Peer Diversity is Not an Oxymoron

peer diversityTo explain this, it may be worth taking a few moments to define the term peer. The dictionary.com definitions are as follows: 1) a person of the same legal status: a jury of one’s peers; 2) a person who is equal to another in abilities, qualifications, age, background, and social status; 3) something of equal worth or quality: a sky-scraper without peer; 4) a nobleman; 5) a member of any of the five degrees of the nobility in Great Britain and Ireland (duke, marquis, earl, viscount, and baron).

So what we know about the word “peer” is that it’s rooted in nobility and common status.  We also know that while words have definitions, they also carry connotations that evolve over time and influence the very meaning of words and how they are interpreted.  So if you asked someone to define the word peer, or to describe a peer, they might respond by saying, “Someone like me.”  While that’s partly true, it doesn’t mean you can’t have peers who are very different from you as well.  When you think of the word peer in this way, you can start to consider the implicit value of peer diversity.

The very notion of peer diversity may feel like a contradiction, but by broadening your definition of peer, it allows you to consider the value of working with people from different industries and backgrounds. While industry specific peer groups can be extremely valuable, people typically join them because they assume they will learn more and receive the best advice from people who already understand the nuances of their business.  Just imagine the additional value to be gained from a peer group with greater diversity – one whose members operate outside your everyday world – who face similar challenges but often address them in very different ways.

Peer diversity is not an oxymoron.  Whether you’re a member of an industry peer group or not part of a group at all, think about spending time with people outside your vertical industry sector. Hang out with people who know things you don’t. You might even consider joining a peer advisory group comprised entirely of leaders outside your industry.   Give it six months and you’ll be astonished at what you will learn and how much you will contribute to others.   If you’re not sure, consider this quote about curiosity from Seth Godin: “A fundamentalist considers whether a fact is acceptable to their faith before they explore it. A curious person explores first and then considers whether they want to accept the ramifications.”

Be curious!

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

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