I wonder if you might join me in a thought experiment. Imagine there’s a new rule, that everyone whose birthday it is, has to attend the same birthday party. Today, in one corner you’d have Steffi Graf and Boy George, eating cake and comparing notes on the paparazzi. In the other, you’d have Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, chatting to Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America. Can you imagine that conversation? Let’s make it a bit more weird. Say in heaven – if they all make it there – you continue this birthday tradition. These four would be joined by Che Guevara, the South American revolutionary; and Judith Kerr, author of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Sam Wanamaker the director would be there too, to capture the whole thing on film.
Maybe this sounds like a horror movie to you, but to me, it sounds like a design dream-team. There’s something about the extraordinary mixture of perspectives you get when you bring unlikely people together. Imagine we gate-crashed this party with a Mission Impossible: re-design healthcare, or the education system. Around the table – if we could keep it civilised – we’d have all the angles we’d need: culture, music and sport; religion, politics and business – all we’d need to do is draft in a scientist or an engineer and we’re pretty much there. And they’re all very different people, with very different life experiences: saints and sinners alike. The philosopher John Rawls thinks this is exactly how we should design society. His idea of a ‘veil of ignorance’ means that if you don’t know whether or not you’d end up a slave, your best bet is not to design things like that into society in the first place.
We know it’s important to embrace diversity, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the best thing to do. You simply get better solutions if you have different heads on the job. So maybe if you have a problem today, try asking the wrong person, or inviting all the wrong people to your next meeting, or perhaps you could go to the wrong meeting yourself. You might just find a better solution than you ever expected.
I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.