stand. Inclusive leaders are acutely aware that divisiveness and segregation are always at the corner. The battle for Inclusion knows of no truce. It is a permanent guerrilla!

Inclusive Leadership can’t be left to procedures and statistics but requires courage, like the Board of a Swiss Insurance company just demonstrated when decided to project this very month the LGTB coloured rainbow on their headquarters facade and took a strong stand at a recent, important conference in support of diversity. That is Inclusive Leadership!

My thanks to Idriss Halfaoui for getting this post richer by providing different sources of knowledge.


  1. Brigitte Laurent

    Bonjour Didier,

    Happy to see that those topics bring quite a lot of reactions .. similar to what I see in our organisation .
    From my experience as Head of D&I , I fully agree on the importance of inclusive culture .. However, Diversity and Inclusion are going together – one (diversity) to bring the “uncomfortable but necessary conversations” and the other (inclusion) to challenge the ways we behave incl our Unconscious Bias” .. In response to ” bureaucratic D&I manager, I haven’t seen a lot in all my peer network .. but happy to discuss further with you ..
    all the best

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you for your interest, dear Brigitte, it has been quite some time since we last spoke… I am happy that this latest post gives us that opportunity.

      Indeed, a lot of reactions have followed this post and the previous one as well. The vast majority of them, sadly, go into the same direction: A huge frustration is voiced to see a poorly understood theme of Diversity (imposing quotas and reducing it to a statistic of gender, origin, health condition, even sexual preferences in one case) instead of taking the unique opportunity of an ambitious, courageous and much needed mindset transformation.

      Diversity is a result and (I agree with your point) can be a provocative starter for discussions or even a wake-up call. But if all it leads to are posters, politically correct videos, buzzwords, slogans or enforced decisions about diversity statistics, it completely misses the target and, worse, gives birth to cynicism, mockery and divisiveness, making things far worse than they already are.

      Inclusion is a profound, not only business but also societal, mindset transformation. From a higher perspective, the World is at risk when divisive leaders takes its helm. At a business level, Collective Intelligence, Agility, Innovation, Disruption and all the challenges and promises of the Disruption Economy will never happen if a given organization takes the wrong way and doesn’t start by a formidable work of Inclusion, prior to then watch the results of its efforts through Diversity statistics, which will have been chosen and not imposed on people.

      I am sure you and your peer network know and apply this, without a doubt. So my apologies for stating the blatantly obvious to someone who is aware of this but a huge thank you for giving me the opportunity to restate and clarify what I meant for the others.

      I wish you an excellent week in my lovely native country!
      Kind regards


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