Shapers of the future at work

Guest contribution by | 10.09.2018 | Processes & methods |

Shaping the future with diversity.

We live in a time of upheaval! Megatrends such as digitalisation and globalisation are revolutionising the way we work, live and think. What is therefore needed is cooperation that enables us to meet the complex and dynamic changes. What is needed are diverse skills, experiences and ideas. And diversity is the key to innovation. But for it to show and develop, a culture is needed that not only accepts different perspectives and diversity, but also values and actively promotes them.

Okay, that really says it all! Is it? Because there is actually nothing to object to this initial thesis. So far, apart from a few reactionary objections, I have heard little to the contrary. And yet, in 2018, companies will still find it difficult to make diversity visible and use it in the interests of the company.

The simplicity of the “Thomas cycle”

How do I come up with this? Well, you only have to look at the management floors of most German companies. Many of them still have “all-male-boards”. Not a trace of women. The AllBright Foundation in Berlin calls this phenomenon the “Thomas Circle”. It has examined 160 listed companies on the DAX, TecDax and MDAX. The result: 93 percent of the board members of these companies are men who are very similar in age, origin and education. “The German CEO prefers to surround himself with mirror images of himself; 5 percent of CEOs are named Thomas, and there are more board members named Thomas or Michael than there are women in total,” the foundation wrote in its report last year.

Countries like the USA or Sweden show that there is another way. There, the proportion of women at board level is between 20 and 25 %. If you want to take a closer look, I recommend the publications of the Allbright Foundation, which is committed to more diversity in leadership.¹

With rules into the abyss

But a lack of diversity is also reflected in rigid structures and traditional corporate cultures. Processes as well as employees are pressed into rigid forms. In the end, one wonders why employees do not take responsibility and prefer to follow the systemic rules. VW, which is currently pilloried with Diesel Gate, is not the exception. It is just one of many companies where implicit and explicit rules shape cooperation rather than the people themselves. In this case, people are happy to follow the anticipatory obedience right into the abyss, because the responsibility for one’s own actions is located outside one’s own person.

Repeating patterns as a tranquilliser

But why is this so? Well, there are certainly many good reasons. We humans like to follow recurring patterns. We associate this with greater chances of success. It is almost reassuring to follow the same patterns of action. In addition, knowing what to expect gives us security. Even if this means that we always have to bite the bullet in the same places. Even this constancy can convey a sense of security. Whoever is halfway successful will quickly feel committed to the belief “Never change a winning team”.

Arrogance comes before the fall

In times characterised by dynamics and complexity, however, this strategy is no guarantee of success, but can even become an existential threat. Because it blocks the view of opportunities or alternative solutions. Jogi Löw can certainly sing a song about this at the moment. Companies that are spoiled by success are particularly at risk. Their sense of the customer, their feeling for new possibilities and often even their ethical compass suffers. Their own products, their own methods become “golden cows” that are worshipped and defended to the hilt.

But as the saying goes: “Pride comes before a fall. Kodak, Schlecker, Nokia, Quelle, Arcandor … They all bear witness to where the path from the very top can lead. At present, companies such as VW, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank are under pressure. Even if they still seem to be stable, these companies are at a crossroads. Especially the two banks are counted. Because the companies in the fintech sector are smart and they show the big ones their weaknesses and missed opportunities. First and foremost, the company wirecard from Munich.

From grubby kid to fintech star

Wirecard was founded in 1999 during the dotcom bubble and is now outstripping the two traditional banks in terms of profit and market value. As a provider for (credit) payment transactions, wirecard perfected the necessary technology to be able to earn good money with the low margins nevertheless. The company started with payment transactions for gambling and porn websites. But these times are long gone. The company counts Lufthansa, Microsoft, Apple and Google among its customers. In the first half of the year alone, the company processed payments totalling more than 56 billion euros, generating an operating profit of 245 million euros. This year alone, this represents an increase of 39 percent. Wirecard AG is currently traded on the stock exchange with a total value of 23 billion euros.² This means that it has overtaken the two traditional players Deutsche Bank (20 billion) and Commerzbank (10 billion). And so it certainly came as no surprise to experienced analysts that last week wirecard’s move from the TecDax to the Dax was announced and that Commerzbank must now leave the DAX.

When experience blocks the view

But what does wirecard have to do with diversity? In recent years, wirecard has been able to develop from a grubby child to a model boy in a business segment that the traditional banks had long since written off. Their valuation was that their margins were too low, too insignificant. Their view of what is possible was distorted by past experiences. What was missing was a view into the future and the technical possibilities of internet payments. And since many companies operate according to the principle: “Equals like to be joined by equals”, not only is the common framework quickly established, but also the common horizon is narrowly defined. It is only through alternative points of view and spaces of experience that question and challenge old traditions that energy and room for the truly new is created.

Only the strong survive

Collaboration and cooperation is the magic formula in the new working world. And even if many people think of hip open-plan lofts and table football. New Work is not a pony farm. Quite the opposite. Because dealing with diversity in a cooperative and collaborative setting requires more than “chilling zone” and a free fruit basket. Living diversity brings with it a variety of perspectives and positions. In the ideal case, this makes the most diverse experiences, competences and ideas visible. At the same time, this means that all those involved have to deal with this diversity. This is particularly challenging when one’s own values or thought patterns are questioned. This can shake your own foundations. But as the saying goes: “Only the strong survive”.

A strong We needs a strong I

It is important to learn how to deal with conflicts and to develop them further, so that the dispute over different views does not end in small-scale wars, but in profitable solutions. What is needed are egos that take themselves back and put themselves at the service of the common cause. This attitude requires continuous self-reflection and self-management. This is not something you just get “to go” quickly at Starbucks or at the supermarket checkout. It takes time as well as trusting relationships – in private and professional life. And so, for the future of work, “a strong We needs a strong I”.

Establishing a common framework

If this is the case, then staking out the common playing field becomes child’s play. Because everyone understands that the diversity of the other person is an enrichment, even if it can be a nuisance from time to time. What then succeeds is a common “creative space” in which people can contribute their potentials and ideas – without fear of rejection or humiliation. The importance of this “emotional reliability” was also shown by a work study on Google.³ Central result: the basis of every successful team is “psychological safety”.


And this is where the circle is complete: Those who make diversity visible, value it and actively promote it in all its facets create a culture in which the potential of the organisation can unfold. This is where product innovations are created. Above all, however, a company is developing that continuously enhances its own future viability.

What does this mean for your team / organisation? Well, you might ask yourself the following questions as a first step:

  • How does diversity manifest itself in your team / organisation?
  • In what ways are you similar? What makes you different?
  • How do you deal with these differences?
  • Which relevant perspectives cannot be represented by your team structure?
  • How do you include different perspectives and points of view, also from outside your “bubble”?
  • Have fun exploring, appreciating and expanding your diversity in advance!



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Nadine Nobile

Nadine Nobile

Nadine Nobile is the founder of CO:X. The self-confessed New Work enthusiast supports people in companies as a process facilitator and coach in change processes. “Recognising potential and enabling development” is her guiding principle. Cooperation, collaboration and co-creation are for her the keys to the future of work. In mid-2017 Nadine founded the network New Work Women. The aim of this initiative is to bring the thoughts and ideas of women about the future of work into the world. For her commitment she was nominated for the Digital Female Leadership Award.