January 2019

By Mandi Roberts

Believing that diversity fosters innovation and strengthens our skills, we’re working to build a culture of equity and inclusion so everyone has a level playing field. Our professionals come from diverse backgrounds, and we regularly collaborate across the disciplines of planning, architecture, landscape architecture, civil engineering, structural engineering, project and construction management, natural resource sciences, and other areas of expertise. This interdisciplinary dynamic embraces equity, inclusion, and valuing each other’s unique perspectives. We continue to explore how to foster this aspect of our culture even more and to a greater level of depth throughout all our offices and teams.

To that end, Otak’s Executive Management Team (EMT) has been focusing on equity & inclusion in the past year. In October, the EMT participated in a workshop hosted by the Medici Group of New York. The workshop helped us learn more about how diversity can directly contribute to innovative ideas and our success in business.

Our thought leaders from Medici, Sharang Biswas and Juliana Echeverri, facilitated interesting discussions and group exercises, helping us experience first-hand the magic that can happen when diversity and inclusion overlap with innovation and strategy as shown in their signature approach graphic to the right.

The EMT participants broke into five small teams organized to include people of diverse disciplines, backgrounds, interests, ages, genders, geographic locations, and technical expertise. Each person shared information about themselves in short phrases and key words, writing on a large piece of paper in the form of a mind map. Then team members asked each other questions to gain a better understanding of each person’s story. The next step got participants’ ideas flowing—each team was asked to randomly pick two items on the mind map and come up with a new business-related idea or concept. The last step was to repeat the same exercise, but to brainstorm new ideas that were specific to an aspirational goal in Otak’s Strategic Plan:

Otak strives for client relationships that go beyond our work and develop into personal relationships

This process churned out some amazing and interesting ideas. EMT members had a blast getting to know each other better and sharing their unique ideas, making this monthly meeting one of the most interesting yet.

The Medici Group, founded by Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect (Harvard Business Press), a foundational book on innovation, and The Click Moment (Penguin Portfolio), helps companies activate diversity into an innovative edge by breaking down silos and leveraging diverse talents. Just as the Medici family catalyzed the Renaissance by bringing together people from different disciplines, cultures, and backgrounds, the Medici Group inspires the Renaissance of today.

Who were the Medicis?
The Medicis gained prominence in Italy in the early 15th century as wool merchants and bankers whose businesses were extremely profitable. They were leaders in business, politics, religion (three popes were Medicis), and the arts. Together with other prominent families, the Medicis inspired the Renaissance by funding creators from a wide range of disciplines—scientists, sculptors, poets, philosophers, financiers, painters, architects, and others, who converged on the city of Florence, where they learned from one another, broke down barriers, and forged a new world based on new ideas.

When I spent time in Italy last summer with the University of Idaho Landscape Architecture program, we stayed in Florence for several days and visited Villa Medici, one of the many estates built by the family, as well as Renaissance-era architecture, gardens, and works of art throughout that region. This was an incredible experience, and I highly recommend walking in the footsteps of the Medicis for anyone seeking enlightenment about how embracing each other’s unique qualities can inspire our success as innovators.


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