Herman Brodie, London-based Prospecta founder, and TEDxAsburyPark founder Brian Smiga talk about “Inclusion & Joy,” which will be presented at TEDxAsburyPark 2021. 

Brian Smiga: Hi, this is Brian Smiga, founder of TEDxAsburyPark. Joining us today is Herman Brodie, a cofounder of Prospecta, a network of academics, scientists and advisors who advise companies on behavioral solutions. We’re having a chat between London and Monmouth County. Hi, Herman, welcome.

Herman Brodie: Hi. Well, Thank you.

Brian Smiga: Herman, you’re going to give a talk about inclusion, inclusion across leadership and businesses and there’s joy in that. So tell us about your first engagement with this idea.

Herman Brodie: Well, I started doing some work on inclusion essentially since becoming an ambassador to the Diversity Project. In the UK, this is an initiative created by leaders in the savings and investment industry to try to accelerate the progress towards greater inclusion in the workplace. And I have to admit that the savings and investment industry in the UK, they are pretty far behind other industries. And so we’re trying to change that. Now, taking into context my own daily work, which is in the behavioral sciences, I decided to have a look to see if there was a behavioral component and what solutions behavioral scientists could provide in helping to accelerate inclusion and we were able to find it.

Herman Brodie: And these are some of the ideas that I want to be able to share with you because, personally for me, I think joy is having a connection with somebody; to have a relationship which is open and honest and trusting; the knowledge that somebody has your best intentions at heart, that somebody has your back. So, when you have those connections, this is my definition of joy. And I’m sure this is the case, simply because if you don’t have those things, then this is the opposite of joy.

Brian Smiga: Agreed. I’m going to ask you for an example of a behavioral shift that might be effective. I wanted to come back first to this idea that our connection to others is a source of joy. It’s a source of brain chemicals that make us feel good, and in many ways, our connections to others socially and lifelong platonic friendships are unknown amongst other species. Maybe it’s exhibited just a little bit by primates, but humans are the only species that seem to have these lifelong friendships and connections and have the brain chemistry that’s evolved to support connections. Can you talk about brain chemistry a bit and then get into a practical example?

Herman Brodie: Well, I think it’s not even necessary that those relationships be lifelong. I mean, you can experience joy with somebody you’ve met for the very first time over the course of dinner and then you can walk away and never see that person again.

But it remains a joyful experience for you and very much depends on whether we make that connection over this dinner? What is the sort of topic of communication? Is the conversation a meaningful one or not? Do we scratch below the surface of “What do you do for a living?” and go a little bit deeper.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be a long-lasting relationship. It could be fleeting but still very joyful.

Brian Smiga: This is a perfect moment to perhaps get into the heads of our listeners and give them an example of how they can deepen their communication with a stranger over dinner or over lunch to where both of them are going to come away feeling more connected and more joy.

Herman Brodie: It ultimately comes down to one thing. The one thing that prevents us from having those connections.

We will naturally make connections. Human beings, we are intensely social animals, so we instinctively make those connections. We don’t have to learn anything. But there are some barriers that make it for us easier to have those connections with certain people than it is with other people. And I’m certain, you know what I mean. When we perceive that somebody is similar to us in some respects, it’s easy to make a connection and to start talking openly and honestly about who we are, what our experience has been, and what our perspectives are. It’s very easy to communicate and to open up to some people. And yet there are other people who we perceive as being dissimilar to us, where almost as soon as we see them, the shutters start to go down. And the mechanism that’s causing those shutters is to go down or to be opened is a psychological tool known as a “stereotype”.

Herman Brodie: I know there’s a lot of negative connotations associated with that word but, in psychological terms, it’s nothing which is particularly harmful or menacing. It’s just the way that our brains seek to understand information and to make sense of the world around us. As soon as we see somebody, a stereotype is activated in our heads, and associated with that stereotype are all manner of traits, attitudes, behaviors that we automatically attribute to individuals on the basis of some kind of visual cue. Now, if those traits, attitudes, behaviors, etc., that we’ve made predictions about a person are attitudes and traits that we don’t actually like – it doesn’t really matter whether there’s any proof that there’s any association between those individuals and those traits – if we have those associations in our heads, we will shun that individual. As a result, we will deny ourselves the opportunity for joy, the opportunity to make a connection with that individual largely based on information that does not come from that individual, but in fact that we had them in our heads before we even met them.

Brian Smiga: How do we install a stereotype alarm or tripwire in our brains so that we can say, “Oh, wait a minute, I’m not experiencing this person as they truly are with me here?” Is there a way to sort of catch ourselves before we fall into this trap?

Herman Brodie: We can. We must know, first of all, that we can’t do without stereotypes. We are hardwired to think this way, and stereotypes are not necessarily bad. It’s just bad stereotypes are bad. We can have good stereotypes. So the starting point is to try and have accurate stereotypes, useful stereotypes. And in order to do that, I can say: all you have to do is just get out a little bit more, to experience the world, experience other people. And as a result, when you do, your stereotypes, whatever stereotype you have in your head, will get an automatic upgrade.

If I experience somebody who’s stereotype-inconsistent for me, then my brain has to modify its stereotype in order to now include that individual. If I see another person who is stereotype-inconsistent, it gets another little upgrade, automatically, for free. It’s a very passive thing. All we have to do is expose ourselves to people who are stereotype-inconsistent and we will get an upgrade to our stereotype, which will make it better. So, if I think that, let’s say, “Oh, you know women are bad at maths,” then I will introduce them to TedTalks. Of course, we’ll go there and you will see loads of women scientists. Watch those videos, listen to what they have to say. Expose yourself. Just sit back and watch, and as you watch your stereotypes suddenly get an upgrade.

Brian Smiga:I wonder if an instrument could be designed to help people assess their biases and their stereotypes. There’d be a questionnaire of some type which would say, okay, here’s where you sit on the scale of reducing and stereotyping people, and so you might want to work on this. What if that could become a valuation of some type?

Herman Brodie: Yeah. There is a US university [Harvard] which conducts a study online, where you’re shown images of individuals, and you have to click certain responses, and what they do is they measure the speed of your responses and show you whether you have a preference for certain types of individual or whether you, in contrast, make certain associations in your brain when you see other kinds of individual, for example.

Brian Smiga: This is a big idea because in our communities and neighborhoods, our cities, our politics, our civility, but also in a purely pragmatic basis, in our self-interest, both in conducting business and forming teams and organizations and also in experiencing joy. Turning the dial here can make a difference. So let’s turn to business. Your specialty is behavioral solutions for the financial industry. How can making this adaptation make companies, organizations, teams more successful?

Herman Brodie: Well, it’s from an inclusion point of view. What I try and stress with firms is that a lack of inclusion has costs for both parties. Not only there is a cost, a very visible cost, to the person who’s excluded, for example, from an organization, but also for the one who’s doing the excluding. There is also a cost because if I’m building a team, what I want to happen in my team do not see duplicate images of the best individual. What I want is to make sure that whatever problems come my way, I’m going to have somebody in my team who knows the answer, who can fix it, who can do something about it, who can cast a very particular perspective on an issue and enrich our solutions.

Herman Brodie: So when every time I hire somebody, I’m actually looking to fill a gap to cover a blind spot. And so what I’m looking for specifically is diversity. That’s what I’m looking for. Now if in my search for an individual to fill that spot, I deliberately exclude a chunk of the population, of course, I’m going to reduce the chance that I’m going to find the ideal candidates, which means that my team will underperform what it could have done had I made the ideal choice. 

And it goes further than this. If you repeatedly do those kinds of things, then you will have a large chunk of the population that will even self-exclude, which means they will be available to your competitors, but they will not be available to you. And, as a consequence, your pipeline is going to be impoverished as well.

Brian Smiga: So, there’s evidence (that we might want to also share at the bottom of this interview) where corporations that are more inclusive at the board level and at the leadership level, outperform. And I think there’s growing data that shows this advantage, this inclusion advantage that corporations, teams, organizations have. Since this is your specialty, can you speak to that?

Herman Brodie: Yeah. There are studies not only in academia but also from firms like McKinsey, and Credit Suisse recently generated a study. They’ve been able to show that firms in the top quartile in terms of embracing diversity and inclusion outperform those firms in the bottom quartile substantially.

Herman Brodie: We’re talking about 25% to 35% as the size of the outperformance. They’ve also been able to show the direction of causality, namely, that it’s the diversity and inclusion initiatives that they’ve put in place, which are the source of that outperformance. In academia, it’s been well established that teams composed of diverse individuals, so, heterogeneous individuals, outperform teams composed of homogeneous individuals. They are more creative, they’re more innovative and their decision making is much more robust. These days, the drivers of growth are precisely creation, innovation, and these are the kinds of things that are driving that business performance. So these factors are really explaining the differences between those two groups of firms.

Brian Smiga: So, there we have it. We’re going to have to stop here. This is a teaser for Herman Brodie’s talk at the Two River Theater on the 2nd of May 2020. When we hold the eighth TEDxAsburyPark on the subject of Joy. Herman, thank you for coming. I really appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing you in Monmouth County. 

Herman Brodie: Thank you. I’m looking forward to it as well.

NOTE: TEDxAsburyPark 2020 was postponed and is in the process of being rescheduled for Spring 2021.

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