Diversity is great, but when is someone too different?

That person is so different! How can I work with them?

I bet you had this reaction in the past. Maybe even be put off by someone. But what is it that they did that put you off?

In today’s borderless world, sometimes we choose to put ourselves into a culturally diverse situation, but sometimes we find ourselves there.

When do differences matter, and when do they not? Or rather, can they be a problem and when they won’t be?

In simple terms, there are areas where you should be similar and other areas where it’s better to be different.

Where alignment matters

The vision for the end goal. Do you want to serve the same customers the same way? Do you want to solve the same problem? Here you need to be aligned; otherwise, it’s like two captains trying to steer one ship.

Another area that matters is values. Fundamental values. I often come back to what is the secret sauce for success: Openness, humility, and patience. Are these values important for you?

If yes, you will be able to overcome the challenges that come with diversity while reaping the benefits.


Being humble means being open to the realization that our way may not be the best and only way. When we are the opposite: overconfident, then we are not looking out for the cues that could help us adjust our course. Worse, when we fail spectacularly, our pride might get in the way.
We would fall from higher, and it takes a particular character to still do the right thing.


Openness allows us to receive the lessons that are given to us. The door of our mind has to be open for the learning to come in. Openness is important as we will encounter other ways of thinking, or communicating, working. When there is a clash of the previous, openness helps us grow and adapt to the new dynamics.


Finally, patience. There will be growing pains and lessons to be learned, and this will take time. You need patience for yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes but also patience for your team and others who are not yet at your level.

Now Let’s look at where you want to be different.

Differences in experience

What our gender, race, sexual orientation, personality is will have a strong impact on how we experience life and the world. We can gain unique perspectives that can help our teamwork. Think about it, simply being a man or a woman, with all else equal, will have significantly different perspectives.

Training & Education

Besides the cards that life deals us, we may pursue the training. What we learn and what profession we choose to follow will give us unique perspectives. Those of us who follow unusual professional journeys can gain even more unique perspectives.

Difference in Culture

This is an extension of the previous two points. Being a man or a woman has its own culture. But more than that, I want to emphasize that culture impacts how we see things. The word for danger in Chinese is a combination of opportunity and risk. The choice of words and their root can inform how people from certain groups see the world. Which also means how they approach work and challenges.

The glue that makes the difference between a group of people looking at it other suspicious and a group that is fully engaged bonded and accomplish great things comes down to bridges these two sides – what’s different and what is similar.

Connecting the Dots

Bring this all together; you want to a culture where everyone feels welcome, and they can be their whole self.

A shared value of openness, humility, and patience will allow you to co-create a culture where can be their whole self and bring all their gifts and talents together.

Their contribution, different perspectives, experiences, worldviews then can be combined. This can provide different angles to solve a problem ( the more tries, the better the odds that someone thing will work), but the magic often happens when someone’s idea can build on someone else. But this can openly occur when an open and welcoming culture has been established. Otherwise, those who are a bit more reserved culturally or simply due to their personality will remain silent, and you’ll only hear one kind of those: the voice of those who are extroverted and loud, to begin with.

Where do you go from here?

When hiring or choosing team members to look for clues about what you need to share, patience, humility, and openness are the values I look for; your preferred values may differ. Remember, in today’s diverse and borderless world, there is rarely one right answer.

One question like to use to test someone’s humility and openness (which usually also means self-awareness) is to ask about past failure and ask them how they allowed that to happen. Or why did it happen?

If they don’t include themselves among the reasons for failure, it may be a red flag.

Start with yourself, understand who you are, really: your values and your cultural identity. This will help to see and understand those of others. This will help identify those who will make good colleagues, team members, and those who will not.

It will be a journey where your patience will be tried; your humility will keep you grounded, and your openness will help you learn a lot.

What do you think? Do you agree or not?