“Where your interior life meets your exterior impact is where transformation happens.”
—Keith Yamashita, SYPartners Chairman and Founder
In our most recent Creative Confidence Series chat, Keith Yamashita, SYPartners Chairman and Founder and instructor for our newest class From Superpowers to Great Teams, sat down with IDEO U Managing Director Coe Leta Stafford to discuss creative leadership and how great teams are built on a foundation of diversity, collaboration, trust, and self-awareness.
Keith Yamashita was having a stroke. The realization dawned on him as he sat on a conference call with a client, struggling to talk and spilling water as he tried to sip from a glass.
After three months of intensive recovery, Keith is doing well, but the experience of losing physical control of his body and the ability to communicate further clarified for him the reality of our ever-changing nature. “We are never static as people,” he says. “Our bodies are biologically shifting every moment.”
This acceptance and embrace of change is a core tenet of Keith’s approach to creative leadership. A growth mindset is critical to successful leadership, and the connections we form with other human beings are the foundation of our work life. Through his work at SYPartners—a transformation company that helps human beings, organizations, and societies become fuller, more vibrant versions of themselves—Keith helps leaders build their bravery and summon their creativity to design great futures and build the capability to constantly transform.
“Each of us comes into the world curious, open, wanting to bond and wanting to have great connections with other people,” he says. “Our training, societal norms, school, and early jobs beat all of that out of us.”
“Through your own mindset and behavior, you dominate much of your own reality.”
Transformation Starts with Internal Reflection
Most traditional businesses focus on external outcomes—impact on revenue, growth, and bottom line. But Keith believes that a leader’s ability to connect with their internal landscape and find joy, happiness, and depth in their work is even more important to building creative leadership skills, and that “where your interior life meets your exterior impact is where transformation happens.”
“We’re not just made to get paychecks,” he says. “We’re not just made to go to work. We are social beings who together can do great things. This, I think, is the great opportunity of our times.”
While internal reflection is critical to growth as a leader, it’s often where the toughest work lies. Only in challenging our mindset can we open up opportunities for growth and find ways to work effectively with people who think differently. “Through your own mindset and behavior, you dominate much of your own reality,” Keith says.
To start, look internally at the dialogue you have with yourself:
- Do your beliefs engage and nurture you, or hold you back?
- Think of how you reacted to a challenging circumstance at work. What are the facts of what happened vs. the story you’re telling yourself?
- What does transformation mean for you as a leader?
Looking forward, Keith poses a question: “Can we imagine a world that is significantly better than today and use our talents and diversities to make that world?”
The Business Case for Diversity
While diversity has more recently been approached as a challenge to overcome, Keith urges us to reframe it as “the gateway to joy, to collaboration that matters, to your own evolution as a human being, and to tap into the talents of those around you.”
Dr. Scott Page, a leading thinker on the economic impact of diversity, presents compelling evidence in the business case for diversity. His research shows that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by significant margins, especially on problems that require creativity, new thinking, and synthesis of knowledge.
SYPartners has worked with many large companies like Starbucks, IBM, and BlackRock Capital to find tangible ways to build diversity into their businesses. BlackRock—a firm focused on evaluating risk in order to make investment decisions—now categorizes lack of diversity within teams and organizations as a huge business risk. They’ve realized that “mono-minded” teams lack the ability to see the patterns, connections, and opportunities that teams built on diverse backgrounds and viewpoints can identify.
And when we think of diversity, it’s critical to go beyond more visible elements like race and gender to include cognitive diversities like background, schooling, and homelife.
“Can we imagine a world that is significantly better than today and use our talents and diversities to make that world?”
Turn Microaggressions into Micro-Actions
So we know building diverse teams is important, but how do we go about it?
The path towards diversity begins with identifying roadblocks to change:
- Mindset: If you have a fear-based view of the world, shift towards openness and a growth mindset.
- Unconscious biases: These are assumptions and shortcuts our brain creates to help us function in a complex world. Everyone has them, but they hinder our ability to be open-minded.
Retrain yourself by making conscious choices about how to interact with others. These changes in behavior don’t have to be big and overwhelming to be impactful. Just like microaggressions add up over time to negatively impact someone, small positive choices can compound in a much larger way.
Keith’s advice: Put in place a practice of positive micro-actions. Your day will naturally offer 100 different opportunities to make choices. Take advantage of just some of those opportunities, and pretty soon diversity, equity, and inclusion will be built into the way you act every day.
SYPartner’s framework for micro-actions identifies moments in your workday where diversity can add benefit and asks questions to cue a positive micro-action, like setting aside assumptions when recruiting a new team member.
“Diversity and inclusion have to come from natural behavior,” Keith says. “This is the pursuit of getting to know other human beings and getting to do work together that you wouldn’t otherwise get to do.”
To learn more about building diverse and effective teams, check out our new From Superpowers to Great Teams on-demand online class.