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Don’t Be Like the Cavendish Banana

·3 mins

The Cavendish banana represents 99% of all global banana exports, but it’s vulnerable to two fungal illnesses called Fusarium Wilt and, more recently, Black Sigatoka that threaten to decimate the banana crops in the Western Hemisphere as they’ve already done in the rest of the world. It’s happened before; prior to the Cavendish, the most popular banana in the world was the Gros Michel, but it was eliminated by Fusarium Wilt in the 1950s. The Cavendish is more resistant, but a new strain has emerged that will almost certainly destroy the Cavendish too unless it can be kept out of Central and South America.

The plight of the Cavendish and the demise of the Gros Michel before it illustrate the risks of a genetic monoculture. Since bananas are propagated rather than grown from seed, all plants of the same variety are genetically identical leaving them especially vulnerable to disease. (The Irish potato famine which killed one-eighth of the Irish population during three years in the 1840s is another prime example of the phenomenon.) The better long-term strategy is to ensure that multiple varieties are cultivated making for a more resilient overall crop. But we all know how difficult it is to take the long view when short-term profits tend to drive business decisions.

At the risk of stretching a metaphor to the breaking point, consider whether the team you lead is a “monoculture” that keeps you from realizing your full potential as a leader or an organization. A lack of diversity of background, experience, age, gender, etc. may be blinding you to perspectives that are crucial for your success.

Here are three warning signs that you may be working in a monoculture.

  1. Everyone looks and sounds like you. Differences in personal style aren’t enough. Any team lacking gender and racial diversity is missing an opportunity and runs the risk, however unintentionally, of perpetuating inequity. It’s not enough to have the representation on the team, however, without a commitment to ensure that every team member can contribute fully and no one is made an outsider.
  2. Lack of conflict in meetings. Be worried if your team can get to agreement without working hard for it at least occasionally. Patrick Lencioni calls this “artificial harmony,” and it suggests that you may not be having the right conversations or that team members are not holding one another accountable. Productive conflict is essential to making better decisions.
  3. Lack of disagreement with you. Don’t surround yourself with “yes people” who always agree with you. And if you work in a culture (or worse, if you’ve created a culture) where it’s dangerous to disagree with the boss, that’s a huge red flag.

A healthy work ecosystem needs diversity just as much as the natural world. Nature has checks and balances to preserve it and so should you.

A Thought to Ponder #

Uniformity is not nature’s way; diversity is nature’s way.
—Vandana Shiva

Something Delightful #

I’m not particularly “handy,” so when I see someone who is it really gets my attention. This is the most recent video from my favorite YouTube channel, my mechanics, created by a Swiss machinist and gifted all-around maker. I appreciate his commitment to making old things better than new.