How to build a bouquet

Or: A lesson in diversity, inclusion, and belonging

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Diversity

Let’s say you decide to start a company. Maybe your co-founders and first few hires are people you already know pretty well — maybe a group of people you worked with at a previous job or knew from school. Either that, or they were referred to you from people already in your closest network.

Needless to say, it’s likely that (at least to start) you wind up with a fairly homogenous group of people.

While I can’t speak to this particular experience of starting and building a company, I imagine this process feels a bit like flower arranging.

I like starting with one base flower to build the perfect bouquet. Since orange is my favorite color, let’s go with that.

Over time, you may want to diversify a bit. Because let’s be real, the best companies — err, bouquets — have a lot more color in them.

So maybe you go out and find even more flowers — different colors, different shapes, different textures.

You might lay them all out in front of your current flowers, your local gardening coalition, the fancy florists, the people who buy to flower arrangements for offices and weddings, and say, “Ta da! We did it! We went out and found a bunch more flowers of all different colors! We are diverse!”

But of course, bringing diversity to the table is only step one. If you don’t also put these flowers in water, they will die out a lot faster than the ones you already started with. And that’s not good for business. Or bouquets.

Inclusion

Obviously the next thing to do is make sure all of your flowers have a place to get a drink.

So you do your best to artfully arrange them in all different places, reminding them how each of their colors and textures adds to a complex palate that makes your bouquet stand out from a mile away.

You might notice that some flowers still stick out more than others. Or that the yellow ones are a lot taller than the rest. But you encourage this behavior — Embrace what makes us different! We are all here, together, in the same vase, and it’s beautiful.

(The yellow flowers love all of this attention, so they go along with you on this for now.)

The only problem is that some of the other flowers feel a little cramped. While you’ve managed to squeeze them all into the same vase, there’s still a pretty densely packed community of the OG (Original Guard — that’s what the orange flowers now call themselves) right in the middle, taking all of the best access to the drinking water below.

Your hyacinths (the bundles of purple blooms), the ones that should smell the best, have oversized stems that take up their fair share of the diameter of the vase. By the time you added in your irises, those delicate tall purple blooms, there’s not quite enough space for them to reach all the way down to the bottom of the vase. So now your most fragile flowers are also the ones most vulnerable to the elements, like windy weather conditions, pets trying to eat them, or even ridicule from the other shrubs that hang around your block. (Don’t trust the ferns.)

Of course the OG, being so far away and protected in the center, don’t need to concern themselves with this.

To prevent flower-on-flower riots as everybody tries to drink from the same place, you need a change — fast. To top it off, you’ve also been getting some feedback that your bouquet doesn’t feel “integrated” enough. Flowers have been clustering together rather than dynamically forming complementary color cohorts.

Left alone for too long, you will likely not have a good shot at keeping those flowers alive for long.

Belonging

You take a hard look at your bouquet and realize it’s just not working.

So you pull out all of the flowers, prune the ones that were too tall and make sure to use the heartiest plants in places that help defend and support other blooms, rather than compete with them.

You move individual blooms around and spend a fair amount of time looking at your arrangement from every angle to make sure there’s a sprig of each color visible from all sides.

Perhaps most important of all, you change the water vessel to make it easier for everyone to get a drink.

I’m no flower, but I have to imagine they all feel a bit more comfortable in this environment.

Suddenly, everybody has an equal shot at getting the sunlight, water, and air they need to survive. Not to mention that your arrangement is far more intricate and complex than it used to be.

Wait, is this a blog post about building companies or arranging flowers? Well, I only have experience in one of these things, and here’s what I know about that:

It’s not good enough to add a bunch of different flowers to your bouquet. Sometimes you need to change the vase.

Written by

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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