Putting Our Differences to Work: The Fastest Way to Innovation, Leadership and High Performance


Putting our differences to work means creating an environment where people, naturally unique and different, can work more effectively in ways that drive new levels of creativity, innovation, problem solving, leadership, and performance in the marketplaces, workplaces, and communities of the world. Debbe Kennedy shows how to make all the dimensions of difference tremendous sources of strength.

Kennedy draws on the latest research and a wealth of real-world examples to offer ...

See more details below
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (18) from $2.94   
  • New (11) from $10.99   
  • Used (7) from $2.94   
Putting Our Differences to Work: The Fastest Way to Innovation, Leadership, and High Performance

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
BN.com price
(Save 44%)$29.95 List Price


Putting our differences to work means creating an environment where people, naturally unique and different, can work more effectively in ways that drive new levels of creativity, innovation, problem solving, leadership, and performance in the marketplaces, workplaces, and communities of the world. Debbe Kennedy shows how to make all the dimensions of difference tremendous sources of strength.

Kennedy draws on the latest research and a wealth of real-world examples to offer compelling evidence showing exactly how putting our differences to work accelerates innovation and contribution. She identifies five distinctive qualities of leadership that leaders must add to their portfolio of skills to make differences an engine of success. And she provides a detailed six-stage process for making the most of differences in the workforce, combining first-person best-practice stories and strategic with tactical ideas to help you put each step into action.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781576754993
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/1/2008
  • Series: Bk Business Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Debbe Kennedy is founder and President of Leadership Solutions Companies, an award-winning, women-owned enterprise specializing in leadership, organizational, and virtual communications solutions. In 2004, she launched the Global Dialogue Center, a virtual gathering place for people throughout the world. Kennedy is the author of Breakthrough! The Problem-Solving Advantage: Everything You Need to Start a Solution Revolution.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt


The Fastest Way to Innovation, Leadership, and High Performance
By Debbe Kennedy

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 Debbe Kennedy and Sally K. Green, DBA Leadership Solutions
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57675-781-9

Chapter One

The New Business Essentials

We don't have to look too far to see the pattern that has emerged in recent years showing our own struggles as leaders when it comes to putting differences to work effectively in our organizations. As cutting-edge global, market-driven strategies have become essential, it is clear that we, perhaps unintentionally, lost our focus on "people being our greatest assets." As we've worked to adapt to a changing world, the best of organizations have proven for a time that they are skilled at creating comprehensive worldwide business plans, launching a new strategic direction, blowing everyone away with innovative products or services, and compiling the financials that prove their worth. However, at the same time, behind the scenes, deep within the day-to-day operations, we also see genuine concern for people who slip into obscurity.

So how has this happened? Why do we continually struggle to keep a focus on people and putting differences to work, when there are such great benefits? Many would instantly argue that organizations and their leaders today are widely driven by their measures—the short-term bottom line, not what they do with people. True. Others would admit that many leaders focus on what they know how to do, especially when the demands to produce are ever-increasing and people leadership generally isn't a core skill for everyone. So we easily revert to what's familiar—the numbers and processes we can handle. We learned about them in school. We've mastered them. This part of our organizations is pragmatic. No emotion. Just clear and well-defined parameters we fully understand. Best of all, the numbers and processes ask only for our head work, without the inherent heart work that entangles us when people are part of the mix. Numbers and processes ask much less from us than what we perceive people require. We try to be supportive, but it is easy to assume human resources will deal with the bulk of all that soft stuff. This perspective is no longer good enough to solve the problems we face today or to meet the challenges ahead in the marketplace, workplace, or community—and our troubled world.

In 2000, futurist, filmmaker, and author Joel Barker shared what he termed a "surprising discovery" as he searched to find the connection between wealth and innovation. I worked with him collaboratively on his groundbreaking film, Wealth, Innovation and Diversity. In it, he presents a compelling business case that "societies and organizations that most creatively incorporate diversity will reap the rewards of innovation, growth, wealth, and progress." Having a diversity initiative is important, and great organizations have them in place today, but the integrated approach Joel Barker's discoveries suggest—with direct links to innovation and growth—reaches way beyond the best in traditional diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs. His findings note measurable benefits, including producing new kinds of wealth, like the wealth of sustainability, reduced risk, predictability, and innovation in addition to economic wealth.

In 2001, shortly after the launch of his film, we wrote an article together for the American Society of Training & Development (ASTD) called "Leveraging Diversity: Putting Our Differences to Work." In it we offer compelling ideas from our collaborative work about the ongoing struggle both people and organizations have when it comes to sameness and difference, noting seven telling signs that will give you a pretty good indication of what your organization values, not in words but in practice.


Why do we wrestle with sameness and difference as people and as organizations, especially when we have so much to gain by working together? Scientist and author George Ainsworth-Land offered a powerful explanation in his book Grow or Die. It is his contention that all things grow and develop within the same three-stage pattern.

For example, we start out focused on our own survival, seeking love, food, and security. In our second stage of growth, starting at adolescence, we begin finding others like us. There are many advantages here. We are validated by others like us. We can accomplish things better together. Since we all talk alike and think alike, decisions and communications are easier. All of these similarities also increase the level of predictability within our group. We learn to like it. We see equivalent patterns of replication in many of today's organizations for the very same reasons.

So the struggle between sameness and difference is universal. It is part of the evolution of individual and organizational growth—and it is clear as we move further into the twenty-first century, it is time for us as individuals and as organizations to reach for an additional stage of growth. George Ainsworth-Land calls this third stage of growth mutualism. In this stage, we come together in different combinations to open the way for innovations leading to new technology, new music, new art, new businesses, new friendships, new cultures, and new opportunities to grow. All of us—east and west, north and south—have to choose between two pathways, and this choice has to be made at every level and in every organization. One way leads us back where sameness is rewarded and differences are demonized. The other path is toward organizations and communities where diversity, variety, and difference are prized. Why is this so important to our future? Because the people most likely to bring us the paradigm-shifting innovations we need to create new wealth are almost always outsiders, people who know little or nothing about the normal way of doing things—people different from us. This is true at every level of every enterprise, community, and country. New wealth is the result of innovation. And innovation is driven by diversity. Diversity is the key that will open the door to the new wealth of the twenty-first century.

Sameness or Difference: What Does Your Organization Value?

Here are seven telling signs:

* Your leadership team at all levels (including the board) lacks diversity.

* Old notions, perceptions, preferences, and prejudices still exist; they are sometimes subtle and left unchallenged.

* Every group or team has its own agenda; efforts are fragmented and lack new ideas from "outsiders" or collaboration for best execution of plans and results.

* People who are different are rarely hired, developed, promoted, or included; slow progress against stated goals is an indicator.

* New ideas and innovative thinking are subtly shunned with cynicism, risk aversion, and exclusion or seen as a nuisance— or ignored completely.

* The words say you value diversity and inclusion, but your actions speak louder.

* You dismiss diversity and inclusion as a human resource issue instead of recognizing that they are drivers of innovation and new wealth; your business plans reflect this view.

Part of our struggle is our search for the words to have meaning. I'm often asked what it means to put our differences to work. It's easy to rattle off an answer like this when someone insists: "Putting our differences to work means creating an environment where people, naturally unique and different—diverse by nature and experience—can work more effectively in ways that drive new levels of creativity, innovation, problem solving, leadership, and performance in the marketplaces, workplaces, and communities of the world." What's always missing in such a definition is how limiting the words are, how ambiguous they are depending on your own differences and experience, and how absent the human element seems to be.

Definitions have their place, but they're only words until we breathe life into them by our actions and example. Let me paint a more vivid picture. Putting our differences to work at every level within an organization requires a new kind of intention from everybody. It means consciously recognizing one undeniable fact: that people are the number one source of new thinking and new ideas needed for change and the betterment of business and society. Here I'm not suggesting that leaders use the phrase as a rhetorical slogan. Remember "People are our greatest asset"? It lost its magic and meaning when the words and actions didn't align. Now it sits on the shelf with other overused phrases. Leading this charge requires a strong belief in people that is reflected day to day in our work and behavior. It calls for us to creatively utilize the many dimensions of diversity within our organizations, in business, and in society to their full potential.

As we've stripped to "lean and mean" and buzzwords like human capital and talent management have come into fashion, the rippling influence appears to have distanced many leaders from the very heart and soul of achievement in their organizations: the people. It is the heartbeat, commitment, and hard work of every individual that fulfills a business strategy and brings about innovation, leadership, and high performance for any organization or endeavor. Those leaders who consciously and intentionally focus on the mastery of leading the workplace and building diverse teams will be well on their way to pioneering a new era leadership excellence the fastest way.

Numerous studies have followed Joel Barker's pioneering discoveries and my own early study and practice, both affirming our findings and also throwing new questions into the mix. This new thinking calls us to step further inside this compelling issue to get a deeper understanding of where we are today and where we need to go.

One significant study that has created a buzz of controversy is the work of Robert D. Putnam, a distinguished political scientist and professor at Harvard University—and, I must add, a champion for the power that people hold when they work together. You need not wonder where his heart is on this topic if you visit the Better Together initiative (www.bettertogether. org), which grew out of his notable work on civic engagement. The website tagline reflects his call to action: "Connect with others. Build trust. Get involved."

Controversy arose when Putnam's findings were published in "Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century" in the Nordic Political Science Association Journal in June 2007 and hit the media in sound-byte form. In reading the study, cover to cover, and listening directly to Putnam's personal reflections on it, you realize one of the contributions he made in publishing the study was helping all of us see our own truth. We don't trust one another as much as we should, and, consequently, we tend to isolate ourselves, staying with those most like us. Putnam did make these conclusions about his findings in the United States: "It's not merely a fact that America is diverse, it's a benefit. America will—all of us will—benefit from being a more diverse, more heterogeneous place. Places that are diverse have higher rates of growth on average.... In the long term, waves of immigration like we are experiencing are good for society."

What came out loud and clear are honest questions we need to ask ourselves in all segments of society: How have our own behavior and actions, as members of society and leaders in organizations and communities, contributed to such distrust of one another? And what are we going to do about it? How can we rebuild trust by getting to know one another better—and putting our unique talents to work? Putnam suggests that it is having shared values or shared identity that draws us together. There is the reference point from which we have to work.


The need for a shift in building capability for putting our differences to work has been recognized in an increasing number of recent studies and writings. I began pioneering this new level of thinking in my own work in the early 1990s, documenting it in my Diversity Breakthrough! series in 2000, along with others blazing the trail, like Joel Barker and his work on wealth and innovation, Roosevelt Thomas and his new direction, Taylor Cox, Michalle Mor Barak, and others. However, like all new ideas, it takes time for acceptance to begin to take root, and it has, step by step. Ironically, this acceptance happened because of the diversity of studies and books on the subject and a wildly changing marketplace, workplace, and community—you might say it was all of us virtually putting our differences to work that began to build awareness, momentum, and acceptance.

In 2003, for example, the need for new critical leadership skills was affirmed in the five factors of leadership showcased in a book built from the results of an extraordinary two-year study by Accenture, Global Leadership: The Next Generation, authored by thought leaders Marshall Goldsmith, Cathy L. Greenberg, Alastair Robertson, and Maya Hu-Chan. Accenture's study validates that knowledge and know-how will be the primary sources of value in the twenty-first century. This means by putting our differences to work, we can multiply the value. The study also contends that the ability to lead people whose backgrounds and values may be radically different from ours requires new skills for leaders at this time in history, including thinking globally, appreciating cultural diversity, developing technological savvy, building partnerships and alliances, and sharing leadership. This isn't enough in itself. In the summary, the study's authors suggest:

No one leader can be good at everything, which leads us to the conclusion that shared leadership across a team of leaders will be the way in which excellent global companies do business in the future.... Future leaders must know their particular strengths and how to draw upon the complementary strengths of others—sharing leadership roles as needed.

This, too, is a big step forward, but in a distributed workplace in the global marketplaces and workplaces across the world, we need leaders at every level with skills and behavior that are adaptable, putting differences to work wherever we find ourselves.

The good news about building capability for putting our differences to work is that it doesn't require all new skills. To the contrary, it has much more to do with applying what we already know to this challenge, refocusing our attention and reshaping our habits.

I discovered this truth from Peter Drucker, known as the father of modern management. It came to light when I was writing my first book, Breakthrough! Everything You Need to Start a Solution Revolution. In his book Post Capitalist Society, Drucker points out that most of us tend to classify what we know into specialized areas of knowledge, instead of applying the strengths of all our knowledge to different problems—looking at the problems we face and asking, "What do I know? What have I learned that I might apply to this task?" In a way, this says that we want to put the differences in all our areas of knowledge to work to solve problems. Drucker's wisdom has been a central part of my ongoing work in helping individuals, teams, and organizations around the world put differences to work to create diverse, inclusive environments ever since. I have witnessed over and over again that what it takes to draw differences together is mainly utilizing what we already know about leading change, calling upon the strengths of our experience, with a little different twist.


To answer this question demands more than an explanation, data, or conclusions from studies. Talk and theory don't meet that standard of proof of what we are capable of doing today. So I searched to find work-in-progress stories that had meaningful concrete results. I hoped to find examples that would also clearly demonstrate that putting our differences to work is in fact the fastest way to innovation, leadership, and high performance. There isn't a shortage of illustrative stories. This book alone has over twenty with great lessons, best practices, and inspiration from which to draw. Finding the right ones as convincing evidence of what putting our differences to work can produce, however, took time, and I set the bar high.


Excerpted from Putting Our DIFFERENCES to WORK by Debbe Kennedy Copyright © 2008 by Debbe Kennedy and Sally K. Green, DBA Leadership Solutions. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Foreword Joel A. Barker Barker, Joel A.

Introduction The Fastest Way 1

Pt. I Taking Your Leadership to a New Level 11

Ch. 1 The New Business Essentials 15

Ch. 2 Five Distinctive Qualities of Leadership 33

Ch. 3 The Basics for Putting Our Differences to Work 45

Pt. 2 Knowledge and Know-How to Guide the Way 57

Ch. 4 STEP 1 - Assessment: Defining Current Realities 63

Ch. 5 STEP 2 - Acceptance: Developing Support for Change 77

Ch. 6 STEP 3 - Action: Moving Forward 95

Ch. 7 STEP 4 - Accountability: Establishing Shared Ownership 113

Ch. 8 STEP 5 - Achievement: Measuring Progress; Celebrating Success 127

Ch. 9 STEP 6 - More Action: Keeping Momentum Alive 139

Pt. 3 Ever-Expanding Possibilities 151

Ch. 10 Innovation at the Verge of Differences Joel A. Barker Barker, Joel A. 155

Ch. 11 Collaborating at the Verge of Differences 163

Ch. 12 The Power of the Virtual Gathering Place 171

A Send-off: A Final Word 181

Resources and Studies 183

Notes and Sources 187

Acknowledgments 195

Index 197

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2008

    A reviewer

    The cover of this book caught my eye as well as the title. I work for a company where we could really use the lessons of this book. Perhaps I can't change things by myself but I can start by changing myself and working with my own team to make a difference. I highly recommend this book to both those who are in a professional work environment as well as anyone who wants to make a difference in the world and create peace among by finding we are actually not that different as people and we have a lot to offer each other.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:


    The author, Debbe Kennedy has written an excellent book in an area where modern industries and services need a tremendous amount of help. As a corporate director of human resources, I can attest to the strengths that an organization will acquire by following the edicts in this book. The book's goal is to create an environment and culture where naturally different people work together more effectively as they attain - and surpass - the organizational goals in leadership and performance.

    Debbe Kennedy shows how differences can mean much more than just the solidified categories such as race and sex. Her use of real-world examples of varying experiences and styles of management drive home the point that the area of diversity should never be shunned or viewed as a mere consequence but rather as the source of strength for future growth and excellence. In addition, I greatly appreciated the amount of research that went into this tome. This research lends an authorative tone to the work and makes it a compelling study in diversity.

    In today's age of hyper-blending of cultures, this book will be a great asset to those who approach the subject with an open mind and implement the ideas generated in this book. Diversity is the current situation and will grow by leaps and bounds as time progresses. For us to progress, we must learn to tap into this growing well of strength. Those who don't are sadly doomed to fail.

    I would also like to recommend Don't Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns That Limit Success and High Altitude Leadership: What the World's Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success (J-B US non-Franchise Leadership). Both are excellent managerial material.

    I hope you find this review helpful.

    Michael L. Gooch, SPHR

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)