I have friends who only drink cabernet sauvignon. Others are just into classic rock. And some only read and watch sci-fi or horror. There’s nothing wrong with that. Whatever floats your boat. But I’m not that way.

I read books of all types, from classic literature to sci-fi. From Stephen King to Mark Helprin. From Hunter S. Thompson to Philip Roth. From Ayn Rand to Douglas Adams. It’s the same with movies.

My musical tastes range from the Grateful Dead to Jane’s Addiction. From the B52s to the Monkees. From the Mamas and the Papas to ZZ Top. From Judy Collins to Sheryl Crow. From Willie Nelson to Coolio. From Chick Corea to Oingo Boingo.

And I’ll drink pretty much anything; whatever goes with dinner, the occasion or the weather. Whatever you’ve got in the fridge, the cellar or the liquor cabinet, I can probably find a way to make it work.

Funny thing is, that’s been the key to my success in the business world. No, not that I’m an alcoholic. I’m talking about diversity. Adaptability. Creativity. Flexibility. Craftiness. Willingness to try new things, go with the flow, relate to all kinds of genres and people, and feel genuinely at home in different countries and environments.

When I first left New York and moved to Dallas after college, the culture shock was intense and I didn’t know a soul. Sure, I had work friends, but when Christmas rolled around, they all flew home. Why I didn’t is another story for another day, but I was stuck there with nobody to spend the holidays with.

A technician who worked with me – a Mexican guy named Reuben – was kind enough to invite me to his parents’ home for Christmas dinner. I gratefully accepted.

Reuben had a big family. The food was amazing. After dinner, I must have looked a bit lost or sad just sitting there in the living room while the kids ran around playing with their new toys and the adults were all speaking Spanish, so his dad walked up and motioned for me to follow.

In the kitchen, the guy reached on top of the fridge and brought down a bottle of tequila. Then he grabbed a couple of glasses, turned on the radio, motioned for me to sit at the little kitchen table, and poured some shots. Neither spoke the other’s language, but for the next hour or two, we drank, smoked cigarettes and had a few laughs. Somehow, we communicated just fine. And I never felt so at home.

At that point in my career, I’d rarely been on an airplane and never left the country. Millions of air miles later, I’ve done business with countless executives of big tech companies from all over the world. I was an effective negotiator in part because I didn’t let bias or ego get in the way. There were no barriers to understanding. I could figure out where they were coming from, and that was more than half the battle. There was mutual respect. And fun at night.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you or anyone else should be like me. There are lots of ways to get the job done and live a happy life. For whatever reason, this is the way I’ve always been, and it’s been rewarding in every sense of the word.

This is how I see diversity. It’s not about recognizing others’ race, gender or sexuality. On the contrary, it’s about not letting any of that get in the way of understanding, fun and business. If you simply judge everyone and everything on their merits and forget all the labels, your world becomes a far richer place.

Image credit Saaleha Bamjee via Flickr

  • Mike from Russia

    If only all – or, at least, majority – of people share this approach, Steve, we’d live in a much better world. Unfortunately, too many use any reason – diversity, faith, race, etc. – with the only goal to prove their “superiority” and inflate their “self-importance”. I don’t even mention Hollywood morons who are 99.9% hot air balloons; too many mentally-deficient to list here. Just keep your terrific posting rolling; they give me hope that some common sense still exists in this country. Thank you very much!

    • Steve Tobak

      Hollywood and universities are just massive groupthink machines. Silicon Valley is becoming that way too. It’s a real mess out there, Mike.