• Archana Chakravarthy

The Secret Six of D&I. Tips and tricks conveyed by a 'cell' to an 'organization'

D&I - Diversity and Inclusion

The premise : ‘Life is an experiential arena’. If one develops a curious mind and skills to pay attention, focus, ask questions and seek answers, learning and development (L&D) opportunities are everywhere. The blogs here are an attempt to showcase such learnings. Happy reading and happy sharing!

Human body is made up of several types of cells and the total count of all the cells in the body adds to many many trillions (one study estimates a 37.2 trillion cells). It is not just the sheer numbers that are at work but the astonishing diversity that is there inside. We have bone cells, nerve cells, heart cells, muscle cells, skin cells, blood cells…and more, phew!

Have you ever wondered about the life of these cells, all of the above and more in one place - Our Body.

Given the numbers and diversity in there, it must be pretty chaotic there don’t you think? What about conflicts? how do they handle that?; How do they all communicate?; What about the theory which promotes ‘survival of the fittest’?- does it mean one type over the other?; What about governance?, who takes care?; Who gets to call the shots? or is there anything at all?. Isn't this mind boggling?! It looks like we can discuss/debate for ever pondering these questions. Specifically through this blog I would love to share my cross-learning from the life of one other type of cell not mentioned above, the stem cell. There may be something for all of us…

A representation of cellular diversity. Source: Google

You could think of the word ‘stem’ here to denote a state of cell that serves as a possible precursor to the rest of the cells in the body. In the scientific community, stem cells are categorized based on their origin (source) or/and on their potency. Potency here can be understood as ‘potential for what they the cell can become’. On the premise of their potency, stem cells can be broadly grouped and referred using the below nomenclature.  

Totipotent cells➡ Pluripotent cells➡ Multipotent cells➡ Oligopotent cells➡ Unipotent cells

There is a logical order by which the groups are mentioned above; as you move from left to right, the stem cells start showcasing ‘decreasing potency’ and ‘increasing specialization’, viz their ability to become anything they want to decreases while the ability to be the best of who they ought to be increases...

A quick brief on what I mean without getting into depths.

Totipotent : Let’s break the word into toti + potent, which brings us to an understanding that this group of cells have an absolute potential to become anything. In other words they have in them a total potential to create an entire being- say an entire human. Which means, they are the source of all other possible cells in the body.

Pluripotent : This group are cells that have great flexible potency to become many types of cells but not as much as totipotent cells; pluripotent cells cannot make an entire being.

Multipotent : These cells have a mid-range potency which means they can differentiate into a specific range of cell types only; here is where the potency-specialization dichotomy kicks in; the more specialized a cell becomes- the less potential to become anything else.

Oligopotent : As you may have guessed these are lower in terms of their capacity to differentiate to any type of cells, they can become only closely related cell types.

Unipotent (specialized) cells : the type that are restricted to an unique kind of cells they can become, and only that.  

By now you may appreciate that all cells existing or to have ever existed in us has had a single source of origin. We walk, talk, work as a single entity of self and yet we possess ultra- differentiation. This differentiation does not surprisingly seem to weaken us but rather bring forth an ability to live our greatest lives - to be the best version of who we could be. All the cell types by themselves and the ones they become exist by/for/of a single entity - the body. The cells perform different functions and each function has its rightful place. In my opinion there can be no linear hierarchy to any of these cells. They exist dynamically, communicate organically, perform unconditionally, the best of their functions and support other’s function.

Its quite fascinating to me to visualize a busy day of a cell. What a life it would be to truly live a life of a cell!.

So you may ask...how do the cells maintain sanity?, this to me is an ultimate living illustration of leadership.

So, now comes the Secret Six of Diversity n Inclusion (there could be more, I am starting with six):

1. All cells…all possible cells have a single agenda - to ensure ‘ease’ and clear out ‘dis-ease’ - an unified identity to achieve an unified goal. The destiny of the cell pours over the commonality of the destiny of the entity - the body - to be and do what needs to be done. Simple.

2. The cells have a plan (via genetic code) and yet they change it when the situation demands it. I think we could learn a lot about VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) from...our internal selves. To top it, this is not new at all, we have been managing our internal VUCA from time immemorial. Is this not just awesome!

3. There are certainly, clearly defined roles and responsibilities that each cell is aware and has accepted to perform. Additionally, the dissimilarities/ diversity in the cell population are what makes the entity tick - body to work. No cell is perceived lesser than the other while adding value to the system having complementary functions

4. There is no option but ‘to do the best’ and they do the best; no trying, but doing. This perhaps is the secret of being productive - start doing!

5. There are established communication protocols and processes (use of energy, bio-molecules, chemicals, electric pulses…) - by the way of continual feedback and disclosures. Seriously, for one, all cells disclose if something doesn't seem right to them and receive feedback from the other specialized cells to stop-start-continue their functions.

And secondly, no cells…I mean no cells, wait for the annual performance review to catch up on the status!

6. They are attentive, sensitive, productive, purposeful almost all the time, until it’s time... All cells have a way to identify ‘the time has come’ either through their own life-cycle or via external agents and there are qualms to ‘moving on’ - this process needs a complete different blog, it is amazing how cells self-enable ‘programmed cell death’ or even become ‘altruistic’ to align to the overarching agenda - keep alive the entity - the body.  

Now then, can this not be the followed in an organization outside of our body - the Corporate Organization?. The perspective that dawned on me is our ‘macro’ lives (personal and work) are so similar to secret six primordial ‘micro’ processes existing in each one of us, its just that we seldom see ourselves as ‘a cell’ in a large body ‘family-organization-world-humanity’. We deceive ourselves and others’ by believing that differences are meant to be aborted, killed; differences create problems; I need more of Me only!.

In an organizational context, diversity mostly leads one to think of gender, race, nationality, physical ability and religion while the lesser acknowledged diversity of feminine/masculine (not gender), thought process, motivations, personalities and preferences most often don't find the required talk-time. Yes, differences need greater investments of time, energy and money, but only then an entity as fantastic as our living selves can be created outside of our living selves, in the form of our organizations and enterprises.

The secret perhaps is to encourage an aspirational way of life, if not then, at least set up an unified purpose for all diverse members with robust, enabling processes, such that moving towards a goal becomes a joyful journey rather than a mandated route to satisfy one's financial compulsions.

It’s high time then not just to begin seeing yourself as ‘a cell’ belonging to a greater entity of organization and humanity but participate in your own way to build this perspective in all others

Gratitude: Cover photo by Sharon McCutcheon; and people photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels. Photo of cells from Google.

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