For there to be segregation, there usually has to be some communication of segregation. This communication is often, based on its message, damaging to relationships and therefore damaging to freedom and collaboration – two very important ingredients for creativity.
Unfortunately, segregation can occur from very subtle factors. This is because segregation is a term that applies to a macro-level phenomenon, but is created by micro-level changes. This is most interestingly displayed by Thomas Schelling’s segregation model (1978).
The Schelling segregation model is comprised of “grays” and “whites.” The grays and whites live, each on a particular square in a lattice. When this is randomly created, it may look something like this:
This is plotted again, this time with rules for new locations based on the existing location of other whites or grays. If each gray or white must live next to at least 26% of its own kind, the outcome is vastly different:
Looking at this image, one might remark how much segregation is in this community. However, each individual has located itself based on only wanting to be around 26% of its own kind. Each individual would be of the opinion they do not want segregation, but together this is what we get.
The really interesting thing is that if we decrease the preference for being around one’s own kind only 1% to 25%, this is what we get:
The 1% decrease at the individual level causes a dramatic reduction at a macro scale. This suggests how small factors, happening at small scales can have such large impacts to the culture of your office.
Studies on diversity management show that, more important than overall culture, is the management of the emergence of sub-groups that people may relate to more than their own teams (Magnus 2011). Sub groups often form along the lines of cultural diversity, but upon understanding just how easily segregation can occur, it is logical that this can be applied to segregation and the emergence of sub-groups for any reason.
What this means is that even though you actively manage and pursue creating an ideal organistaional culture, it can easily become disrupted by the emergence of sub groups based on segregation that has emerged seemingly from nowhere.
1. Hedstrom, et al. (2009) The Oxford Handbook of Creativity. Oxford University Press
2. Magnus (2011) The conceptualisation of social complexity in global teams. Nordic Psychology, 63(1), 35-50
Feature image courtesy of Wes Dickinson