Tolerance and Creativity

No culture or race is better than another, not in creativity and not in any other aspect, and we can find examples of smart, creative people in every single culture. As I emphasized in the post ‘Cultural Heritage’, creative ideas that can lead to innovation can come from anyone, anywhere. But after I wrote the post I’ve been asking myself some questions about the role of culture tolerance in innovation.

Some societies, because of being exposed to a wide variety of cultures are more tolerant to different ways of thinking and acting. It is no mystery that censorship and intolerance are enemies of new ideas and can kill creativity, therefore also innovation opportunities. Take for example the US, and specially New York as a cultural bouillabaisse, where you can find people almost from any origin who participate in society with their own forms of value. NY is not only a good place to have a variety of food to eat, it is a place for ideas to converge. In an organization you want this multi-cultural communication, to get the best ideas out of everyone to obtain results. Racism breaks dialogue, and should be avoided at all cost.

But what happens with cultures that were actually created from the mixture of two or more other cultures as it happens in many Latin American countries? Are we more tolerant and can this be an advantage towards enhancing a creative environment? I wish I could say cultural mixture in Latin America (with European and African cultures mainly), does make us more tolerant, but I think, as in any other culture, it’s more of a personal value than a cultural trait. Some people do feel resentment towards their ‘madre patria´ (towards Spanish or Portuguese), or feel discriminated (or have been discriminated) because of their Indian or African origin, acting with intolerance themselves. In Mexico, native indians are segregated and live in poverty.

Cultural tolerance comes from contact with other cultures that challenge our own paradigms and with whom we cooperate for common benefits. As an advice for cultural tolerance, try focusing on things you have in common and work from there. Embrace difference, hear more than you talk, and try understanding why that person thinks or acts the way he does. You can always express your points of view but always with respect and looking for a win-win relationship. Believe that you can learn something from anyone. And basically don't be a prick.

But tolerance for fostering creativity is not only manifested in cultural difference. Tolerance is also important in gender, sexual orientation and religion. In general, in Latin America as in many other regions, women still don’t have the same opportunities and are still not treated equal at work, and sexual orientation is a cause of mock. Catholicism is the main religion in most latin countries and we are not used to other strong opposing ideologies.

I once saw an “innovativeness” score-board for evaluating “how innovative can a company be”. Although I didn’t agree with most of it, and I don’t think “innovativeness” can be measured (that’s another topic), I did find some interesting points. Here are some of its questions to ponder:
- How many different cultures are there in the company and in what percentage?
- How many women in executive levels are there in the organization compared to the total of employees?
- How many self-declared gay/lesbians are there in the organization compared to the total of employees?
- How many different self-professed religion followers are there in the company and in what percentage?

We should practice tolerance, better yet empathy, not only for creative purposes, but for personal growth.


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