Potency, difference and diversity

As many as three million men around the world, including over 20% of men in northwestern Ireland, are directly descended from a single medieval Irish king according to a genetics study published in December 2005 and some follow-up studies.  That king — Niall of the Nine Hostages — through some combination of luck, learning and inborn talent, wielded a tremendous amount of power and had many offspring… who in turn, wielded tremendous power and had many offspring…  et cetera… et cetera… for a bunch of centuries. Today, as many as 2% of white New Yorkers have Niall as a direct ancestor. The percentage rate is especially high for anyone who was born into the traditional family lineages of O’Neill, O’Donnell or O’Reilly… or Gallagher, Doherty, Flynn, Campbell, Egan, Quinn… and a few other families.

Oh, but that’s nothing. Some people estimate that 1 in every 200 males worldwide are descendants of Genghis Khan.

“That explains a lot,” muttered many a female.

Yes, it’s true that powerful people propagate profusely, and that the traits that made them successful will appear with greater frequency in subsequent generations. It’s also true that the founder effect is a useful metaphor for understanding top-down cultures within organizations.

However, one of the bigger lessons of Niall and Genghis may be this: We need a lack of diversity in some places in order to gain the benefits of diversity overall.

new breed triptych 1

Diversification vs. Specialization

There is a paradoxical relationship between diversification and specialization, as one tends to cancel out the other, but both require each other in order to exist.  As a general rule, the smaller the population being considered (a nation, a company, a family, a single person), the trickier it becomes to navigate this paradox.

In the case of a larger group, diversity can be achieved by ensuring there are the right types and amounts of differences between the constituent smaller groups and individuals. As long as group cohesion can be maintained — which can be really hard to do if the group is truly diverse, not just superficially diverse —  specialized individuals provide a reliable source of efficiency and resilience for the overall group.

However, for the individuals who are providing that diversity, being specialized is (at best) a useful compromise providing some immediate upside but with longer term risk of obsolescence or becoming a ubiquitous commodity… particularly in a rapidly changing landscape. At worst, being specialized is a recipe for a lifetime of exploitation by a larger group.

King Niall and Genghis Khan are exceptions who prove the rule — exceptional individuals who ruled so powerfully that they left a lasting imprint on the overall group.

Despite the risks it often poses to individuals, specialization is necessary and inevitable. The creative tension between specialization and diversity exists at multiple levels of human experience and plays out across multiple time scales.

new breed triptych 2

The Importancy of Potency

The art of being diverse is in how to combine (and continuously re-combine) differences, without losing the concentrated potency that made those differences strong in the first place.

Conversely, the art of being different is in how to harness the strength and potency of that difference, without losing the ability to self-critique, adapt, blend, grow and evolve.

Because it’s no fun if it’s all just the same old same old.

Diversity Triptych 3 - "Melting into the Source Seed"


About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on December 19, 2014, in Art, Business, Career, Green Style, Leadership, Learning, Life, Metaphors, photography, plants, Risk Management, Talent and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.


    If you are a specialist, how can you maximize your present-condition market value, while preserving your future-proof nimbleness?

    Also, how might the principles of redundancy and hybrid vigor be applied to improve your robustness and survivability?

  1. Pingback: Dealing with Genghis Khan and other tough negotiators | Dan Spira

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