The theme of this year's RSA Conference 2019 was "Better." In the closing keynote, RSA Conference Chair and Symantec CTO Hugh Thompson chatted with Tina Fey, Emmy award-winning writer, actress and producer. The topic: how we better connect with each other in the workplace. Fey provided plenty of wisdom and lots of laughs along the way.
Thompson started by asking Fey about her improv work with the Upright Citizens Brigade, specifically about the improv technique of "yes, and." Fey shared "yes, and" is the foundation of working effectively through an unknown situation where anything can happen, like in improv or any situation when ideas are offered and brainstormed. The idea is agreement – whatever someone proposes you agree with it to see what's possible – then comes the "and" where you have to contribute something to build on the idea. Maybe the idea works, maybe it doesn't, but innovation has a greater chance with a creative, open environment.
Innovation works when the people at the creative table are ready to abandon their preconceived notions of what it means to look "cool" in front of their peers. It doesn't work when people have trouble taking a leap and agreeing with a proposed idea, or maybe they're good at the "yes" but don't follow up with an "and" that furthers the exploration. "The more diversity in the group the better," relates Fey. "The most interesting outcomes come from people who come from different points of view and aren't shy about sharing them."
The point of diversity landed with Thompson, who told Fey that diversity is slim in the tech industry and progress seems slow in building greater diversity. Fey responded that an organization has to commit to a level of diversity. Be active in looking, and when you think you've looked try looking again. She also suggests reaching out to communities that might not be engaged yet in the industry.
Thompson asked Fey to describe the work partnerships she trusts and how she builds a team. To Thompson, it seemed like improv requires a lack of ego and willingness to go with wherever the world takes you. Fey agreed and added that with improv, the players have to be in the moment and can't have anything planned. They have to be ready to respond to whatever appears before them. Early on you get people who are intractable, but over time teams of comedians develop who are thrilled for any weirdness or when thinks go sideways.
When it comes to building a team, Fey looks for high emotional intelligence as well as academic intelligence. She wants people who are flexible, committed, and willing to give from their personal experiences. She quotes Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live, who once told her, "don't hire anyone you don't want to see at 3 a.m. in the morning."
The most interesting outcomes come from people who come from different points of view and aren't shy about sharing them.
Thompson followed up with a final question, "What if, hypothetically, you had an industry dominated by people who have high tech intelligence but not a high level of emotional intelligence?" The audience laughed their approval of the question and their understanding that it's not really that hypothetical. Ever the professional, Fey held for the laugh, then stuck the landing: "Get some other kinds of people in the mix wherever applicable, let them enjoy what they enjoy. Not having too homogenous a population is key."
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